November 15, 2023 — GUTHRIE, OKLAHOMA — Elaina McKinney’s name was one to be feared during her days as a top youth competitor, and now she’s proven she also deserves a place among the futurity industry’s top competitors as well. The 22-year-old Carbondale, Illinois, native took home $100,000 for the fastest time in the 2023 BFA SuperStakes slot race for 3-year-olds making their first competition run, clocking a 15.481 aboard 2020 gelding TJR Malibu Eddie (Eddie Stinson x Lil Miss Firewater x Fire Water Flit).
“I was in tears. I was bawling my eyes out,” said Elaina, an EquiStat earner in excess of $360,000 and 2020 All American Youth 1D Champion. “I’ve never won anything on this kind of level. My old horse, WRS Kool Memories, I’ve won a bunch on him, but in the futurity side of things, I’ve never won anything near like this on this type of stage. I was in shock. I was hoping to place if I could get a good run. When I came out and saw the time, I was in tears over the whole thing. It was full circle — whenever I got here, everything was going bad, and I was trusting God to turn this around. We were praying, like we are desperate, we need help here really bad. For Him to turn everything around is crazy.”
Upon arriving in Guthrie, Elaina walked out to her stall after their first night at the Lazy E to find “Malibu’s” stall walls covered in blood. The gelding had somehow cut the inside of his mouth and was too tender to even take a bit in his mouth. A visit to Dr. Greg Ford, DVM, helped get him fast-tracked for the slot race with some medication for his mouth as well as a chiropractic adjustment to his shoulders. Elaina also wrapped Malibu’s bit thick with VetWrap to help ease the pressure.
“I wrapped my bit like crazy. Everything else that could have gone wrong was going wrong. It was like ‘Why are we even here?’ None of my horses were working right, we’d spent all this money to come all the way out here, and we just prayed like crazy. Overnight, his mouth healed up a lot better; God worked miracles. I rode him that morning after the shoulder adjustment, and he was a completely different horse,” said Elaina, who made the trip south to Oklahoma with her mother, Kim McKinney.
Elaina had confidence in her gelding after over a year of hauling and exhibitions on him, but nothing could replicate the environment that awaited her first BFA SuperStakes that night.
“My stomach was in knots. I’ve never been in a slot race with that much pressure,” she admitted. “I was freaking out on the inside and just so nervous, because that’s a lot of money. I knew I had the horse that would go in and work, because I’ve been hauling him all year and he’s had so many hours. I didn’t know if the run would be there. He’s been clocking competitively compared to other colts in exhibitions, but you don’t ever really know until you ask them.”
The McKinney family purchased Malibu as a weanling from his breeders Twisted J Ranch, who also own sire Eddie Stinson. He’s out of Lil Miss Firewater, a full sister to leading sire Chasin Firewater and also the dam of Emily Beisel’s young rodeo standout Ivory On Fire.
Elaina put the first rides on him and trained him herself, along with advice from two generations of successful barrel racers — her father Rick McKinney and grandfather Bob McKinney, both fierce competitors in their own rights and highly skilled trainers.
The family owns McKinney’s Western Store, which has been in business over 30 years. Elaina works part-time at the store in addition to riding — her grandfather’s barn and arena where she rides is right behind the store.
Everything is a family affair for the McKinneys, and Elaina wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That was a big part of this win being so emotional. Me and my dad have been the only people on Malibu. He was a handful when we started him, but we worked through it together and my dad helped me a lot. Malibu was always my grandpa’s pick,” Elaina said with a smile. “He’s 86 and still rides; I ride with him every day. He always says ‘Remember who you are.’ He’s not a man of many words, but I called him late at night after the slot race and told him the whole story and was crying, and he always leaves off with ‘Remember who you are.’ My grandpa is the building block of everything. I soak it all in, having him here every day. I want to absorb everything he says. It’s pretty special.”