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University of Missouri

Paint Horse Pioneer

Journalism graduate bought the first Kansas City Chiefs mascot.

Selby “Duke” Neff

In 1973, Selby “Duke” Neff, far right, poses with Bill James when Neff’s horse The Neighbor Lady won a national championship in Denver. Photo courtesy of Selby “Duke” Neff.

Although Selby “Duke” Neff grew up in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, he always had a yen for the rural life. So he was thrilled when, in 1962, as promotions manager for the then-new Kansas City Chiefs, his first task was to buy an American paint horse to be the team’s mascot, Warpaint. By then, Neff, BJ ’60, had served in the military, landed an advertising job at Valentine-Radford in Kansas City, and pounded the pavement as a volunteer, drumming up season ticket holders in advance of the Chiefs’ arrival.

Buying the horse was his first step not only in big-time promotions but also into the world of breeding, buying, selling and judging paint horses. It has taken him, mostly as a judge, to 47 states and 14 countries. In 2009, the American Paint Horse Association gave him its distinguished service award. And in 2012, Neff’s champion stallion Adios Amigo was in the inaugural class of the association’s hall of fame.

But in the ’60s, Neff was busy overseeing production of the Chiefs’ highlight films, building and servicing a network of radio stations to broadcast games, and handling the squad’s personal appearances. “In the beginning, we had almost as many calls to bring Warpaint out for appearances as for players. I had a Mustang sedan pulling a two-horse trailer, which should never have happened. But I pulled that trailer to many events in shopping center parking lots and other outdoor venues. People really identified with Warpaint. So much so that a whole lot of people went to Chiefs’ games and wanted to win, but it was almost as important to them to see Warpaint run the cinder track around Municipal Stadium after a touchdown.”