Anheuser-Busch will spend more than $20 million on Super Bowl ads this Sunday and, as is tradition, one ad will feature the famous Clydesdales, the massive pack horse that has been tied to its Budweiser brand for generations.
The star of this year's iconic Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl ad is just a few weeks old. She is the company's newest foal, and is about to be thrust into the spotlight in front of an estimated Super Bowl viewing audience of more than 100 million people in the United States.
To drum up some pre-Super Bowl hype, Budweiser sent out its first-ever tweet from its newly created Twitter account on Jan. 27, asking the public to help name the baby horse. It said it will release the winning name after the big game.
For 80 years now, Clydesdale horses have been much more than just the Anheuser-Busch mascot. They have been part of the family.
Jeff Knapper runs the company's multimillion-dollar operation that breeds, feeds and trains the mammoth horses from the time they are born to the time they have pulled their last wagon. For Knapper, it's more than just a job. The horses are his life.
"The company is committed to the Clydesdale because they represent the tradition, the heritage, the quality that goes into everything we do," he said. "For the company to get it done and get it done the right way, it has to be in the house. So this is a big operation for us. It is a significant investment."
Knapper's team takes care of the daily needs of 175 Clydesdales around the country -- an operation that includes breeding 43 horses a year. The goal for Budweiser is to have 10 future show horses born each year, and only male horses are eligible.
"We have very, very stringent requirements to be a Budweiser Clydesdale," Knapper said. "They must have a white blaze, a black mane and tail ... and four white, stocking feet."
Those that don't make the cut are sold for roughly $5,000 apiece. But some of the mares, like 8-year-old Darla, the mother of Budweiser's future Super Bowl star, are kept around to keep future generations going.
John Soto manages Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Mo., where future Clydesdales are born and where they stay until they are about 2 years old. All the foals born this year will be under his watch.
"Even though we don't see them after they are 2, they were born here so, of course, when you go out on the road and you see the [Budweiser] hitch, they're your babies that you raised [so] you have to have some pride in that," Soto said.
Over the next couple of months, its Soto's job to make sure every baby Clydesdale arrives healthy. That's why he has a "foal-proof" warning system that tells him when a mare is ready to give birth. The mares are outfitted with an alarm that is connected to an automatic dialer. When one is ready to give birth, the horse will lay down and the alarm will sound, sending a call to Soto's phone.
"With 40 coming through the next few months, we're going to be pretty hectic," he said.
Soto lives on the farm to ensure he can get to the horses when he needs to and even monitors their stalls from his bedroom.
This year's Super Bowl spot tells the story of a young Clydesdale who establishes a relationship with its breeder. An actor plays Soto, showing him even sleeping in the barn, which Soto said he used to do for many years.
"We actually slept in the lab," he said. "I had a cot in the lab when I had a mare, but now since we have come here [to the farm] all the stalls are monitored so it gives me the luxury of actually sleeping in my own bed."
But Soto, who has done this for 33 years, said he develops a relationship with each new Clydesdale foal.
"They are like people," he said. "Once you get to know them and know their size and their facial looks and everything, you know who they are."
Every year, the top 30 mature Clydesdales born at Warm Springs Ranch, groomed at Grant's Farm in St. Louis and trained in Merrimack, N.H., tour the country. In 2012, three hitches of Clydesdales appeared at 120 events representing the Budweiser brand. Soto's son Eric drives one of the hitches.
The Clydesdale connection to the brand traces back to 1933 when August Busch Jr. surprised his father by having the majestic horses parade down a St. Louis street carrying beer to celebrate the end of Prohibition. The company has been breeding them since 1940.
"People love the Clydesdales and they are a symbol," said Rob McCarthy, the vice president of Budweiser. "They are the symbol of Budweiser, and they are the symbol of the company and, to many people, a symbol of the country. The spirit, the freedom of America is embodied in these majestic Clydesdales, and we are just so lucky to have them be recognized as part of Budweiser."