Fastest Mules in the West

When Roger handed the Downey & Company reins over to Chris in 2011, he picked up a new set of reins—racing mule reins!  Roger spends most of his time practicing and racing his mules at events all across the country.  

Roger Downey, an accomplished mule breeder, owner and endurance competitor, competes on many of his retired, and currently in use, race mules. He has multiple mules to pick from depending on their level of training and their capabilities at a certain mileage. Again, he has been successful in identifying those unique and special qualities that are applicable and desired for that purpose. He has competed on Crystal Palace, Jodi Nelson, Ears Looking at You and Bismo in multiple Tevis Cups and 50-mile races.

I was a kid from New York City afraid of equines. I got into racing because mules give me an opportunity to compete. I bought my first mule, Jethro, in 1990, not knowing a thing about them.

Roger Downey

Roger’s real success in mule racing came from Sarah Nelson, which he found in Oregon in 2002 for $2,500. He paid the seller $2,600, calling the price too cheap. And he was right.

In 1999 he started breeding mules, all of whom he named Nelson, a family name. (Dina Nelson Road in Corrales, where he built his previous home, is named after his grandmother.) The breeding project has since reached the next level, as Downey had Sarah Nelson cloned in 2009. To date, Sarah Nelson has beaten world champion Black Ruby at least five times, and her parents were both dead before anyone could think to breed siblings. This was the first mule cloned out of a live animal. Downey was approached by the university to clone his champion mule, who had won eight of her first nine races.

“The Queen of Mules” still holds a number of speed records, although at age 12 she is no longer the fastest mule in America.

Downey, New York City-born and bred, said he moved to Corrales in 1987, never dreaming he would own any animal other than a cat or dog. He built an adobe home and guest house on his two-acre property and named the road leading to it Dina Nelson, after the grandmother who raised him.

A clip from “Sarah Nelson: History of a Champion”