The Tomato Futurity

For Frank and Ora Diehl, cutting is synonymous with tomatoes. penning shows held at their facilities, the Diehls invite their cutting friends to their place outside Ruskin, Fla. The big show in the fall is called "The Tomato Futurity."For Frank and Ora Diehl, cutting is synonymous with tomatoes. penning shows held at their facilities, the Diehls invite their cutting friends to their place outside Ruskin, Fla. The big show in the fall is called "The Tomato Futurity."

Story originally posted by: Amy Free-Lance Writer

For Frank and Ora Diehl, cutting is synonymous with tomatoes.

And twice every year, in addition to the weekend cutting and team penning shows held at their facilities, the Diehls invite their cutting friends to their place outside Ruskin, Fla. The big show in the fall is called "The Tomato Futurity."

Since 1995 when the Diehls hosted their first cutting for the Gold Coast CHA, Dunn Diehl Farm has blossomed from a four-stall barn and an outdoor pen to a 150-foot by 300-foot enclosed arena, 240 covered dirt floor stalls, two covered practice pens, wash racks, the Cantina and a feedlot operation that sees 5,000 heifers yearly. And they go on growing tomatoes.

In the fifth year of their big fall cutting, the Diehls decided to do something a little different. While raising the entry fees bewildered some, the logic makes sense.

"My main goal all along was to give to the industry, the cutting horse industry, a quality cutting," Ora said.

The gamble they took was calculated, but as anyone who has tried to put on a cutting knows, there are many unknowns. Plus, the cost of the game has risen with the rising cattle prices.

"Last year, we experienced such a growth that I felt like I had lost a little bit of some of the special stuff that we do," she said. "And you hate to shut down your world to people that have supported you. We tried something different and it wasn’t received well. That’s okay. Now we have a feel for it. No longer is it a gamble."

Entries for the 2000 Tomato Futurity were down by just over half from last year to 165, which left extra daylight for both Futurity works in the evenings and time to spend with friends and family outside the pen. Additionally, new sponsors helped add $7,000 to the purse, bringing up the total added money to $70,000.

Southeastern cutters took the majority of wins at the Tomato. From Georgia, trainer David Stewart took the Futurity Open and Derby Open and Benjie Neely won the Derby Non-Pro. Florida cutters took all three aged amateur wins: Curry Diehl in the Futurity, Sharon Overstreet in the Derby and Katie Charlton in the Classic. From Alabama, Stacy Shepard won the coin toss for the prizes in the Classic Open. Janet Bowen in the Futurity Non-Pro and Tom Harper in the 7-Up Open were the only Texas winners while Lonnie Allsup and Carlos Banuelos, N.M., took prizes farthest back for each of their wins.

The Diehls are known for their hospitality and congeniality. They did not let anyone down. On Saturday, Frank’s birthday, all on hand celebrated with a seafood dinner, complete with fresh lobster, crab, oysters, turtle, gator and a whole host of regional side dishes. It was a wonderfully tasty treat. And although everyone was stuffed, the dancing and karaoke following dinner topped the night off.

Frank likens cutting to the process of growing and packing tomatoes. Both take patience, planning and some luck getting started. Growing seasons for tomatoes and cutting horses take a prescribed period of time, and lots of work and attention all the while. Each year, the process begins anew, but it is the fruit of the labor that makes all of the hard work worthwhile.


Coming off of a Futurity Open win in Raleigh, Miss Joker Tanquery was hot. The little sorrel mare, owned by W.S. Morris III and ridden by David Stewart, was a consistent performer in Ruskin.

The team of Stewart and Miss Joker Tanquery drew sixth in the 10-horse finals after leading the first go and the second go with a pair of 218.5s. Stewart has been riding the mare, which is the half-sister of the horse Morris won reserve on in Augusta earlier this year, since mid-spring when Richie Robbins was done putting the basics on her.

Miss Joker Tanquery is by Tanquery Gin out of Miss Peppy Kim by the legendary Peppy San Badger.

The Futurity open finals were scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 4 immediately following the Classic Open finals and going in, Stewart felt good about his chances of winning the class.

"As good as she is, I knew we had a real good shot," said the Commerce, Ga., trainer. "I had a pretty good draw so I knew I had a really good shot to win it if I’d just get her showed."

Gary Ray and Rocky Mountain Magic, fourth up, were winning the class with a 215 when Miss Joker Tanquery walked to the herd. The second cow Stewart cut was especially nice and as he rode out of the arena, the scoreboard showed a 216. The score held for the remainder of the class, and Morris’ mare won her second in a row.

Morris will show Miss Joker Tanquery for the first time at Augusta in January in the Non-Pro.

Savanah Holli was another follow-up winner at the Tomato. She was ridden by owner Janet Bowen in the Futurity Non-Pro after their first-place finish at the Southern Futurity in Jackson, Miss., at the end of October.

Janet’s husband, Frank, also won the Futurity Open in Salina, Kan., on the grullo mare in the same month. In Florida, the mare marked a 218 in the finals on Nov. 8 for an eight-point lead on Reserve Champion Gil Porter and Haidas Gay Day.

Futurity Amateur winner Curry Diehl, 15, had the home-arena advantage and five good horses to show at the Tomato. He had better luck with some than with others, but out of the list including Holeys Boon Bar, Lesta Olena, Sanjo Olena, and Smart Peppy Joan, it was one of his mom’s favorite horses, Fletchs Sandy, that helped Curry earn a Kelly Graham bronze.

