Blindness won't stop 'Fame' from excelling at barrel racing

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SALT LAKE CITY — One of the top athletes at the Days of ’47 rodeo has the nickname “Fame,” and has a lot of “diva” requests — like silky-smooth hair and long walks with the other competitors.

But the athlete in the spotlight isn’t a prima-donna rider; he’s the two-year barrel racer, B.A. Best of Fame — or “Fame,” for short.

But don’t think Fame or his rider, Cali Van Tassell, don’t belong.

“He started running when he was 6, and we just stayed locally around home at local jackpots,” Van Tassell said. “The next year, we entered our first rodeo and … won the whole thing.

“I was like, ‘maybe he does belong here.’”

In his first year as a competitive barrel racer, Fame made $35,000. Eventually, he started living up to his name, so he doesn't need to go through long training sessions. Van Tassell rides him every day for fun — just to keep him fresh.

“He’s treated like an athlete,” she said. “We train on him every day, we keep him sound, we wrap him up every night. I guess he’s considered spoiled.”

Fame was a gift given to Van Tassell after a family friend passed away. Nobody wanted him — and it wasn’t his “diva” attitude that scared people away.

Fame has scar tissue in his right eye, leading to partial blindness. Both human doctors and several veterinarians have examined the issue, but none can agree on what caused the ailment.

Still, he won’t let that stop him from barrel racing — but every now and then, you’ll notice it. Because of his blindness, Fame sees about half of what a normal race horse sees.

“I try not to make an issue out of it because he doesn’t make an issue out of it,” Van Tassell said. “If there’s a big bang or something, he will turn back with his good eye and look back. But he doesn’t look away from things; he doesn’t move away from things. He’s here to do a job.”

Fame’s bad eye has gotten worse over the years, and one day, it may lead to complete blindness and racing retirement.

Until then, though, Fame will continue doing what he loves — running away with the show.


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Brittany Copeland


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