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By California Thoroughbred
Barbara Ranck-Perry can still recall when, as a kid showing horses in Montana, she asked her father for a Dutch warmblood to school over jumps.
“He grabbed one of his racehorses and said, ‘Here, this one can’t run. Take him and teach him how to jump.’ ”
That was the genesis of a racing and breeding operation that Barbara and her husband, Ron Perry, have today, anchored by the California stallion He Be Fire N Ice.
Like many other children growing up in rural Montana, Barbara and her three sisters always had horses.
“Our idea of getting together with friends was to jump on a horse and ride a half-mile to the neighbor’s house,” she recalled. “My mom would drag us all over the state, as well as Idaho and Washington for horse shows. I think their plan from day one was how to keep the girls out of trouble. The answer was horses.”
While racehorses were beloved to Barbara’s father, Red, what he instilled in her was more than just a fondness for equines. A business tycoon, Red Ranck established General Well Service in 1961, and Ranck-Perry spent her whole life in the oil and gas industry.
She moved to Texas in 1984, giving up horses prematurely and diving headlong into the business world.
It was in New Orleans that Barbara met Ron, a longtime employee with Automatic Data Processing. Before they married, he moved them to Orlando, Fla., for his promotion to regional manager, despite Barb’s love of Louisiana. So he promised his wife that “the next move would be mine,” said Barbara, and gamely stayed true to his word when she chose to move back to Montana following Red’s death in late 1993.
“We helped my mom sell my dad’s drilling company, and his interest in real estate,” Barbara said. “But when it got down to his production company, Ranck Oil, I just couldn’t do it. We went to Byron Kluth at First State Bank of Shelby, got a loan, cashed in my moving chip, and we bought the company.”
Out of that, they grew into their next venture, Commercial Energy of Montana, in 1997, vertically integrating from their natural gas production to the end-user businesses. Within ﬁve years, the company was listed in Inc. magazine as the 44th-fastest growing private company in America. When Ranck-Perry
came across photos of her father’s old racehorses, as a birthday surprise for his wife, Ron tracked down one of Red’s last living horses, Redsgoodfridaygal, and brought her home.
“Typical Thoroughbred, she was lonely and didn’t eat,” Barbara remembered. “One of my dad’s friends, Bob Smith, came by and brought a 2-year-old from the track that was hurt to keep ‘Friday’ company. It’s been quite a learning curve”
The ﬁlly, Impressive Miss, by Matthews Keep—Carson City Miss, by Carson City, got Ranck-Perry thinking about getting into breeding. “I thought wouldn’t it be fun to have a foal? I did everything wrong.”
Their ﬁrst foal, in 2006, was Atticus Pomponius, a son of Pivot. He only won once in 21 starts, for Terry Knight at Golden Gate Fields, but through his breaking, training, and subsequent racing, Barbara and Ron were introduced to many of the players who would shape their Cicero Farms: from Ron’s college classmate, Churchill Downs’ Steve Sexton, to trainers Knight, Ronny Werner, Jerry Weaver, Ron Ellis, Cliﬀord Sise Jr., John Sadler, Richard Baltas, and Bob Hess, Jr.
“We quickly realized you can never just have one racehorse if you want to succeed. So we became fully integrated over the last 10 years,” Ranck-Perry said. “We won three maiden races in just ﬁve starts with Ron Ellis at Hollywood Park, and we were on our way. We bought yearlings, and I bred my mare again.”
Suddenly, everything came together, and the couple had He Be Fire N Ice and Tiz a Kiss back to back. He Be Fire N Ice, a California-bred son of Unusual Heat—Deputy Tombe, by Deputy Commander, broke his maiden as a 3-year-old, then was forced to an 18-month layoﬀ with a torn tendon. When he returned in 2013, the big, easily recognizable gray won three in a row, including allowance races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, before taking the $150,750 California Dreamin’ Handicap at Del Mar.
Jumping from Cal-bred company to graded stakes races, He Be Fire N Ice ﬁnished a narrow second in both the $200,000 Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2T) and the $150,750 City of Hope Mile Stakes (G2T) in 2013. His admirable courage earned him a spot in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1T), but he was never
the same after running eighth that day. He retired with a record of ﬁve wins, three seconds, and a third in 16 starts for earnings of $332,580, and he stands at Pat Thompson’s Ridgeley Farm in Hemet.
That Breeders’ Cup race was the 100th race we ever ran, so we knew how lucky we were to get that far that fast,” said Ranck-Perry. “But we are determined to make him a great stallion so we can complete our vertical integration plan. We bought broodmares that were all stakes-winning mares for him, and they had to have earned more than $100,000. A couple are graded stakes-placed. His foals have great bodies and strong minds, and we are really happy with them. Our retired racemares are picked because they nick well to Fire.”
This year they have six yearlings and six foals by the young sire as well as dozens from outside broodmares.
Tiz a Kiss picked up where He Be Fire N Ice left oﬀ. The Cal-bred daughter of Cee’s Tizzy—Candy Factory, by Seattle Bound, won four times in 24 starts over four years of racing, with seven seconds and a third. She ran second by a half-length in the $200,690 Goldikova Stakes (G2T) in 2016 after running ﬁfth in a grade 1 contest. She retired in January with earnings of $361,441.
Ron and Barbara ﬁrmly believe in being responsible owners who help re-train or re-home their retired horses. Atticus Pomponius is now a jumper with Amy Hess, as is Gonna Fly Now, another graded stakes-placed winner for Cicero Farms. He ﬁnished third in the $251,750 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) on the same card where He Be Fire N Ice just missed in his grade 2 debut. Another, Phantom Lover, who lost by a neck and a head to Sky Kingdom and Blue Skies N Rainbows, was adopted by their farrier, Wes Champagne, for his wife after Phantom’s retirement from racing.
“We want to do the right thing for our horses,” Ranck-Perry said. “We want racing to be both fun and proﬁtable, but we also have to be responsible. Everyone should play on the same ﬁeld, and the horses need to be taken care of. Our goal is to ﬁnd them second homes and/or second careers, and we hope that everyone in the industry will continue to do the same thing for their horses.”
While they wait for their ﬁrst crop of He Be Fire N Ice oﬀspring to hit the track next year, Ron and Barbara, who have been married 26 years, have several runners still in training.
Ranck-Perry may have made mistakes when she began, but she embraced the experience.
“You learn so much from your mistakes, and start doing things better,” she said. “I hope I’ve become a better owner and a better race manager. I love my horses. We show up with a bag of carrots and can’t wait to see them, and Ron is a very happy groom, who still needs some training.”
With their new retirement home in Del Mar, this genuine partnership is a recipe for racing success.