12/01/2010 2:21PM

First Down Dash will remain prominent


A few years ago, when the El Nino weather effect struck California with significant rainfall, the late Scoop Vessels thought of a way to house top Quarter Horse stallion First Down Dash if the river on the banks running through the Vessels Stallion Farm in northern San Diego county rose too high.

“If the river rises any further, he will come up to the house and we’ll put him in the living room overnight,” Bonnie Vessels recalled her husband saying.

The river never rose that far, but to Bonnie Vessels it was a fine idea. “Odd as it sounds, I would have agreed to that in a heartbeat,” she wrote in an e-mail earlier this week.

Such was the impact that First Down Dash had on Vessels Stallion Farm and the entire sport of Quarter Horse racing. The most successful stallion in Quarter Horse history, First Down Dash died Thanksgiving morning of infirmities of old age, the farm said. He was 26.

Through Tuesday, First Down Dash had sired the earners of a record $73.7 million, and 35 champions since his first crop reached the races in 1991. He sired more than 1,160 winners and 224 stakes winners.

On the racetrack, First Down Dash won 13 of 15 starts and $857,256 in 1986 and 1987 for the Vessels family. First Down Dash was named the 1987 World Champion, and stood his entire stallion career at their farm in Bonsall, Calif. By Dash For Cash, he surpassed that legendary horse as the sport’s leading stallion.

The statistics do not tell the entire story. First Down Dash influenced Quarter Horse bloodlines in many ways – as a stallion, a stallion of stallions and a broodmare sire. Such a legacy is far from complete. Since First Down Dash rose to prominence, farms throughout Quarter Horse racing have sought his colts as stallion prospects, and his fillies and mares as broodmares.

Because Quarter Horse racing permits insemination through frozen semen, First Down Dash will have further crops in coming years.

“His broodmares are some of the most sought after in the market,” farm manager Kevin Dickson said. “I think he’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

In the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on Dec. 10, all 10 of the finalists have First Down Dash in their bloodlines.

Bonnie Vessels said that as a stallion First Down Dash was easy to handle, for farm staff and for people who visited the farm.

“Time and time again, we’d have guests, and events, and he posed each and every time for each and every guest,” she said. “He was special. He was smart, and we were blessed to have been part of the ride.”