The Greatest Match Race Ever Run
On February 24th, 1974, one of the greatest match races of all time was run at Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City, Mexico. The race was advertised as a contest between two nations, but it was also a contest between two breeds: the Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse.
Come Six, an American Quarter Horse, was to face Beduino, a Mexican Thoroughbred. Over the short distance of 440 yards or ¼ mile, the Quarter Horse was expected to be an easy winner. However, Beduino, who was described as “The Black Stallion in gray,” was no ordinary Thoroughbred.
Beduino was foaled on February 29th, 1968 in Mexico. He was owned by Justo Fernandez who won the stallion as a yearling in a bet. His name means Bedouin and was likely a reference to the Bedouin horses that are often gray in color. He was by Romany Royal and out of Jo-An-Cat, by Rejected. Beduino’s grandsire, Grey Sovereign, was a leading sire of two-year-olds in Great Britain and France. His second dam, Quick Eye, was a daughter of the King Ranch’s legendary stallion, Depth Charge. He was also descended from Nasrullah, Blenheim II and Teddy. His pedigree was a blend of European champions and American sprinters. That combination was undoubtedly where Beduino derived his brilliance.
In 1970, as a two-year-old, Beduino won two of four official starts. At three, he won three races and ran second in the 1971 Clasico Windsor Stakes. In all 13 of his official starts, Beduino led the field into the first turn; however, his momentum would frequently cause him to drift to the outside rail and allow horses to pass him on the inside. Fernandez knew that his speed was better suited to Quarter Horse racing – short distances on a straightaway. Unfortunately, Thoroughbreds were no longer allowed to enter official Quarter Horse races. So, after winning only six official starts and earning the equivalent of $11,630, Beduino began his famous career as a match racehorse.
Fernandez would bet almost anything on his horses and Beduino made him the winner of many wagers. The gray stallion bested all Quarter Horse rivals in Mexico. Then, in 1972, Beduino faced an opponent from the United States. Veteran rider Ronnie Banks had purchased multiple stakes winner Chariwari to match race him in Mexico. Chariwari was a gelding by Tiny Charger and out of Miss Magnum Bar, by Three Bars. He was coming off a win in the 870-yard Marathon Handicap. Chariwari was a good horse and when his first match race was arranged against a Thoroughbred, Banks thought there was no way that he would lose.
Banks had just broken his arm so he took his friend Charlie Smith with him to Mexico to ride Chariwari. Smith remembered that they had taken the race against Beduino lightly. This was his recollection of the events: “We’d been down there two or three days before we went out to the track. Finally, we went out the morning of the day we were supposed to run and they asked us if we wanted to watch them work the horse. Hell, they blew him out an eighth of a mile that morning. He was a good-looking old horse. Finally, we went to the gate and they loaded him in and told us we should load whenever we were ready and to holler when we wanted them to kick it. They sure weren’t taking advantage of us. I must have beat him away from there by a length and a half but then he just blew on by me. He must have beat us by a couple of lengths.”
After that, Banks was determined to defeat Beduino. He happily obliged when Fernandez arranged a meeting to discuss another match race. At that meeting, Fernandez claimed that Beduino was the fastest horse in the world. Banks thought that was a brash statement, but when Fernandez offered to pay all expenses and put up $50,000 against any horse worthy of matching Beduino, Banks accepted the challenge.
In 1974, Banks and Smith thought they had found the horse for the job – Come Six. Come six was a three-time AQHA Racing Champion by Azure Te and out of Flicka Six, by Tonto Bars Hank. He had won several stakes races including the World’s Championship Stakes and was the reigning AQHA Racing Champion Aged Gelding. Banks and Smith were certain that Come Six would beat Beduino. They spoke to Mildred Roe, the owner of Come Six, and she agreed to the conditions of the match race. They took nearly 30 people to Mexico City for the week. Come Six had his regular jockey, Luke Myles, his trainer Bubba Werner, and assistant trainer James Forrester. The gelding also had his regular horseshoer, grain and hay. Steven Rothblum, a trainer at Los Alamitos was responsible for taking care of Come Six during the trip.
Come Six and his crew took a small plane from Pomona, California to Mexicali. When they landed in Mexico, their plane was surrounded by armed policemen. Apparently, the company that chartered the flight failed to notify Mexican authorities when a different plane was substituted due to mechanical issues. The unidentified plane was assumed to be carrying drugs. Thankfully, Fernandez was able to settle the situation. The plane fueled up and continued to Mexico City where the Come Six and his handlers were escorted to Hipodromo de Las Americas. And true to his word, Fernandez covered all expenses the Americans incurred on their trip, even their hotel and bar bills.
The $100,000 winner-take-all match race attracted more than 50,000 spectators. Over $1 million was allegedly exchanged in informal wagers. American stunt performer and entertainer Evil Knievel had traveled south with the connections of Come Six. It was said that Knievel bet $40,000 on the bay gelding. Even for an experienced daredevil, a bet against Beduino was risky.
When the chutes opened, Come Six took a full stride before Beduino even left the gate. Beduino’s jockey, Manuel Zavala, later said that it felt like Beduino had slipped at the start. Banks thought that the gray horse was surely beaten. According to Myles, “we had a half-length lead or more coming out of the gate and led all the way until the last two jumps. Then this gray blur shot past me.” Banks, who had been in the starting gate did not get a good view of the finish. He said “I remember looking at the people and thinking there were a lot of happy Mexicans.” Beduino had outrun Come Six by a length. The crowd at Hipodromo went wild.
After the race, Beduino was shipped to the United States where he remained for the rest of his life. He stood stud at the Vessels Stallion Station in California where he sired 724 registered Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse foals in 19 foal crops. Among those were 496 Race ROM-earners, 440 race winners, 35 Superior Race Award-earners, 25 black-type stakes winners, 15 graded stakes winners and six champions, with earnings of $13,153,846 on the track. As of 2022, he was ranked 44th on the list of Leading Sires of All Time. He is still the #1 Thoroughbred sire of Quarter Horses. Beduino passed away in 1991 and was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 2008.