The story of Easy Jet’s blazing career and his lifelong bond with owner Walter Merrick.
Written by Diane Ciarloni Simmons in the March 1990 issue which featured a special tribute to the American Quarter Horse Association in honor of its 50th Anniversary. Among other articles, included was Legends of the Breed: Horses profiling a number of legendary horses. The success of that article and issue led to the creation of the Legends book series. Legends: Volume 9 is set to be released in early 2017.
Easy Jet was sired by Jet Deck, and is out of Lena’s Bar (TB), by Three Bars (TB). He has sired 140 stakes winners and 149 stakes-placed. His progeny have earned in excess of $24 million. The numbers are more than impressive, and they don’t include his 1988 and 1989 crops. In the 1989 Speedhorse Stallion Register, his name appeared in 40 percent of either the first or second generations of the 300 stallions listed. And he is unique in that he has also proven a premier sire of outstanding mares.
He’s 23 years old and still breeding. Just how far his influence will ultimately reach in the pages of race horse history is yet to be determined. It already spans three equine registries-the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Paint Horse Association, and the Appaloosa Horse Club.
The horse is the only All-American Futurity winner to sire three winners of that race: Easy Date, ’74; Pie In The Sky, ’79; and Mr. Trucka Jet, ’85.
In retrospect, it seems as if Easy Jet’s life began under a star of brilliance and, despite the controversy that has sometimes muddied his 23 years of living, the brilliance has never dimmed.
Bred and owned for most of his life by veteran horseman Walter Merrick of Sayre, Okla., Easy Jet hit the ground in 1967. He was the last foal of Lena’s Bar and her finest contribution to the running horse industry. According to Merrick, the sorrel colt with the blaze face and snips of white on his feet was never still. His head was always up, looking for would-be competitors in the open expanses of pasture. He was ready to run at a moment’s notice, searching for an excuse to kick up his heels and unleash the speed building in him as a yearling.
A lifelong bond formed between Merrick and Easy Jet. It was the colt’s owner/ breeder who handled breaking and training, bringing the sorrel along nice and easy. There was seldom a time when the colt wasn’t sensible and willing, but there were many times when it was nearly impossible for him to contain his innate exuberance for life. In 1969–when Easy Jet was 2 and Merrick was 56–the duo loaded up and began a campaign that was to make the record books.
1969 was a tough year for horse and man. There were many in the industry who wondered about Merrick’s judgment. That sorrel colt seemed to be in the trailer constantly, covering mile after mile between racetrack after racetrack. No one knew it then, but traveling was destined to characterize Easy Jet’s entire life.
Easy Jet made 26 starts as a 2-year-old and won 22 of them. It was phenomenal, but many people wondered if the season would wind up with the colt still able to walk. Certainly, Easy Jet could probably have made the trip between Raton and Ruidoso, N.M., on his own without benefit of a human guide. Here’s how some of the year unfolded.
January 12, 1969: Easy Jet took the 330-yard Blue Ribbon Futurity. The AQHA “Stakes And Feature Events” stated: “Easy Jet appears to be well named inasmuch as he won the Blue Ribbon Futurity quickly and easily. At the wire, the colt was three-quarters of a length in front of his nearest competitor, and his time for the 330 yards was AAAT and established a new track record. Easy Jet displayed brilliant speed and class in winning the early futurity at Sallisaw and will certainly be one to watch.” The early prophecy did, indeed, prove correct.
March 23, 1969: Easy Jet won the 300-yard Columbus Triple Crown Futurity in Columbus, Texas. The same publication referenced above stated: “The son of Jet Deck left no doubt about his class as he handled the field of 2-year-olds in a very impressive manner, while stepping off the 300 yards in 15.79 over a muddy track. Easy Jet was in front from the beginning and jockey Elbert Minchey eased him before reaching the wire.” The colt had already accumulated a bankroll of nearly $50,000.
May 18, 1969: Easy Jet brought home the 350-yard Lubbock Downs Futurity. It was written: “Walter Merrick’s outstanding 2-year-old colt, Easy Jet, raced to victory in the Lubbock Downs Futurity on May 18. The victory was his third futurity win of the year and boosted his earnings over the $75,000 mark.”
