TAILS OF TWO PINHOOKERS JUSTIN CUNNINGHAM AND TATE BENNETT ARE TAKING AN AGE-‐OLD METHOD OF BUYING AND SELLING HORSES TO THE CUTTING HORSE SALE ARENA By Steve Warren Jan. 1, 2011 Pinhooking has been going on in the Thoroughbred industry for many years but in the past decade or so it has become a business model for those wishing to turn a profit in the Thoroughbred industry without actually racing the horses they buy. Pinhookers typically buy yearlings at the fall sales, condition them and start their introduction to riding and race track conditions, then re-‐sell them at the following year’s two-‐year old sales. They then start the process all over again. The pinhookers with a good eye for a horse and the ability to move that horse forward in their conditioning and racing education make a profit. With the advent in recent years of radiograph repositories at all the major sales, they have had to become very proficient at detecting flaws that may be minor but will usually preclude re-‐selling at a high enough price to sustain their business model. In addition they have developed a very good eye at understanding what sires will be or are in fashion and for the conformation necessary to success on the race track. In the recent past, there have been several people in the cutting horse industry who have adopted this model for pinhooking yearlings that will be re-‐sold as 2-‐year olds for top futurity prospects. Justin Cunningham and Tate Bennett are two young pinhookers who were highly successful at this year’s NCHA Futurity 2-‐Year Old Sale held Dec. 8. They each sold three horses with Justin selling all three of his consignments for a total of $183,000, averaging $61,000. Tate sold his three consignments for a total of $210,000, an average of $70,000. Tate also sold the high-‐selling 2-‐year old, Jewel Bars Cat, a stallion sired by High Brow Cat out of Sprats Dualin Jewel by Lenas Jewel Bars, for $110,000 to the Center Ranch, Centerville, Texas. Justin and Tate came from different geographical locations using somewhat different methods, based on their location, availability of cattle and other resources, who have achieved very similar outcomes: a good price in the 2-‐year-‐old sale arena. JUSTIN CUNNINGHAM: Justin, 30, is unmarried, and lives in Bethalto, located in west central Illinois. He operates half of the year out of his family’s Thoroughbred farm where he and his father, Robert, pinhook Thoroughbred race horses. Several years ago, he and his father decided to add some real excitement to their lives and began riding cutting horses. While buying, training and showing cutting horses, they had an epiphany, thinking, “Why not put the same pinhooking principles to work in the cutting horse industry?” Justin became the cutting horse pinhooking specialist while Robert gives him advice and helps him scout the NCHA Futurity sales for prospects. Justin usually buys three or four yearlings at the sales, takes them back to Illinois and begins their training. During this past year’s Futurity sales, Justin bought four prospects and his father bought two. When they get the prospects home, Justin starts them under saddle, eventually introducing them to buffalo. The Thoroughbred operation in Illinois is not large enough for race horses and cattle so in April, when cattle are becoming absolutely necessary for the horses’ education, Justin is on the move to North Texas and as far west as New Mexico with his prospects, staying with other well-‐known trainers while receiving advice and help. Justin stays on the road training his prospects until the falls sales. He says that by doing it this way he has better access to good cattle and gets some really great help from people he admires and respects including Kathy Daughn, Gonsalves, Texas; Pete Branch at Lonnie Allsup’s El Cid Ranch on the New Mexico border in Farwell, Texas, who let Justin spend as much time as he needed with him; Dean Terry, DeSoto, Mo.; Kevin Miller, Hermitage, Mo.; Craig Thompson, Buffalo, Texas, and Foster Johnson, who also works out of El Cid. “I’m pretty sure I’m leaving people out who need to be thanked,” said Justin, “and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.” He credits cutting horse trader/trainer Dean Terry for really helping him get started with cutting horses; however, his father, Robert was the largest influence on him. Justin and Robert have a reciprocating arrangement, with Justin going to the Thoroughbred sales, usually held in September at Keeneland, to help find prospects for his father. Robert reciprocates at the yearling sales held during the NCHA Futurity in Fort Worth. This year, Justin also experimented in the breeding business by breeding his mare, Joys Indian Pep, to Metallic Cat. Justin buys almost exclusively from the NCHA Futurity sales. He says, “The sales people at Western Bloodstock have been really good to me.” However, occasionally, he will buy a few young horses privately or at the NCHA Derby sales but he says he really prefers the NCHA Futurity sales. Justin will also sell a few horses privately, including this year’s AQHA Superhorse, 7-‐year-‐old Play Dual Rey (a.k.a. Raymond), a son of Dual Rey out of Dual Hiccup N Play by Doc’s Hickory, owned by the The Play Dual Rey partnership, Whitesboro, Texas. Justin originally sold Raymond as a 3-‐year-‐old to the Cottonwood Ranch, Minneapolis, Minn. The following year he was purchased by Eduardo Pino Ribeiro, Joliet, Mont., and trained to be a snaffle bitter. Casey Hinton, Whitesboro, Texas, traded for Raymond when he was a 4-‐year-‐old and formed a partnership with a group from Fort Stockton who showed an interest in Raymond. As a 7-‐year-‐old Raymond was named the AQHA Superhorse at the AQHA World Show after being ridden by Hinton in the Senior Heeling and Reining, C.R. Bradley and Rich Rosachi in the Senior Roping classes and Todd Crawford in the Working Cow Horse class. Asked what he looks for in a prospect, Justin said that the prospect must be “sired by a stallion that people will look for, such as High Brow Cat or One Time Pepto. He says they have to be pretty and have the right conformation. He cannot afford to overlook small faults that other buyers can when they intend to keep the prospect and go on with it in training. He says, “They have to be ‘real clean’ ‘cause even a small blemish can cause the sale of a prospect to fall through.” Justin looked into a crystal ball last year and made a crucial decision when he