Ron Shalz is well known in the Quarter Horse industry for having a keen eye for horses. In over 20 years involved in the sport, Shalz and his different partners have unearthed gems where few have bothered to look. Shalz has co-owned the likes of 1988 World Champion Merganser, Grade 1 winner Six Gun Sage, Grade 2 winner Special Task, the talented Chicks A Blazin and last year's Ed Burke Million runner-up Fishers Tale. The total price tag for those five stars has been a relatively meager $63,800.
Shalz, along with a variety of partners, paid $9,000 for Merganser, $8,400 for Chicks A Blazin, $5,400 for Special Gun Sage, $11,000 for Special Task and $30,000 for Fishers Tale. The five standouts have gone on to earn around $2 million combined in their careers.
Shalz and partner Ed Allred now co-own First Down Morn, an impeccable looking colt sired by all-time leading stallion First Down Dash and out of the multiple stakes winning Thoroughbred mare Icy Morn. Trained by John Bassett, First Down Morn currently ranks as one of the leading candidates to win this Saturday's $1,142,000 Ed Burke Million Futurity at Los Alamitos.
The story behind First Down Morn is very different from the usual Shalz-owned racehorse. While Shalz likes to buy his horses for "$5,000 to $10,000," First Down Morn sold for $195,000 at last year's Ruidoso Yearling Sale.
"When you're talking about a yearling by First Down Dash, you rarely steal them," said Shalz, a lawyer from Colby, Colorado. "When I first saw First Down Morn I fell in love with him. I figured he would go for $80,000, which was a lot of money for me. I approached Ed, who I've known since 1983, and I told him that I was hoping we could be partners on a great looking colt that I had found. He said yes right away without even looking at the horse. I knew the horse would go for a good amount of money so I asked him, 'don't you want to at least take a look at the horse?' He told me, 'Ron, I know you do your due diligence when it comes to horses. If you like him that much, I have complete trust in your decision.' "
A while later, Shalz ran into Allred's breeding manager Fred Scane, who after being notified of Allred's interest had gone to take a look at First Down Morn.
"Fred asked me about the horse and then I asked him if he had seen him and what he thought of him. Fred's reply was, 'Ron, I seen him and he's magnificent.' When I told Fred that I thought the horse could cost as high as $125,000, Fred said something like, 'maybe for your half of the horse.' "
"I was going crazy when he said that because I loved the horse but I was afraid that wouldn't be able to afford him. My wife Melany and I don't own any boats; we don't take fancy vacations or anything like that. The horses are our hobby but I just couldn't see paying that much for the horse. When I told Dr. Allred that I didn't know if I could afford half of the horse, he said 'Ron, get the horse and we'll figure out the rest later.' That's Ed. He's one of the most gracious men that I know. I remember last year, I had one horse running at Los Alamitos (the Jim Glover-co-owned Fishers Tale) and Ed went out of his way to find me to thank me for running Fishers Tale at his track. I couldn't believe it. We should be the ones thanking him for everything that he's done for Quarter Horse racing and here is thanking me for having one horse at Los Alamitos."
One of the things that attracted Allred to First Down Morn was his third dam, the Thoroughbred Dancing Straw. Sired by Dancing Dervish, Dancing Straw is the dam of Frosty Straw and Trippy Dip. Frosty Straw is the mother of Icy Morn, a winner of more than $380,668, while Trippy Dip is the dam of countless of outstanding Quarter Horses headed by three-time champion millionaire racehorse and champion broodmare Florentine.
Trippy Dip is also the dam of AQHA Distance Champions Calyx (1987) and Ive Been Blessed (1997) as well as Royal Miracle Dip and St Amen, a pair of stakes winner of over $100,000. Trippy Dip is the granddam of Los Alamitos Million Futurity winners This Snow Is Royal and Evening Snow and stakes winners Avison, Lady Tenaya, Gray Invasion, The Ravin Maniac and Taken All The Cash. Dancing Straw is also the mother of the Thoroughbred Matching, who earned over $500,00 in her career.
Icy Morn, meanwhile, is the dam of the Devon Lane filly Icy Lane, a winner of over $100,000, and Slightly Icy, a winner of $43,945 and a finalist to the 2005 Los Alamitos Winter Derby and La Primera Del Ano Derby.
Along with partner Jerry Wells, Shalz owned 1988 World Champion Merganser, a colt sired by the Thoroughbred Duck Dance, who was purchased for just $9,000. Merganser went on to win the All American Futurity while earning $1,373,704 in his career. In addition to the All American, Merganser also won the $422,612 Rainbow Futurity, the West Texas Futurity and Sun Country Futurity while scoring in 13 of 23 career starts.
A few years later, Shalz, his wife Melany and partners E. Cersousky and Bobby Cox purchased Special Task for only $11,000. Special Task would become New Mexico's high-point sophomore colt in 1992, when scoring in the Grade 2 West Texas Derby, finished second in the Grade 1 Rainbow Derby and ran fifth in the Grade 1 All American Derby. Special Task went on to develop into a sire of 13 stakes winners and earners of more than $4.4 million. In addition, Special Task's daughter, Sandras Task, is the dam of champion 2-year-old Leading Spirit.
Special Gun Sage, who Shalz campaigned alongside Cersousky, won the Grade 1 $322,500 Remington Park Futurity. Fishers Tale, who will be in action in Sunday's Bayer Legend California Challenge, is a winner of three of eight starts and an earner of $276,304.
"It takes a lot of luck," Shalz said. "We also work very hard at it. First Down Morn is out of a Thoroughbred mare named Icy Morn and that can be risky sometimes. Often, the horse either does very well or never runs a lick. I liked Icy Morn because she always led at the 1/8th pole and always showed a great opening quarter."
Shalz's resume when it comes to finding horses is outstanding. So what can we expect from First Down Morn? "He could be one of the best horses that I've ever trained," said John Bassett, a three-time Los Alamitos Million Futurity and two-time All American Futurity winning trainer.