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This is the 21st in a series profiling Utah's 29 counties. Next: Summit County, Jan. 29.

DUCHESNE - Wayne Robb was 7 when he first sat in the saddle, first held the reins, first felt that age-old connection between horse and man.

That instant bond turned into dreams of the big time. Robb yearned to breed thoroughbreds on the East Coast for the most famous races - the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness.

He even learned how at Colorado State University, but couldn't bring himself to leave his Duchesne County ranch.

As it turned out, he never had to. Four years ago, new neighbors moved into the desert valley next to his own land, tucked between the Duchesne River and the hills dotted with pinyon pines, and they brought his dream job with him.

Robb is now the stud manager of Barton Thoroughbred, one of Utah's largest horse breeders.

And his dreams remain unchanged.

"Our goal is a Kentucky Derby," he says with a slight grin as he scrunches his shoulders and buries his hands in coat pockets against the incessant wind.

Paul and Mark Barton grew up in California but came to Salt Lake City on University of Utah athletic scholarships. They decided to remain in Utah because of some "girls," said Paul Barton, who manages a division of their father's packaging company.

And the Bartons fell in love with Duchesne County. Paul bought a cabin in Fruitland and soon they were searching for a larger tract of land to create a hunting and fishing retreat for their families.

The Barton boys ended up changing their plans to accommodate their father Richard's growing interest in horse racing.

They did build an extravagant three-story weekend home with plenty of space for their children to play, but the rest of the land is covered with an equally impressive barn, horse pens and storage.

They turned over the operation of their farm to Robb, their next-door neighbor.

"His expertise on their health has allowed [the farm] to grow without a lot of worries," Paul Barton said.

Barton Thoroughbred now own four champion studs, including Wild Escapade, who still owns a track record at Kentucky's Churchill Downs.

From February to April, the studs mate with 152 mares. During the past three years, Robb and his small crew have assisted with the birth of 350 colts, and this winter, they expect another 103.

The Bartons recently purchased the old Petroleum Downs to start the training of their race-ready horses. Their first "crop" hit the racetracks of California and New Mexico this year, but Paul Barton said their best horses are still maturing.

"We haven't had the second coming of Secretariat yet," he said. "But he's coming."

When mares are getting ready to give birth, Robb moves them to the barn. Each stall is lined with fresh cedar, the floors sprinkled with sawdust. Standard kitchen ceiling fans circulate the air. The smell is pleasant, despite having so many horses in so little space.

A camera monitors each animal and Robb checks on their health daily. Since most colts are born late at night, Robb has implanted a beeper in each mare. When her water breaks, the beeper sets off an alarm that calls Robb at his home and wakes his crew of Peruvian immigrants, who sleep above the barn.

But most of the year, Robb and his employees spend the day keeping the stalls clean and the horses fed.

His crew spreads out 1,000 pounds of grain each day and 1,200 tons of hay each year.

"At Barton's farm, nothing goes hungry," Robb said.

And when he's done at work, Robb goes home to his wife, Irene, and together they muck their own stalls and feed their 12 horses.

Horses, obviously, are a way of life in Duchesne County. Robb is also an avid rodeo roper, and so is fifth-grade teacher Doug Nielsen, who owns 22 horses. For Nielsen, it's a three-generation affair; he, his dad and his sons all compete in roping.

And sometimes hobby and job intersect. At the beginning of each year, Nielsen shows his students how to rope the two small metal practice steers he keeps in his classroom. Chairs turn into steeds as one kid aims for the horns and the other for the hind legs.

When the winters turn unbearably cold, the fifth-graders take turns roping through recess.

Nielsen said the activity teaches teamwork and gives his students a start in a lucrative and popular sport.

Those who are not throwing the rope are most likely dribbling a ball and shooting at an imaginary hoop on the wall above the door, even though Nielsen has already told them not to.

Horses may be in their blood, but in Tabiona, basketball is in their hearts.

The school is the smallest in the county, educating kindergartners on up to high-school seniors. The high-school student body is the seventh smallest in Utah.

And four out of every five boys play on the basketball team.

No one is ever cut. Ever.

"We take everybody who will come and we make a player out of them," said Principal Bob Park.

It's a strategy that has resulted in a surprising amount of success. The Tabiona Tigers have won two state Division 1A championships since 1997, finished at least third in four other years and are poised to make another championship run this year.

Their basketball glory is tied to the small school's setup. The youngest Tigers grow up watching their older brothers and sisters play. They dream of commanding the ball in the waning seconds against arch-rivals Duchesne or Altamont.

They practice at home or the playground. Even the town tennis court has a basketball hoop on it.

"It's always a goal for everybody to be on the basketball team," said Jay VanTassell, who was lucky enough to grow to 6 foot 5. He's the starting center and team leader. He watched as his two older sisters played on the girls' team and his younger brothers are watching him now.

Those interested in basketball start playing competitively in the fourth grade, giving them nine years to mold themselves into a championship squad.

"Its just the tradition. Everybody knows about it and wants to keep it up," VanTassell said.

New coach Shay Prince played point guard during Tabiona's first championship run. Each day after school, he runs his players through two hours of drills, focusing on precision passing, good footwork and hard running. He's rehearsing these high schoolers to be the biggest show in Tabiona.

Before the rivalry games, VanTassell feels the weight of the community on his shoulders. Everyone in town is in the bleachers. They are invested in the victories, wounded by the loses. But when the game begins, the pressure recedes and he gets comfortable running the court with his classmates, just as he has as far back as he can remember.

VanTassell would love a college basketball scholarship, but either way he plans to continue his education. He has already started by taking televised courses offered for free through Utah State University.

Park said about 80 percent of his students go off to college, though many later return to Tabiona and the school.

They want their own land and their own horses. They want to watch their brothers and sisters and maybe even their children represent the Tabiona Tigers.