decided that One Time Pepto would be the next good sire and purchased two of his offspring during the 2009 NCHA Futurity. At this year’s NCHA Futurity 2-‐Year-‐Old Sale, he sold Four or Five Times, a sorrel son of One Time Pepto out of Lovely Lynnie O Lena by Doc O’Lena, and One Fabulous Time, a blue roan stallion by One Time Pepto out of Cat Mist by High Brow Cat, for $90,000 and $50,000, respectively. Justin also sold Hicka Rey, a red-‐roan stallion by Dual Rey out of Hicka Boonboon by Peptoboonsmal, for $43,000 for a total of $183,000 and an average of $61,000. All three of the horses he sold at this year’s 2-‐Year-‐Old Futurity sale went to working cow horse owners: Cory Cushing bought one for his customer, Jeff Matthews, the owner of One Time Pepto, as did Todd Crawford, a top working cow horse competitor and trainer, and Luke Jones. Justin’s long-‐range plans for the future include moving his operation to the Weatherford, Texas, area while he continues to pinhook and perhaps move into doing more showing. Justin can be reached at 618-‐616-‐7988 or by email at Justin@Bloodstockhorses.com. TATE BENNETT: Tate Bennett, 27, is a good friend of Justin’s and they communicate often, offering each other help if they need it. Tate is a former roper from Hereford, Texas, who discovered the good times and thrills of riding cutting horses. But he lives so far out in the country that it is a 30-‐mile ride to get fuel and a 40-‐ mile ride to get groceries. He is married to Laura, who he says is “the backbone of my operation.” He and Laura have a soon-‐to-‐be five-‐month-‐old son. Laura’s father, Joe Perrin, owns 35,000 acres in West Texas and runs anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 yearling cattle on grass and wheat pasture. Tate emphasizes that taking care of the cattle are his FIRST job, as he is responsible for keeping them healthy, moving them to pastures and in every way ensuring their welfare. Laura rides with him, helping with the cattle work, doctoring and all the other tasks involved in keeping that many cattle healthy and happy. As can be expected, this huge job provides Tate with ample opportunity to give a young horse plenty of jobs to do. Tate credits this exposure to real work as a true asset in his training program. His prospects have had a lot of “wet saddle blankets,” because they are ridden out on the wheat pastures and eventually do some of the work required to keep the cattle healthy. However, Tate’s sale prospects are not the backbone of that operation as he also has ranch horses to do the work, which he will sell as well-‐broke ranch horses. Tate started out learning about cattle from his father who always had cattle. In high school, Tate was a roper and started training rope horses. Eventually he started training colts for other people. As a fun thing, Tate would go to the Clovis, N.M., horse sales where he met noted auctioneer Steve Friskup. Tate credits Steve for starting him down his current path to training cutting horses by getting him better horses to ride. Eventually, Tate went to work for pinhooker, Curtis Bass, Seymour, Texas, where he spent about two and half months. This led him to try pinhooking on his own. When Tate bought his first horse, he trained him in the wheat fields, doctored cattle on him and finally took him to Fort Worth, where the horse sold quite well. After that, Tate was on his way to becoming a cutting horse pinhooker. Unlike Justin, Tate does not depend on the NCHA Futurity sales for his prospects. He is constantly looking for prospects, saying that “the time of year doesn’t matter.” He looks for a “good individual with good x-‐rays that is sound,” but admits that “buying a colt that will resell well is very hard to do.” He buys the best prospects he can afford wherever he sees one that fits his criteria: popular sires, ie High Brow Cat, Peptoboonsmal and Dual Rey to name a few; excellent conformation and good minds. Tate tries to buy two or three prospects to sell and one or two to keep. He has not done much showing but wants to eventually begin showing and hopefully work his way up to the big show: the NCHA Futurity. Tate said he doesn’t do all this for the money. He does this because he and his family love horses. “If you could see where I live you would understand,” says Tate, stressing over and over again that he and his family do this for the love of the horse not for the money. He wants high quality, not high numbers. “Ride for quality not for quantity,” says Tate. Tate likes 2 year olds -‐ buying them and training them to where they get better every year. He wants to keep learning and improving his training and improving the horses he buys and sells. He believes hard work will get you more than anything. “I don’t push my horses,” said Tate. “I spend quality time with lots of rides so I don’t have to push them.” That sums up his philosophy and it must be working. At this year’s NCHA Futurity 2-‐Year-‐Old Sale, Tate sold the high-‐seller: Jewel Bar Cat, a sorrel stallion by High Brow Cat out of Sprats Dualin Jewel by Lenas Jewel Bars, for $110,000 to the Center Ranch in Centerville, Texas. He also sold James Boond, a red roan stallion by Peptoboonsmal out of Stylish Amanda by Docs Styish Oak, for $65,000 and Dual Spice, a sorrel daughter of Dual Pep out of Spicy O Lena by Doc O’Lena, for $35,000 for a total of $210,000 and an average of $70,000. Another horse initially did sell for a higher price, but it was later learned the sale did not complete which made Jewel Bar Cat the high seller of the sale. Tate is taking outside horses to train. He can be reached at Bennett_Tate@hotmail.com or you can call him at 1-‐806-‐336-‐9090. Glory Ann Kurtz, former editor of the Quarter Horse News and current editor of this on-‐line publication attended every sale session at the Futurity. She said she noticed that the horses going through the ring with Justin and Tate as the trainers and riders did not tarry under the auctioneer’s hammer. Opening bids were generally higher on their horses and many bidders kept the bidding lively. She felt that people came to the sale “looking for horses trained and demonstrated by these two trainers.” Tate and Justin are two of the very few pinhookers in the cutting horse industry who have been very successful – even though they come from different parts of the country with very different backgrounds and use very different approaches.
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