Not many people in this world can ride a homebred cutting horse to the herd one day and raise a Thoroughbred filly fast enough to beat the boys the next.
Helen Groves was one of the few who could do both.
Groves, raised on her family’s historic King Ranch, died Friday, May 6, at her home in San Antonio, Texas. She was 94.
The daughter of Robert Justus Kleberg, Jr. and Helen Campbell Kleberg, Groves was known to the cutting horse industry as a top non-pro rider, owner and breeder in addition to her association with the famed King Ranch.
“Her abiding love of the Ranch, its land, livestock, and the people who worked there formed the foundation for all she did,” King Ranch said in a statement.
Many knew her by her nickname “Helenita,” and she ranched her entire life, from overseeing King Ranch’s Buck and Doe Run Valley Farms in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to her own Silverbrook Farms in Staunton, Virginia, to Silverbrook Ranches in Texas.
A member of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Groves raised top cutting Quarter Horses and Thoroughbred racehorses in addition to her many philanthropic pursuits and contributions to the legacy of The King Ranch.
Elite Cutting Horses
Groves was a member of the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Members Hall of Fame, and earned more than $456,889 in the saddle. In the name of her Silverbrook Ranches, she owned the winners of more than $1.67 million and bred the earners of some $4.2 million.
Many of the top horses she owned and campaigned were homebreds, and that was the case with two of her top three money-winning Quarter Horses – Imari Tari and Haidas Dude.
Imari Tari led the way with winnings of $254,915 during a career filled with numerous wins, including the 1989 NCHA Super Stakes Open Championship. He was followed by Miss Peppy Also, a daughter of King Ranch stallion Mr San Peppy, who won $168,324 during her show career and was the 1981 NCHA Super Stakes Open Reserve Champion.
Many of the cutting horses Groves owned competed with trainers in the Open and also were ridden by her in Non-Pro classes. That was the case with Haidas Dude, a 1989 gelding by Haidas Little Pep who won the 1993 Augusta Futurity Open with Rodney Schumann and two years later won the Augusta Futurity Classic/Challenge Non-Pro with Groves. He retired with winnings of $162,113.
She also owned the Quarter Horse stallion Pay Twentyone, a King Ranch-bred stallion whose contributions to the Western performance horse industry include the distinction of being the maternal grandsire of NCHA Triple Crown Champion Chiquita Pistol.
Groves also bred Chiquita Pistol’s mother, Miss Chiquita Tari.
In Thoroughbreds, Groves bred champion 2-year-old filly Althea in partnership with one of her daughters, Helen Alexander, and David Akroyd. Their daughter of Alydar beat colts as a 2-year-old and thoroughly trounced them at age 3 in the Arkansas Derby (G1) while setting a stakes record.
Groves also found success on the race track with Ballerina Stakes (G1) Champion Serape, and as the breeder of Serape’s two grandsons: Breeder’s Futurity (G1) Champion Free Drop Billy (by Union Rags) and Hawkbill, a son of Kitten’s Joy who won $4.7 million during a career that included a Group I victories in Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
Free Drop Billy and Hawkbill were the result of three generations of breeding for Groves, who bred them, their mother and, of course, their grandmother, Serape.
Groves came into the Thoroughbred racing business naturally, having watched King Ranch’s Thoroughbred stallion Assault win the 1946 Triple Crown. According to her obituary, Groves was the one who led the champion into the winner’s circle after he won the Triple Crown.
Click here to read the full obituary at Porter Loring Mortuaries.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Tuesday, May 17, at First Presbyterian Church, 404 North Alamo Street, San Antonio, Texas, with the Rev. Dr. Bob Fuller officiating. The interment will be private, but the service will be livestreamed — click here for the stream.