Jan 10, 2022


HOUSTON, TX - Quarter Horse trainer Leon Bard died on January 5 in Wheelock, Texas, following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 75 years-old.


Known in the Texas Quarter Horse racing community as a skilled horseman, Bard was a force in the industry well before pari-mutuel racing was passed in Texas. Family members and close friends shared memories of his rise from humble beginnings to becoming of the most respected trainers in the sport.


Bard was oldest of seven kids. He rode horses in his youth, competed in rodeo and worked for the famed Keith Barnett Sr. Cutting horses. He became an exercise rider and jockey before beginning his training career on owner’s ranches. His travels took him to Oklahoma, Arkansas, through Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and then to California. He broke his arm, his collar bone and injured his back, but never gave up or became discouraged. Each of his three children traveled with him in early years.


His oldest daughter, Shelly recognized the passion Bard had for his profession.


“I remember back in 1981 he won his first futurity at Manor Downs with a little horse named Savannahs Go Dandy,” said Shelly. “He was no bigger than a pony, but Daddy knew he was fast. I prayed and promised to God that if he won, I wouldn’t cuss for a month! It was amazing that that little, fat horse came through and of course, I kept my promise!”


Bard’s other daughter Caryl Merchant reflected on the determination of her father.


“Daddy was the hardest working man I’ve ever known,” she said. “The millions of miles he drove from track to track and countless hours spent working with the horses he so loved were just a small part of the equation. Even a quadruple bypass in 2019 couldn’t keep him down ;with the support of his assistant Ricardo (Aguirre) and countless others he managed to still have quite a successful year.  Although it was hard to see him suffer through his illness, I am eternally grateful for the time I was able to spend with him; some of the best stories and lessons I learned were ones he shared with his doctors, nurses and friends to the very end.” 


Bard’s son, Kevin, spoke about his father’s gratitude to a number of  owners and breeders for their support throughout the years.


Kevin credits owners including Gary Hartstack, Tommy Arhopolus, Mary Lynne Thompson and Jerry Windham for their faith in his dad. While Zip First and Indigo Illusion were two of Bard’s most successful runners, Kevin’s favorite was Cash From Texas.


“So many Quarter Horses are hard to handle, but he was a horse you could walk like a dog,” recalled Kevin. “He went on to earn over $200,000.”


According to Equibase statistics, Bard saddled 2,275 Quarter Horses since 1993, with purses of $5.9 million. His top earner was Gary W. Hartstack’s Zip First ($552,356), winner of the 2002 Ruidoso Futurity (G1). He won a record five editions of the TQHA Sale Futurity(RG1), beginning with Silver Gol in 2015 as well as  Grey Daze (2014), Cartels Pop (2015), Just Another Natural (2017) and Dak (2018). SF Hot Pass, had an exceptional record at the classic distance of  440-yards, including a victory in the 2019 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1). Bard also won the 2017 Sam Houston Futurity(G2) with This Is An Eagle ($302,206).


James Leatherman, who serves as racing secretary for both Sam Houston Race Park and Retama Park, had great respect for Bard


“Leon was an incredible horseman; one of the best I have ever worked with in my 15 years as a racing secretary in Texas.​ "He developed a very talented group of 2-year-olds, winning the TQHA Sale Futurity five times, always with a loyal group of his supporters in the winner's circle.  We will miss Leon greatly."


Bard is survived by three children, Shelly Burnett, Caryl Merchant, Kevin Bard as well as his life partner of the past 20 years, Jackie Riddle, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The family invites horsemen and friends to join them in a Celebration of Life and Brunch on Sunday, January 30 at the Wheelock Community Center, beginning at 10:00 am..In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations can be made to the American Cancer Society.


Sam Houston Race Park will also honor Bard at a date to be announced in their upcoming Quarter Horse season. 



About Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston.  Owned by Penn National Gaming. Inc., the racetrack, which opened in 1994, offers a variety of attractions including a Suite Level featuring luxurious suites overlooking the racetrack, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and the Jockey Club.  For more information on upcoming live racing, shows, events and tickets, please visit www.shrp.com





Photo credit:  Coady Photography