Steamboat Springs Like snowflakes or fingerprints, each quarter horse's name is unique.
Breeders interested in preserving their horses' bloodlines in ink must register the horse with a name given to no other registered quarter horse, alive or dead.
When Clark residents Kevin and Leellen Koroulis invested $3,500 in The Pen Pal four years ago, Leellen was interested in learning the meaning of the new gelding's name.
She searched for the oldest available Webster's Dictionary and located an early edition from a forgotten year that defined pen as "top of the mountain."
Therefore, by definition, The Pen Pal was the Koroulises' friend at the top of the mountain.
Until he became part of the family.
"He is my dad's only son," daughter Catharine Koroulis said. "He kisses him on the lips in the paddock. The Pen Pal kisses him back by licking his neck."
When the Koroulises bought The Pen Pal through a friend in Texas, the horse was severely underweight.
But his blood was strong and pumping with potential. The son of Pencil Slim and All-American Futurity winner Ronas Ryon, The Pen Pal finished second in his first race as a 2-year-old before the Koroulises bought the gelding and moved him from the sweltering Texas heat to the North Routt high country.
Under the ownership of Custom Draft Designs, which the Koroulises own, and the training of the entire family, with help from friends and neighbors, The Pen Pal has undeniably become Colorado's top quarter horse racehorse.
The gelding has never lost at Arapahoe Park in Denver. The Pen Pal ran his first 330-yard race at the track in the summer of 1999 and has reeled off 16 consecutive championship runs since, a one-track streak unmatched by any quarter horse or thoroughbred racehorse in American history.
"I've never seen a horse move the way he moves," Leellen Koroulis said. "He floats across the track. He doesn't put a lot of stress on himself when he runs."
American quarter horses are traditionally shorter and stockier than thoroughbred racehorses. Quarter horses specialize in sprinting distances between 220 and 870 yards.
The Pen Pal owns the 330-yard distance at Arapahoe Park, possessing the track record of 16.36.03 seconds. The world record at the same distance is 16.36.00.
His career winnings total $142,973.
But Kevin Koroulis likens The Pen Pal to a plow horse until he hears the crowd. The gelding sleeps in his trailer from Clark to Denver and acts particularly uninterested in anything before the race. Then Kevin Koroulis walks The Pen Pal from the barn toward the track.
"He sees the saddling paddock and puffs his chest up," Kevin Koroulis said. "He knows he's the king."
And like any member of royalty, The Pen Pal has established a throng of faithful followers. Though Steamboat Springs resident Fritz Aurin has only seen The Pen Pal race once, count him in that group.
A close friend of Kevin Koroulis, Aurin said 95 percent of what he knows of the horse is from stories. The other 5 percent came at Arapahoe Park on June 8.
"Like any great race horse, there is a fire in his belly about winning," Aurin said. "I was amazed at how calm he was before he ran."
It's a quiet confidence that all great racehorses possess, but what amazed Aurin just as much as The Pen Pal's peace was how nervous his friend looked before the June 8 race in which his horse left the gate at even odds.
"He's a great, laid back guy, and he was as nervous as a cat before that race," Aurin said. "Pen Pal was more or less trying to calm him down. Here's a guy that trains his horse at a place in Clark with a real modest oval and uses a hot walker and has a horse with a lot of soul."
An obvious comparison is drawn to another gelding, albeit a thoroughbred, with unassuming owners far removed from the wealth of Middle Eastern oil fields.
With wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Funny Cide may go down in history more for his background and upbringing in a quiet New York stable than his run at the Triple Crown.
Like Funny Cide, The Pen Pal won't be resigned to life at stud because he is a gelding. So he continues to race.
Most quarter horse racehorses retire at age 5. The Pen Pal started at Arapahoe Park at 3.
Four years later, he is still the one to beat. His next race is July 5 on the Denver track.
"He loves his job." Leellen Koroulis said.
"We're going to let him tell us when he's done. He's accomplished an amazing feat. We're hoping when he does retire he has a career elsewhere. He's sound, fast and agile. We're proud of him. He is our friend at the top of the mountain."