hen she stopped the clock in 1:04 3/5 on April 19, 1987, in the $27,850 Fashion Handicap at Longacres, Firesweeper stamped herself as one of the classiest horses ever born in Washington. It was her 10th stakes victory over the Renton surface, and she thereby claimed sole possession for the most lifetime stakes triumphs at that particular venue over Washington Racing Hall of Fame colleagues Belle of Rainier, Sparrow Castle and Trooper Seven, all of whom notched nine such contests and were voted into the Hall of Fame prior to the daughter of Drum Fire and Skywalker.
“I’d have to say this one is the most exciting stakes victories for us,” owner/breeder Jerre Paxton of Northwest Farms told the Washington Thoroughbred on that day. “I know this record was a hard thing to accomplish and it may never happen again, since competition with Thoroughbreds is so tough today.”
Inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, eight years subsequent to her owner’s entry into that very same echelon, the 1985 two-year-old and 1986 three-year-old Washington champion retired with 12 Longacres stakes conquests among her 13 stakes victories. This Longacres achievement was eventually reached, but not surpassed, by fellow Hall of Famer Captain Condo in 1991. Firesweeper amassed a record of 34-13-5-3 and purse earnings of $363,394, which at the time of her transition to her second career as a broodmare, positioned her as the third richest distaffer, behind only Belle of Rainier and Delicate Vine, in the entire 123 years the Evergreen State has existed.
Conditioned by Bob McMeans, the third winningest trainer in the history of Longacres, throughout the duration of her four-year career, Firesweeper was the second Washington-bred (behind 1984 two-year-old filly Washington champion Got You Runnin, who also happened to also be a McMeans pupil), to contest a Breeders’ Cup World Championship race when she set the pace for the first half-mile in the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), before tiring to finish 11th of 12.
The irony, however, is that the seeds for this mare’s magnificent career were almost certainly deposited, no matter how unwittingly, nearly three decades before she ever took her first breath.
After observing the Washington apple market, Floyd Paxton, Jerre’s father, recognized that the polyethylene bag would render wooden boxes obsolete in transporting produce, but the bags possessed a serious flaw: there was no closing mechanism to sustain a longer shelf life for the product.
Floyd, who at the time was employed at his father, Hale’s, box nailing company, was returning home from a business trip in 1952, when he realized he couldn’t close the bag of peanuts he purchased on the aircraft and was determined to fashion a makeshift clasp from an expired credit card tucked away in his wallet.
The spartan, yet definite certain success of his rudimentary efforts, evolved into the manufacture of an improved model of this clip, which Paxton dubbed the Kwik Lok. After determining the cost of shipping from his residence in Riverside, California, proved to be too costly, Paxton moved the Kwik Lok Corporation to Yakima.
More than four decades after Paxton’s introduction of his new invention, Kwik Lok is now the prime provider of clasps for every bag full of produce and vegetables obtained on every weekly appointment at the grocery store.
The executive headquarters of the company remains in Yakima, but operations are also maintained in New Haven, Indiana, and in Australia, Canada, Ireland and Japan.
Although it is undocumented whether Floyd Paxton relished horses or ever experienced the thrill of the sport, his son, who had previously been involved in Quarter Horse racing during the 1960s, decided to transition to Thoroughbreds.
During the early 1970s Jerre, along with his friend and longtime farm manager Dale Leach, who had also previously been involved with Quarter Horses, decided to use 80 acres located near the original Kwik Lok Corporation to raise Thoroughbreds.
“It was a natural transition,” Jerre said, who originally named his farm Yakima Stallion Station and then altered that to Northwest Farms in 1978, which was the same year the facility became the second leading breeding operation in Washington. After rising to the top spot in the Washington breeder rankings in 1984, Northwest remained number one for 11 consecutive years and is the only breeding farm in the state to produce six winners of more than $200,000: Firesweeper ($363,394), Loto Canada ($311,993), Al Renee ($285,534), Jellystone Park ($233,653), Dancing Ovation ($226,653) and Money by Choice ($206,040). In 1994 Northwest Farms LLC became the only breeder in state history to earn more than a million dollars in one year.
Two of Paxton’s stallions, Drum Fire and his champion son Knights Choice – the only Washington-bred to ever be the state’s top sire – tremendously impacted the Washington breeding industry. Drum Fire, who finished third to dual classic victor Riva Ridge in the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity, was the state’s top stallion from 1982 to 1986 and also happens to be Firesweeper’s sire.
