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Feature Hero Wins All American Derby

Feature Hero wins richest race in Quarter Horse history.

Q-Racing Journal
September 1, 2013

feature hero

Feature Hero wins the All American Derby. PHOTO: Gay Harris

Reliance Ranches LLC’s Feature Hero won the September 1 All American Derby (G1) with a strong late charge. The race offered a $2,809,784 purse, which is the richest ever offered in the history of American Quarter Horse racing.

Racing in front of a crowd of 21,857 -- the largest crowd ever for a non-All American Futurity day -- Feature Hero was sent off at 24-1 by the bettors, broke well from Post 7 and was fourth early. The race’s fastest qualifier Bon Accord was on the lead from Post 1, but was caught late to finish a neck back. Feature Hero was hand-timed in :21.560 over the 440 yards. Point Break Dash finished third, and was followed by Vancouver Moon, Wonderboy, Elisas Secret, Wicked Courage, Louisana Corona, Tayte Me Down and The Magic Dash.

Feature Hero was ridden by Jimmy Dean Brooks and trained by Eddie Willis. Last year, the black gelding finished fourth in Carters Cookie’s Rainbow Futurity (G1). Earlier this year, he finished second in Brace For Bernal’s $253,000 Remington Park Oklahoma-Bred Derby (R), and then had a rough trip in the Jack Brook Stakes (RG3). His race record stands at four wins, three seconds and three thirds from 14 starts.  

The $1,180,110 winning purse boosted Feature Hero’s earnings to $1,306,638.

Feature Hero qualified to the Derby through a second-place finish to Louisana Corona in their trial, with a :21.276 time, which was the 10th and final qualifying time. Feature Hero paid $49.80 to win.

"We believed in this horse and are so proud of him and Eddie," said co-owner Micah McKinney. "We were not concerned that he was the 10th fastest qualifier. This is a thrill of a lifetime."

Reliance Ranches is a family-owned business based out of Llano, Texas, run by the McKinney family. It includes Gary and his wife Shiela; son Micah and his wife, Leslie; and daughter M’Lissa Schoening and her husband, Jeremy. The family has an oil-gas business, but has always enjoyed horses and the agricultural lifestyle.

“We started running horses about nine years ago,” said Micah in an interview prior to the race. “We were visiting one day – my dad and my wife and I – and one of us said, why don’t we go buy a racehorse? We looked at each other and said, we don’t know anything about racehorses, but we can try to figure it out.”

The family did just that, and has become involved with numerous aspects of the racing industry. They race mostly Quarter Horses, along with a few Thoroughbreds. They own a broodmare band of about 20 mares, including the likes of champion Spit Curl Diva ($829,353), Grade 1-placed Back In The Pack ($131,831) and stakes winner Illegal Fireworks ($181,847), among others, and raise about 20-25 foals per year.

The McKinneys are learning very fast – in addition to Feature Hero, they also have freshman star Coronado Cartel ($314,348) and distaffer Cruzin The Wagon ($336,869) among those carrying their colors.

Feature Hero was a $40,000 purchase from the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale, and attracted their interest and that of Willis first because of the bloodline cross between Corona Chick (dam of his sire Valiant Hero) and Feature Mr Jess (sire of dam Illegal Feature), and then because he was a nice individual.

The gelding was bred in Oklahoma by Lana Merrick and Kent Jackson.

He is by the third-year sire Valiant Hero ($668,633), who won the 2006 Texas Classic Futurity (G1) and the 2007 Heritage Place Derby (G2). From 186 starters in three crops raced, Valiant Hero is represented by 110 winners, including 15 stakes winners and the earners of more than $6 million. Valiant Hero also is the sire of tomorrow’s All American Futurity (G1) qualifier Houdini.   

Feature Hero is the first winner from three starters out of the winning Feature Mr Jess mare Illegal Feature ($23,410). His second dam, Illegally Special, was second in Quik Jolla’s 2003 West Texas Futurity (G1).

Feature Hero also represents a very important industry movement of horsemen speaking out against the use of performance-enhancing medications. Micah and Leslie founded Racing Free, a rapidly-growing industry alliance of owners, breeders and other horsemen dedicated to eliminating the use of illegal performance-enhancing medications.

Racing Free encourages the elimination of such medications by offering a positive way for the industry to speak out against the practice, as well as providing rewards to enrolled members. Seventeen of the 20 finalists in the All American Futurity and Derby – including Feature Hero – are Racing Free horses. Owners and breeders can enroll horses in the Racing Free program, and when their horses win races with clean drug tests, can earn money back.

“We are very proud of the fact that we have so many owners in the industry willing to stand up against the use of performance-enhancing drugs,” Micah said.

Feature Hero is not only racing free – but he’s racing fast and racing rich, and has raced into the history books.