Janet McKinnerney's interest in Quarter Horse racing started innocently enough in the early 1970s when her husband purchased a racehorse.
"I thought he was going through middle age craziness at the time," said the 69-year-old McKinnerney. "Then he bought another racehorse and that's when I told him, 'hey, what's this all about?' He responded by saying, 'Janet, you've been chasing and pulling our kids all over the country all these years, it's time that you have some fun with horses.' My daughter was doing horse shows and my son was into rodeo. They were having all this fun with horses and my husband felt that it was time for me to have fun with my own horses."
More than 30 years since those first acquisitions, McKinnerney is now a few days away from what could be the best weekend of her life as an owner. Her homebred Tres Spice is one of the top contenders going into Saturday's $1,130,000 Ed Burke Million Futurity after winning her trial by daylight when posting the sixth fastest qualifying time of :17.555.
"I hope she does great in the final, but realistically, I have no idea on how she'll do," McKinnerney said. "She had a bad out in the Kindergarten trials and she still had the 11th fastest time and then she was pushed on the night of the Ed Burke Million trials but she still won with a time fast enough to qualify. I think it's her turn to have some good racing luck in the Ed Burke final."
McKinnerney, who celebrated with her husband their 50th wedding anniversary last year, is relishing the fact that Tres Spice has Hall of Fame trainer Blane Schvaneveldt at her side.
"I've known Blane for years and years and I have a lot of faith in his training abilities," she added. "You can't win some 4,000 races and not know a great deal about horses. Blane and I make a great pair. Blane has some spine problems and so do I. My spine is not as bad as Blane's but unfortunately they'll keep me from traveling to Los Alamitos to watch the Ed Burke Million. We will, however, have a great, big party at home and we'll be rooting for Tres Spice."
McKinnerney's home is a 3,000-acre ranch northwest of San Antonio, Texas. Located 20 miles from the town of Hondo, the ranch is the home of about 100 Brahma cows as well as six broodmares, including the dams of Tres Spice and recent June 15 Morning Snow Handicap winner Royal Motions, which McKinnerney also owns. Raised on a ranch, McKinnerney says that horses and cows is what she's known her entire life. After that early 1970s purchase, McKinnerney began a career in the racing industry that was highlighted by her involvement in the breeding of 1988 World Champion Merganser, the winner of that year's All American and Rainbow futurities.
"Merganser is out of our broodmare Hug Tiny," she said. "We sold him for $8,000 as a yearling. People asks us 'aren't you sorry that you didn't buy the horse? I tell them, no because the best thing that ever happened to Merganser was us selling him. I believe that if we would have kept him we probably would have run him in Colorado and he would have never done what he accomplished."
The possibility of breeding another horse like Merganser or even Tres Spice is the true joy of McKinnerney's life in racing.
"I was in the stall when Tres Spice was born and watching her be foaled, these horses are like my children," she said. "I just love the breeding aspect. I love seeing the foals being born and it's exciting to see the mares get back in foal. I just have to have at least one mare in foal every year. Watching the interaction between the mare and baby, I don't care how many times you do it, that's an incredible experience."
And what does she think of having the opportunity to finally run in a one million dollar race such as the Ed Burke Million Futurity on June 23?
"I'm used to reading about this people that take part in races like the Ed Burke Million and I think of them as movie stars," she said. "I have to keep pinching myself to see if this is really happening. I still can't believe that we're going to be part of the Ed Burke Million Futurity."