Firesweeper made her debut on July 6, 1985, as a maiden in the 5 1/2-furlong Washington Stallion Stakes at Longacres a winning one after breaking poorly, but eventually drawing away from her seven colleagues by four lengths. Her connections had thought highly enough of her ability to place her in a spot against What a Mary Knight and Twice Written, who had already captured their first contests in impressive style.
McMeans, however, became very concerned about Firesweeper’s chances after her slow beginning.
“I got sick when I saw that happen,” he told the Washington Thoroughbred shortly after the race, but he quickly became relieved after noting the ease in which the young filly recovered.
In spite of McMeans’ concerns, the filly went on to win her first five starts, which also included a five-length triumph in the Green River Valley Stakes, a 10-length win in the Broderick Memorial, a win in the Mercer Girl Stakes by a scant neck after recovering from a 104 degree fever and a 12-length victory in the Longacres Lassie Stakes.
Paxton and McMeans decided to take their undefeated filly, which Leach had said was one of the nicest fillies, if not the nicest, he had ever been around, to California to participate in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes, which yielded an eighth place finish, before sending her to Aqueduct for the Breeders’ Cup.
“She was up against the very best in the nation,” Paxton said in an interview at the time.
For her efforts, Firesweeper was honored as Washington’s 1985 champion two-year-old filly and received an Experimental Free Handicap rating from the Daily Racing Form of 106 pounds. She earned $141,519 during her first session at the track.
The filly started off 1986 a bit slowly, failing to hit the board in two sprint stakes at Santa Anita, but a return to Longacres, where she performed on ten occasions that year, proved to be an elixir. Firesweeper won the Ms. Stakes and the Sacajawea, Ingenue and Autumn handicaps. She also placed in five other stakes events that year, received a handicap rating of 109 pounds from the Daily Racing Form and was voted Washington’s champion three-year-old filly. She banked $109,225 from 12 trips to the post.
Firesweeper commenced her four-year-old season with a third and a second in two allowance races at Santa Anita before winning the restricted St. Wilson Stakes over that oval’s downhill turf course. After her victory she was returned to Longacres where she captured the Fashion Handicap and logged a then record tenth stakes win at her home track.
Shortly after the Fashion Handicap, the mare endured two surgeries to correct an entrapped epiglottis, but returned in style to add wins in the Luella G. and the Hazel K. handicaps to her résumé.
“We knew there had to be something wrong (after a last place finish in the Rhododendron Handicap on May 17, 1987),” McMeans told the Washington Thoroughbred following the Luella G. “She didn’t bleed and since we couldn’t see anything, we called the vet right away to check her out.”
Despite amassing a record of 12-4-2-1, establishing the standard for most stakes victories of all time at Longacres and collecting $110,150 in purse money, Firesweeper had to concede that year’s championship honors to longtime rival Popcorn Patti.
Firesweeper did return to Longacres for three races as a five-year-old, but after failing to place on any of these occasions, was retired in July of 1988 to a broodmare for Paxton at Three Chimneys Farm in Versailles, Kentucky.
Although the champion, like many other outstanding racemares, failed to reproduce herself in the breeding shed, Firesweeper produced three stakes-placed fillies – Jerre Jo Glanville, by Skywalker; June Jones, by Eastern Echo; and Twenty Questions, by Cox’s Ridge – from her 13 foals. Her last foal, De Sweeper, by Dehere, was an unraced filly born in 2007.
The 28-year-old mare took her last breath in May of 2011 at Three Chimneys.
“She really is something else,” Paxton had told the Washington Thoroughbred after her triumph in the Luella G.
She certainly was.
Female Pedigree and Sale Notes
In 1984, Firesweeper was a member of Northwest Farms eight-horse consignment to the WTBOA’s then August sale. Originally listed as the sale’s $67,000 sale topper, the dark bay filly, who Dale Leach more than once said was “the finest yearling I ever touched,” returned to her Yakima birthplace to race in Northwest Farm’s red and black colors.
Firesweeper was the second foal produced out of unplaced Skysweeper. Foaled in 1977, Skysweeper was a daughter of 1971 Horse of the Year and National Racing Hall of Fame inductee Ack Ack. The son of Battle Joined earned his championship titles, and the better part of his $636,641 in earnings, while racing for E. E. “Buddy” Fogelson and his wife, actress Greer Garson. Retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in 1972, Ack Ack sired 54 stakes winners, including multiple Grade 1 winner and major sire Broad Brush and would also become a damsire of note, as his daughters produced over 75 stakes winners, led by four champions, Epsom Derby (G1) winner Benny the Dip, and other Grade 1 winners such as Sharp Cat, Lost Code and Royal Anthem.
