THE LIFE OF A LEGEND: MR. EYE OPENER
By Misti R Quiring
“My favorite memory is simply the time Mr. Eye Opener gave us,” said Betty Raper. Although owned by the Dale and Billie Smith family of Tulsa, Oklahoma, MEO stood at Belle Mere Farm under the watchful eye of Dee and Betty Raper his entire stud career, stretching 24 wonderful years from 1994 to his passing in 2018.
Mr. Eye Opener was bred and raised by Joe Fulton and was purchased at the Ruidoso sale as a yearling by the AQHA Hall Of Fame trainer Jack Brooks, aka “Mr. All American,” for the Dale Smith family.
MEO went into training with Jack, and throughout his stellar 2-year-old year being rode to countless victories under AQHA Hall of Fame jockey, the late Jacky Martin, he was affectionately dubbed “Popeye.” On March 4, 1992, at Sunland Park, MEO broke his maiden in his first race. During his 2-year-old year, MEO was entered into 10 races, running in the money 100 percent of the time. He finished the season winning seven, running second in one and third in two, and setting a new track record in the Grade 1 West Texas Futurity, running 300 yards in 16.450 seconds. He had a good 3-year-old season as well, and, when it came to a close, he was retired from racing and came to stand at Belle Mere Farm.
In total, Mr. Eye Opener earned $202,978 in 15 total races, running in the money 14 out of 15 of those races. His racing legacy included winning the G1 West Texas Futurity and G1 Speed Horse Gold and Silver Cup Futurity, running second in the G1 Rainbow Futurity and running third in the G1 Kansas Futurity.
Famous Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca once said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” Little did anyone know that the end of Mr. Eye Opener’s prominent racing career would open a whole, new kind of sovereignty in the breeding shed.
The peak of his siring career was reached when one of his colts, named Eyesa Special (Mr. Eye Opener X Miss O Toole by Special Effort), won the coveted $1 Million Dollar All American Futurity. Eyesa Special didn’t just win the All American, he owned it, finishing two lengths ahead of the nearest competitor and setting a new world record for 2-year-olds, as well as a new stakes record at 440 yards in 21.097 seconds.
Betty spoke about how MEO’s siring prominence impacted their lives: “Financially speaking, Mr. Eye Opener made Belle Mere Farms what it is today. Him having sired an All American winner changed our whole lives. When Eyesa Special won the All American, we went from worrying about payroll to knowing we had more security. After the All American is run, everybody wants to breed to the sire of the winning horse because everyone in our industry’s goal in life is to win the All American.”
Mr. Eye Opener’s siring eminence didn’t end with producing an All American winner. MEO has consistently been ranked in the top 10 leading broodmare sires by money earned, his daughters producing 107 stakes winners. In 24 foal crops that have reached racing age, he has sired 941 winners, 222 stakes horses and four champions with earnings in excess of $28.1 million. Although producing race horses was MEO’s primary success, he has also made a huge impact as a producer of barrel, rope and steer wrestling horses, including two-time (2007 and 2009) AQHA/PRCA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year Rocks Eye Opener (aka Jessie), owned by Canadian cowboy Lee Graves!
When asked about any quirks MEO had, Betty replied that “he didn’t really have any, but you could almost set your clock by MEO’s routine. When we would turn him out and he was ready to come in, he would come to the gate and wait. If you didn’t pay attention to him, he would take his foot and paw at the gate to let you know he was ready.
“Recently, he started telling us his time was coming, just showing us small signs of his age. Normally, when we released him into the pasture, he would turn and head down to where the mares were. But lately, on cold days, he would just stay by the gate as if to say, ‘It’s too cold out here, put me back in my stall.’ We are not real big about turning horses out with blankets on, but if it was really cold, to make him more comfortable, we let him wear his during turnout and waited until a little later in the morning to turn him out.”
On November 17,2018, in true Mr. Eye Opener fashion, in his own time and own place of choosing, he laid down in the stall he had happily occupied for 24 years and passed away peacefully.
It is rare and special to find a stallion that is (or was) a prolific performer and a versatile mega producer, but the Smiths and Rapers found just that in a young gray colt that became a legend, leaving his hoofprint and heartbeat on our industry for all eternity.
When asked what is the one trait you feel Mr. Eye Opener passes to his offspring most frequently, Betty says, “A big heart and a lot of willpower.” It was his heart and willpower that helped build the legacy of Belle Mere Farm that will forever go down in the history books. Belle Mere Farm will be inducted into the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in January 2019.
Thank you, Mr. Eye Opener, for all you’ve done for our industry; you will never be forgotten.