Never—ever—count Leslie Willis out of a high-stakes situation. At draw No. 50 of 60, the veteran futurity trainer made history as the first person in Barrel Futurities of America history to win the $100,000 SuperStakes slot race three times, clocking a 15.370 on 3-year-old gelding Im Gunnin For Ya (Furyofthewind x Senorita Seis x Tres Seis) to bag $100,000 for a heck of a birthday present.
“We’ve been hauling him and exhibitioning him, but we brought him in yesterday and he was real look-y, wasn’t paying attention and I was really worried,” Leslie admitted. “This morning, I was the first one in the arena when our time slot was ready so I could be the first one going through. I let him see the atmosphere that he was going to see tonight. He’s actually not clocked until tonight. He’s been about anywhere from half a second to seven-tenths off everywhere we took him, and I think the crowd tonight when they screamed, it pushed him on across the pen. That’s where he’s lacked a bit of his speed.”
Leslie took the lead from fellow veteran futurity competitor Kassie Mowry’s 15.490 on Force The Goodbye, which put four-tenths on the rest of the field at the time. Ironically enough, Mowry also could have made history tonight as the first three-time SuperStakes champion. The two have battled it out closely—Mowry claimed SuperStakes titles in 2008 and 2020, and Leslie in 2007 and 2019, and now, 2021.
“I tell everybody, it’s either your night or it’s not your night, and that’s the way the slot races work. And it’s been a wonderful blessing three times now,” Leslie said graciously.
The victory was actually Leslie’s fifth slot win of her career, fourth $100,000 slot victory and third SuperStakes title. She first won the Champion of Champions for $100,000 in Memphis in 2007 on Hesa Dashing Boone, and only a few days later won her first BFA SuperStakes on Bet Or Check for another $100,000. In 2015, she won the Better Barrel Races World Finals slot race for $20,000 on Brookstone Forever. Leslie’s 2019 $100,000 SuperStakes victory came aboard The Midnite Express, and now she’s notched another with Im Gunnin For Ya.
Bred by Copper Spring Ranch, Leslie and her husband Jason Willis purchased “Gunner” from Todd Matte off the racetrack through friend and racehorse trainer Trey Ellis. Known for their ability to turn speedy flat-track runners into elite barrel horses, the couple has hit a home run once again with Gunner.
“He’s my favorite two breedings crossed—a Furyofthewind out of a daughter of Tres Seis—so the combination of the two I’ve said for years would be perfect; that’s the magic cross,” Leslie said. “I’ve actually bought his full sister too, so we have another one coming. She’s just a yearling.”
Leslie added thanks to her sponsors Classic Equine and Cox Veterinary Lab for their support in keeping her horses outfitted in top-of-the-line gear as well helping them stay healthy and feeling good.
Watch the video of Leslie Willis’ 2021 $100,000 SuperStakes-winning run here. Read more about Leslie’s win and other 2021 BFA World Champions in the January 2022 issue of Barrel Horse News magazine.