Both Ack Ack and Never Bend (champion two-year-old colt of 1963 and leading English and Irish sire in 1971), the paternal grandsire of Firesweeper, were products of noted US businessman, diplomat, philanthropist and horseman Harry F. Guggenheim’s Cain Hoy Stable. Guggenheim also raced Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star, who handed Native Dancer his only defeat, and champion Bald Eagle.
Bred by Mrs. Allen F. Manning in Kentucky, Skysweeper was originally purchased by Fred Knoop for $30,000 at the Saratoga August yearling sale. The following year, Washington bloodstock agent L. L. “Packy” McMurry went to $29,500 to secure her for Paxton at the CTBA juvenile sale held at Hollywood Park.
After failing to place in four starts, Skysweeper retired to Paxton’s Yakima farm where she was covered for the first two seasons by Drum Fire. Her first foal, Propulsion, was sold for $32,000 at the 1983 WTBOA summer sale and then resold for $120,000 as a March CTBA two-year-old. Unfortunately, he only ran three times, with one third to his credit.
In addition to her first two Drum Fire offspring (the mare could never be returned to that sire as he died prematurely in early 1984), Skysweeper foaled nine other foals, of which eight ran and seven reached the winner’s circle. Tops among her other winners were Washington sprint champion Serenity Road, a son of Knights Choice who earned $127,760, and $138,655 stakes-placed Sky Verdict, a 1996 son of Defense Verdict. Her unraced daughter Nightatmisskittys, by Al Mamoon, has produced four stakes winners, including Washington two-year-old champions Sundance Circle and No Constraints, both sired by Katowice, and was named Washington broodmare of the year in 2007. Skysweeper’s daughter Non Stop Chatter, by Fast Play, while not a stakes producer, is the dam of $224,974 earner We Will Prevail.
Skysweeper was produced out of three-race winner Mostly, a daughter of French two-year-old champion and classic-placed *Grey Dawn II. As a two-year-old he became the only horse ever to defeat the great *Sea-Bird when he won the Grand Criterium. A son of stamina influence *Herbager, *Grey Dawn II sired five champions among his 73 stakes winners (ten percent) and the 1990 North American leading broodmare sire’s daughters have produced 132 additional stakes winners.
Mostly produced three stakes winners: By and Large, a son of Bold Reason; Bude, a daughter of Cornish Prince; and Primarily, a daughter of Lord At War (Arg). Bude would go on to produce two stakes winners, but Primarily would be named Canadian broodmare of the year after producing Canadian champion two-year-old fillies Poetically and Primaly, Gamely Stakes (G1) winner Citronnade and Grade 3 winner Whiskey Wisdom. Mostly’s daughters Hie Thee, by Drone, and Must Ask, by Naskra, were also multiple stakes producers.
Unplaced Rare Relish, the third dam of Firesweeper, was a 1963 daughter of Johns Joy who produced Grade 1 stakes winner and $794,356 earner Miss Huntington, by the Never Bend stallion Torsion; French Group 3 winner and US stakes winner Black Sulphur, by Drone; and Grade 3 two-year-old winner I’m in Business, by *Grey Dawn II.
Firesweeper’s fourth dam, Nimble Feet, by Spy Song, produced stakes winner Big Tim, by Tim Tam, and was a half-sister to 1948 champion three-year-old filly Miss Request.
Firesweeper’s female line traces to Family No. 4 and eventually goes back to Squeeze’em, dam of 1878 Kentucky Derby winner Day Star.
In glancing over Firesweeper’s five-cross pedigree, nine of the sires listed are classified as Chefs-de-race: Ack Ack (intermediate/classic), Eight Thirty (intermediate),*Grey Dawn II (brilliant/intermediate), *Herbager (classic/solid), *Nasrullah (brilliant), Nearco (brilliant/classic), Never Bend (brilliant/intermediate), Tourbillion (classic/professional) and *Turn-to (brilliant/intermediate).
– Susan E. van Dyke
Kentucky resident Kimberly French is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse publications. She also freelances as a production assistant for ESPN’s horse racing broadcasts.
Click here for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.