Marvin and Lela Barnes, Ada, Oklahoma, have been among Quarter Horse racing’s most influential owners and breeders during their 50-year marriage. They won the All-American Futurity in 1982 with Mr Master Bug at a time when the Ruidoso Downs fixture was the world’s richest horse race, and, through FL Lady Bug — a 1945 foal Barnes originally purchased for $1,000 and bought and sold several times over the years before buying her back for keeps in 1955 — and other horses produced at Lady Bug Stallion Station, they established a line that is still having a huge impact on the sport today.
“Lives have been changed all over the world because of FL Lady Bug,” Barnes said Thursday. “Corona Cartel, First Down Dash, Holland Ease (three of Quarter Horse racing’s top stallions) all trace back to her.”
FL Lady Bug’s son, Lady Bugs Moon, was part of an historic running of the All-American back in 1968 when he finished second in a 10-horse field where the second through fifth-place finishers were all bred by Barnes. In 1982, Mr Master Bug, a great grandson of FL Lady Bug, won the All-American, and Marvin and Lela Barnes were also the owners and breeders of runner-up Miss Squaw Hand.
“Nobody’s ever done that before or since,” Barnes said. “And that was the first time anybody ever got $1 million for winning a horse race.”
The 1982 running of the All-American was the first in a three-year window in which the race was the richest in the world. That streak ended with the inception of the Breeders’ Cup for thoroughbreds in 1984.
Barnes estimated he has raced the winners of over $5 million in purses over the years, with more than $1.7 million of that total coming from Mr Master Bug.
“I’ve won every stakes race run at Ruidoso,” Barnes said. “Mr Master Bug (whose earnings total would have been higher if he hadn’t been disqualified after winning the All-American Derby at Ruidoso in 1983) is still the leading money-winning Quarter Horse stallion in the world.”
Barnes has trimmed his operation significantly since his glory days in the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s. Today he has only two horses in training — the 2-year-old fillies Fly Lela Fly and Fly Like A Bug Fly — with veteran Oklahoma trainer Rodney Reed and a yearling filly, Fly Jess Fly, out of a daughter of Mr Master Bug. His 2-year-olds both ran in training races Wednesday at Remington Park, and both will be the trials for the Oklahoma Futurity when the track opens its 2009 Quarter Horse meeting on March 6.
“They both looked pretty good yesterday,” Barnes said.
“I’m getting pretty old,” Barnes said, “but I guess this is a pretty big honor.”
Marvin and Lela Barnes were inducted into the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2009.