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October 21, 2014

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Kats Goes Cowboy: South Point’s bull market draws all ilk of buyer

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John Katsilometes

High-level negotiations: Don Kish, far left, talks with Mike and Warren Enz.

Bucking Horse and Bull Sale at South Point

Horses are prepped for a ride across the South Point Equestrian and Event Center floor as part of Benny Binion's World Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale. Launch slideshow »
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A horse we'll call "Johnny" in the stables beneath South Point Equestrian and Event Center's arena floor.

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A potential buyer scans his notes as action unfolds on the arena floor.

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The "luxury suite" stalls at South Point Equestrian and Event Center. Suitable for prize horses, or even prize partiers who need a place to crash.

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A bull is dealt with at Benny Binion's World Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale at South Point Equestrian and Event Center.

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John Growney: Would you buy a used bull from this man?

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South Point Equestrian and Event Center execs Bill Purcell, left, and Steve Stallworth, were persuaded to pose for this photo.

They say all variety of potential buyer shows up at Benny Binion’s World Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale at South Point Arena and Equestrian Center. “They” being people, of course. Bulls and horses say nothing of this, but this contention is proven true as grown-adult stock contractor Don Kish of the great city of Red Bluff, Calif., sits across a table from a wily up-and-comer in the stock-trading business named Warren Enz.

Warren is a driven individual, eager to buck out his own stock and create -- maybe -- his own empire.

He also is 13 years old.

“We’ve been talking for about 40 minutes,” Kish says as his informal negotiating session is happened upon in the Equestrian Center saloon, which looms high over the Equestrian Center’s dirt floor. “He’s not nearly as green as I thought he might be.”

Warren grins. “My brother rides buckin’ bulls, so I know a little,” he says. And to be fair, also sitting at the table is Mike Enz, a financial adviser from Hollister who happens to be Warren’s father. Mike grew up on a ranch and knows the questions to ask in such conversations, ones his son might not think of querying. As Warren asks about how to properly care for bovines, Mike asks of cost and such stock-transportation necessities as trailers.

“I started in this when I was young, hanging out at John Growney’s house when I was in fourth or fifth grade,” says Kish, adroitly dropping the name of one of the rodeo culture’s most successful and well-liked figures, the owner of Growney Brothers Rodeo Co., also in Red Bluff.

Today, Kish is the owner of Don Kish Bucking Bulls. As he remarked, a lot of the roughstock in completion at the NFR owes to the rural Northern California ranches operated by Growney and him. Kish has eight bulls in this year’s NFR. Along with the name of Growney, he brings up the famed bull (famed if you have ever followed rodeo, anyway) Wolfman, a relatively small but also relatively violent, whirling dervish of a beast that was among the more difficult rides in the sport during the 1990s.

“You will become addicted to this business, this lifestyle,” Kish continues. “That’s what happened to me.” Young Warren seems intrigued by the concept. Mike is more difficult to read, his face a mask of bemusement.

Not sure if a deal was ever made there, but there was a lot auction action at South Point over the weekend -- this is where we drop the requisite “bull market” reference. Stock contractors put up for sale horses and bulls to be used for any purpose, riding or bucking out for smaller regional rodeos all over the country. They were put to the test by contestants in exhibition rides throughout the morning as interested buyers leveled their bids.

The prices? Some of these mustangs cost more than Mustangs. On Saturday, a horse went for $53,000. On the low side, some could be had for $500.

Named for the legendary Wild West resort magnate who helped bring the NFR to Las Vegas in 1985, the event is held at the event center that South Point owner Michael Gaughan holds so dear. Under the able direction of General Manager Steve Stallworth and Assistant GM Bill Purcell, the Equestrian Center has accommodations for bovines and equine unrivaled by most rodeo-styled venues across the country.

There’s even a dazzling photo op at the entrance, with the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign hanging as the backdrop. A keen eye will notice the South Point in the background, behind the famous sign, which of course would be possible only if the South Point were moved a couple of miles north on the Strip. But that’s hardly important when you’re considering the time and effort required to driving to the real sign that the big drape saves.

Purcell also came up with this brainstorm: to offer "luxury suites" for horses, and picked up a corporate sponsorship from Western Steel Structures to build five such suites for $12,000. They are beautiful, at the moment, constructed of painted steel, fine wood and polished brass. Christmas stockings hang from all five, and neatly wrapped holiday gifts have been placed where you would normally find fresh manure.

"Get a good look at them," Purcells says, "because they will never look like this again." Of course. But it is comforting to know South Point will have a place to put bachelor party revelers if it is ever overbooked.

To add to the plush amenities, horses are washed with both hot and cold water -- cold is usually the norm (not to speak for equines across the country, but an ice cold shower after a hard workout would really suck), and there are 1,200 stalls positioned in a vast, climate-controlled space directly beneath the arena floor.

“It’s like a spa,” says Stallworth, who evidently has really wide range of spa knowledge. “The people who come here love it.” Typically, horse owners need to drive over some distance -- 30 miles is not that rare -- to visit their prize stock during competition. But at South Point, it’s all right there at the hotel.

Stock owners visiting South Point for the first time are often stunned that they don’t even need to go outside to check on their horses. One young cowboy told Stallworth that he’d awoken around 5 a.m., unfortunately quite hung over, and walked in a daze to the stalls, checked on his horses and returned to his room.

It was such a natural order of events that the young buck forgot to slip on his jeans and made the entire trek from his room to the stalls in his underwear.

“The kid says to me, ‘Man, I love this place,’ ” Stallworth says, laughing. “What can you say about that?”

Like a fine horse, it is priceless.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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