By Emily Shields
Twenty years ago Joe Parker served as president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and president of California Thoroughbred Sales.
Though his political days are long behind him and his booming insurance business takes up most of his time, Parker has not strayed far from his original goal of breeding and selling Thoroughbreds. Occasionally, when he isn’t able to sell a horse, Parker will agree to race it. Enter stakes winner Our Pure Creation, a homebred Parker didn’t plan to own.
He always did have an interest in horses, however. Parker, a Texas native who moved to Fresno as a 4-year-old, grew up on a farm and originally dreamt of riding jumpers.
“There aren’t too many opportunities for that, so I outgrew it,” Parker said. “But everyone always thinks they’d like to own a racehorse.”
Parker enjoyed going to the races and handicapping, but it wasn’t until well after he left Fresno State that he “got around to looking at the breeding industry.”
“We claimed a filly, she won, then we lost her, and later she produced a stakes horse,” Parker said. “I thought, ‘Well, it might make sense to try to do that.’ Then we claimed another one, lost her, and she produced a stakes horse, too. That’s when I had to do something about it.”
Via a client, Parker found himself in Kentucky and watched Genuine Risk win the 1980 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) live. Parker soon owned enough mares that he bought a farm in California, Peach Tree Farm.
“I wanted to find a piece of property and fill it with horses, so I did,” Parker said. “I added a five-eighths-mile track, with rails inside and outside, and had a riding arena with lights. The game was to sell yearlings. I didn’t have a lot of success.”
Parker started sending mares to Kentucky, breeding them to stallions there, and returning them to California to foal and be bred back, making the foals California-breds.
“I did very well with that,” he said. “That’s what Our Pure Creation is.”
Parker’s Smart Strike mare Creative Karen was bred to grade II winner Pure Prize in Kentucky, then returned to California to foal. She was bred back to Parker’s A.P. Indy son Crossword, who died later that season. Although the Crossword colt, named Mauco, never won, the Pure Prize filly looked to be a nice prospect for a Barretts sale.
Two weeks before going through the ring, however, Our Pure Creation kicked the back of her stall. The injury was enough that Parker opted to withdraw the filly from the sale and turn her out on the farm.
“She kept growing, so I eventually just sent her to Utah to be broke,” Parker recalled. “Then she finishes training, and it’s time to race her.”
Our Pure Creation debuted on Sept. 8, 2013, in a six-furlong event at Fairplex Park. A pair of runners from the Bob Baffert stable went off as the frst two choices, but Our Pure Creation trounced the field, romping by 5 1⁄4 lengths.
Trainer Jeff Bonde guided the filly through her conditions, adding three allowance wins on both turf and dirt to her resume. After she won two in a row in 2014, Bonde opted for the $125,750 Spring Fever Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Our Pure Creation went off as the favorite but finished fifth. She ran back in the $96,560 Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar, where she trailed the field.
“She got hurt out of that,” Parker explained, “but she came back strong. I was thinking about shipping her East, but the trainer said we should try the Daisycutter again.”
Transferred to the care of trainer Val Brinkerhof, Our Pure Creation ran back 364 days later, finishing third in the Daisycutter and earning herself valuable black type. In September, she was third again, this time in the $108,330 Tranquility Lake Stakes.
Our Pure Creation nabbed a stakes win next out, in the $100,250 California Distaff Handicap, originally scheduled for the turf but switched to the main track because of rain. She sat third in a field of five rivals, then rallied to score by 1 1⁄2 lengths under jockey Fernando Perez in 1:16.13 for 6 1⁄2 furlongs. Our Pure Creation has five wins in 14 starts for earnings of $261,648.
Parker will keep Our Pure Creation to breed in the next few seasons. “She’s a nice, big, lovely mare,” he said, “kind of scopy. I expect to get nice foals out of her.”
Parker sold Peach Tree Farm five years ago, and he sold Our Pure Creation’s dam, Creative Karen, in foal to Lucky Pulpit. His insurance business, under the banner Parker General Insurance, began in 1964 and is thriving. His Equine Insurance Company specializes in equine mortality and liability insurance, offering policies for farms and ranches.
After he became a member of the CTBA in 1979, Parker found himself on the board of directors and then as secretary of the organization. “While I was vice president, the president was voted off and suddenly I became the president,” he said. Parker served as president in 1994 and 1995.
“I was around when it was a tough time,” he said. “Some would say I did a good job, and some would say I didn’t. But if you have about 50% of people, then you probably did okay. I enjoyed that part of it while I was there.”
Despite the success of Our Pure Creation, Parker isn’t looking to add more racing stock. “I’ll probably add a mare or two during the November sales,” he said. “I have entered a few claims in for fillies. I have about six mares right now.”
Parker misses the farm but knew it was time to cut back. “This business will give you all it’s got,” he said. “Sometimes you can get really lucky and it’s a fun business, so fun that you don’t have to be making money. I do love horses, and I have a lot of friends in it. But with the two insurance offices, I can only spend so much time thinking about horses.”
With success coming in both areas, Parker has shown he can balance his work and his favorite pastime.
By Emily Shields