June 15, 1969: Easy Jet won the 350-yard Kansas Futurity at Ruidoso. They wrote: “Wire-to-wire and going away was the style displayed by Walter Merrick’s classy colt, Easy Jet, as he won the $136,595 Kansas QH Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. The big sorrel colt took the lead just out of the gate and proceeded to draw clear.”
July 6, 1969: Easy Jet ran second by a nose to Hell’s To Betsy in the 330-yard Oklahoma QH Futurity at La Mesa Park in Raton, New Mexico. He ran second in his next out which was the 400-yard Raton QH Futurity on August 3.
September of 1969 was a brutal month for Easy Jet. He qualified for the All-American Futurity in August, returning on September 1 to win the finals. They wrote: “Easy Jet blasted away from the latch on September 1 at Ruidoso Downs and proceeded to do what everyone had expected him to do since early in January when he made his debut–win the All-American Futurity. The classy sorrel colt, undaunted by the sloppy track and unimpressed by the youngsters that ran the fastest qualifying times in the trials, took the lead at the break and was never headed.” He was then hauled to Centennial Park in Colorado to run in the Colorado Laddie Stakes on September 24. Four days later, he returned and won the finals. His earnings were over $350,000.
October 22, 1969: Easy Jet won the 400-yard Rocky Mountain QH Association Futurity at Centennial. On November 1, the sorrel was headed into the gate of the All American Congress Futurity at Beulah Park in Ohio and … he won. Not only that, but he won after qualifying for the race the day before. His total earnings were nearly $385,000.
November 30, 1969: Easy Jet won the 400-yard Sunland Fall QH Futurity at Sunland Park, New Mexico. And it was written: “This writer has just about run out of superlatives to use in describing Easy Jet. The colt has done everything asked of him and more. He has won just about everything but the tracks themselves. He is already the second leading money winner of all time, and has won more money in a single campaign than any Quarter Horse-ever.” Finally, Easy Jet was finished for the year. His total earnings came to $409,155. His record reflected 26 starts with 22 firsts and 3 seconds. He was named the 1969 Champion Stallion, Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, and World Champion Running Horse.
The great sorrel returned to the tracks in 1970 for 12 starts. He racked up five firsts, four seconds and two thirds for $36,565 in earnings. He was named 1970 Champion Stallion and Champion Three-Year-Old Colt. He retired sound as the proverbial dollar with cumulative earnings of $445 ,720. His lifetime statistics showed 38 starts with 27 firsts, 7 seconds, and 2 thirds.
Easy Jet retired to the stud barn with his credentials intact and the brilliance of his star still shining. He was syndicated for multiple millions with the figure making headlines across the country. It wasn’t too long afterwards that the stallion’s controversial period began unfolding.
Merrick sold half-interest in Easy Jet to Joe McDermott. Then, in 1976, the stallion was sold to Buena Suerte Ranch in Roswell , N. M.; but the bond between Merrick and the sorrel stallion was still in place because Merrick purchased controlling interest in the ranch. Ultimately, the Buena Suerte deal went sour and Easy Jet found himself in a trailer returning to Merrick in Sayre, Oklahoma. It was a back-and-forth, up-and-down situation with both Merrick and the stallion finding themselves on unsure footing most of the time.
On October 3, 1987, the sorrel found himself in yet another trailer. This time, he was headed for California and Gateway Farms. The industry viewed the move with mixed emotions, with most horsemen regretting the separation of Merrick and what had become thought of as “his” stallion. Approximately one year later, Easy Jet was loaded again. Gateway was relocating to Jacksboro, Texas.
Finally, on September 28 of 1989, Easy Jet returned to Sayre and Walter Merrick. He was back where it all began nearly 23 years ago. He was purchased by Bill Allen of Anchorage, Alaska, from the Roi Young bankruptcy proceedings. Allen then sold half of the famed horse to Merrick, and the two men went on to form a full-blown joint venture project involving all of Walter Merrick’s horses. Easy Jet is once again standing at the 14 Ranch at Sayre, to a limited booking of select mares.
* Easy Jet passed away at the age of 25 in 1992.