Page 53 - NM Winter 2023
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                     Gene and Ginnie have a place near Glencoe, and Clay and Amy are near La Union. “We do the breeding with my parents,” Clay explains, “and Amy and I do the training.”
Amy grew up at Bagdad, Arizona, west of Prescott, in a ranching family. “I junior and high school rodeoed, roping and barrel racing,” she says,
“but not running horses. I was going to Yavapai College at Prescott, and met a girl at the feed store, who was a jockey and needed a roommate. We became good friends, and she introduced me to Clay. She said he was the only nice guy at the track. That was 1994, and her name was Tanya Laib.”
Amy had thought her life with horses would have to resume after college, but she ended up helping Clay. Twelve years later, they are a great training team.
The Sparks family always has believed in being involved in all aspects of their businesses. For example, Ginnie was active in the Hereford Breeders Auxiliary and Gene was Arizona Feeds vice president. Clay and Amy always have participated in the AQHA Youth Challenge Championships. “Certain races are the Challenge Races.” Clay explains. “Horses are nominated, and each state can send a youngster. The kids learn how to bandage a horse’s legs and other aspects of race horse care. It’s usually at Los Alamitos or Lone Star. We’ve gotten to go twice.”
Amy adds proudly, “The kids with us really had a hands-on learning experience, not just watching.”
Recently Clay spoke to several classes as part of the University of Arizona’s Speaker’s series, and he also has been invited to speak to horse science classes at New Mexico State University.
The horses come first, though, and Clay and Amy do much of the work themselves. “This winter we’re rotating horses between the farm and Sunland Park two or three times a week,” Clay says. “By summer we’ll have 19 indoor stalls at the farm. The only thing we haven’t done is sales prep of colts. We’re expanding our mare care, and we foal out mares and do layups.”
At the track they have 12 New Mexico Breds in training now – some belonging to the family and some for other owners. “We have about half Thoroughbreds and half Quarter Horses,” Clay says. “The New Mexico Bred program and the cost of living in New Mexico influenced our move here. And my parents have had broodmares here. Our first New Mexico Breds are three year olds now.
In Arizona you might get maybe 50 cents for winning an Arizona bred horse.”
Favorite broodmare Hello Darlin
Broodmares enjoy the sun.
Clay had a large stable in Arizona. He has a “Leading Trainer” buckle. He says, though, “We started from scratch when we moved to New Mexico. We really would rather have a small stable of quality horses because we’re hands-on people. We welcome new owners, but we really try to take care of our long-term clients. We try to tell owners the truth about their horses just like we’d like to be told because we have our own horses, too. We take a little more time getting a horse ready, and we try to be fair to everybody.”
Their greatest supporter in New Mexico is Larry Titsworth, Clay says. “He lives next door, and we have horses in training for him.”
Last year was Sparks Racing’s best year so far in New Mexico. “We won the West Texas Marathon, and ran second to Rocky Gulch three times,” Clay says with a warm smile.
Martin Bourdieu is their first-call rider for the Quarter Horses and some of the Thoroughbreds. “Stan Johnson is Matin’s agent,” Clay says. “He’s a good friend from Arizona and was a friendly face when we moved here.”
Robert Kieckhefer, Mike and Mack Hastings, who raised Heza Fast Man, and Bill Matthews were Clay’s main owners in Arizona. “We still have a few horses for Bill,” he says.
Gene and Ginny stop by the farm and visit a bit. Listening to their conversation tells you this family REALLY LIKES their horses, especially their mare Hello Darlin, and the mare is a reminder of that.
If you want to know about a horseman’s character, find out what happens to the “retired” horses. In the Sparks family’s case, the back pasture at the farm is a carefree, comfortable, permanent home for what Clay laughingly calls “pasture ornaments – horses that have been good to us.”
Clay sums up their philosophy with this observation: “We do this because we like the horses.”
    The race barn
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