08/13/2010 11:59AM

Vessels influence will be long remembered


Formally, his name was Frank Vessels, but it was hard to imagine anyone calling him that. From the time of his youth spent around Los Alamitos Racecourse, he was better known as Scoop.

Scoop Vessels, who died Wednesday at 58, was a third-generation horseman whose family founded Los Alamitos Race Course in Los Alamitos, Calif.

It was Scoop Vessels who picked up the family’s Quarter Horse breeding tradition at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif., after his mother’s death in the early 1990s, and turned the northern San Diego County farm into a showcase venue.

Scoop Vessels branched into Thoroughbred racing and breeding in that decade and found immediate success, standing In Excess, a leading stallion in California. In more recent years, it was Scoop Vessels who took a role in racing management, being elected to the Jockey Club in 2004 and serving as president of the American Quarter Horse Association that year. In 2006, he was president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Sadly, it was Scoop Vessels’s death in a plane crash in southeast Oregon on Wednesday that has left people in many parts of the horse world mourning the loss of a friend and colleague.

Vessels was traveling from Redding, Calif., to Montana for a fishing trip when the plane he was piloting crashed. Sam Cannell, a friend of Vessels who owned Quarter Horses with him, also died in the crash.

“It breaks my heart that’s he’s gone,” said Mike Pegram, who owned In Excess when the horse went to Vessels. “But when you think of him, you smile.”

Vessels was the rare horseman comfortable in the circles of Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred enthusiasts, and as eager to hear the opinions of the working man as the executives in the board room.

“He was almost superhuman when it came to furthering American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred horse racing,” AQHA executive vice-president Don Treadway said in a phone interview on Thursday.

“The other thing about Scoop, he wanted people to appreciate horses. If their interest was outside of racing, he was okay with that.”

Vessels was instrumental in the development of the all-time leading Quarter Horse stallion First Down Dash, and In Excess, both of which are still active and have played vital roles at Vessels Stallion Farm.

First Down Dash has record progeny earnings of $72.5 million and was syndicated in the early 1990s for $7 million. The 26-year-old stallion remains in high demand.

“He managed the best American Quarter Horse that ever lived,” said Ben Hudson, the publisher of Texas-based TRACK magazine.

In Excess is one of three Thoroughbred stallions that stood at Vessels this year. He stood for $12,500 in 2010, one of the higher stud fees in the state. Wednesday at Del Mar, the In Excess gelding Goggles McCoy won the Real Good Deal Stakes. The stallion has more than 60 stakes winners.

In Excess was syndicated in the 1990s, when the stallion was being pursued by Kentucky farms. Pegram owned a leading share in In Excess, and wanted the horse to remain in California.

“I had a horse I didn’t know what to do with and Scoop was looking to branch out,” Pegram said. “I said, ‘How will we keep this horse in California?’ Scoop said, ‘We’ll syndicate him.’ I said, ‘Can we do it?’ He said, ‘We’ll try.’ He always underpromised and overdelivered. What you saw was what you got.”

Through adulthood, Vessels gave up one form of racing for another. As a young man, he was passionate about off-road auto racing, winning the 1980 Baja 1000, which was featured on “Wide World of Sports.” He retired from off-road racing in 1996.

Pegram said that Vessels’s casual demeanor, blue jeans, open collar and husky appearance deceived some people.

“He was so laid-back, but people didn’t know how astute he was,” Pegram said. “Everything he did, he did successfully. He had passion. He knew what he wanted to get out of life.”

Not long ago, Vessels called Pegram concerned about several issues confronting California. “He said, ‘What are we going to do about California racing?’” Pegram recalled. “He said, ‘We can’t go on like this.’ He took it upon himself to do that. He was a breeder. He took the legacy of his family seriously. He only ever got involved in things he cared about.”

Pete Parrella, a California owner and breeder of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, said Vessels’s contribution will be remembered for a long time.

“For him to blossom the way he did, and earn the respect the way he worked for not only the Quarter Horse industry, but the Thoroughbred industry, we owe him a great deal of gratitude,” Parrella said. “I don’t think we’ll appreciate that until time goes on. We’ll look up and think, ‘Where’s Scoop?’”

A memorial service for Vessels will be held at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif., at 4 p.m. on Monday.