He drew second in the finals class of five behind Matt Sullivan and Ima Hickory Wood, who scored a 208. It was a tough bunch of cattle, and during his interview, Curry admitted he never thought his 210 would hold for the win.
"I thought Tom Warriner was going to beat me. That’s a good horse," said the junior at East Bay High School.

The previous day, Nov. 7, Warriner had ridden his Tronas Pep N Play for 217 points and the lead.

Curry gets plenty of riding time helping Kevin Walden with all of the Diehl horses every day after school. It paid off in the way of over $5,000 in earnings over the eight-day show.


Benjie Neely’s Little Trona was the horse of the hour in the derby classes at the Tomato Futurity. The 1989 stallion is by Freckles Playboy out of Trona by Leon Bars, and has $101,218.63 in cutting earnings according to Equi-Stat, a division of Cowboy Publishing Group.

Richard and Terry Brown’s stallion, Smokin Trona, and Neely’s own Tronas Little Cowboy won the Open and Non-Pro Derby respectively.

Smokin Trona, a 4-year-old sorrel out of Seni Prescription by Doc’s Prescription, came from Mack Odom, Leesburg, Ga. Jeremy Barwick, the breeder, won the Open Futurity in Raleigh aboard Smokin Trona in 1999.

Pulling off his second win at the Tomato was not easy for Stewart. The Derby Open finals were first on the list of the day’s events for Monday, Nov. 6 and that bunch of cattle were by far the toughest of the entire show. Stewart was one of seven designated cattle settlers and got a good look at the bunch in the process.

Again, his horse lead the composite with 443.5 points after the first two go-rounds. Between Stewart’s cattle picking and Smokin Trona’s good work, the awarded score of 225 was one of the highest awarded all week.

"He’s fun," Stewart said. "He has a lot of bend in his hocks and he’s really tight on cattle. He gives you the feeling of a lot of control."

Neely likes the stops that Tronas Little Cowboy inherited from his sire. Her sorrel gelding is out of Granadas Girl by Boonatron. Although Neely barely progressed from the first go after a second cut gone bad, she rode Tronas Little Cowboy for 217.5 in the second go-round.

Going into the finals of the Non-Pro Derby, Neely’s focus was not necessarily on winning the class.

"All I wanted to do was get both my horses shown," said Neely, Lyons, Ga. "That’s what I try to do when I get to the finals, and it worked good today."
Neely drew second in the 10-horse finals on Nov. 8 on her first Little Trona offspring. Both she and her horses have been training with Austin Shepard, Hartford, Ala., since the NCHA Derby and, in her third year at the Diehls’ cutting, Neely earned the Non-Pro Derby win with a 219.

Neely also has two Futurity mares, one by Little Trona and another by Chowchilla Peppy.

"Everybody should have something to look forward to," she said of the 3-year-old prospects.

In September, amateur cutter Sharon Overstreet bought her first aged event horse. So far Dipsys Choice, trained by Eddie Braxton, has been more fun to show than Overstreet imagined.

"She’s so solid. When I get out there and get a cow cut there’s no doubt in my mind she’s gonna be there," said Overstreet, who has always shown older geldings. "That’s so unexpected on a young horse for me. I’m really enjoying that part of it."

The Tomato, in her home state, was the first time Overstreet and her new ride qualified for the finals and it was a tight finish. Fellow Florida cutter Katie Charlton was last up in the Derby Amateur finals and marked 212.5, just edging out Curry Diehl with 212 for the second-place spot.

"Katie had a really good run and I am just tickled for her because we’ve been going together so much," Overstreet said, in the spirit of the show. "She’s helping me and I’m helping her. We just thought it ended up great."

Charlton won the Classic Amateur first thing the same morning.


Carlos Banuelos made a 1-2 punch on two of Lonnie Allsup’s horses in the Classic open finals. Bisca Jewelena, the 5-year-old Lena Jewel Bars mare whose lifetime earnings, according to the NCHA, were $134,309.88 before arriving in Ruskin, was the best of four Allsup horses that Banuelos showed in the Classic Open. Finishing second behind her stallmate was Hickorys Tachita, a 5-year-old bay Doc’s Hickory mare that has taken longer to mature than her counterpart.

That is not to say, however, that she is lacking any ability. Shake N Play, the horse Allsup rode in the Classic Non-Pro to tie for first place, finished sixth in the Open with Baneulos. Banuelos himself, who has spent hours with each of the mares, did not know which would finish on top.

"Three of those mares, I knew either one could win it" said Banuelos, who will show two horses in the NCHA Futurity. "They are very special. I have marked some big scores on all three of them."

Bisca Jewelena, out of Bisca Lena by Montana Doc, finished with the largest score of the Allsup horses and of the class; a 225. Close behind was Hickorys Tachita, which marked a 222 with Banuelos. Banuelos estimated that the Tomato Futurity was only the fifth time she has been shown, but she has made the finals at every outing.

Shake N Play was under the weather during the finals, but managed a score of 213 and the fourth horse under Banuelos, Snazzy Lena, unfortunately lost a cow after drawing last in the Classic Open. Still, Banuelos collected $13,017.96 in the Classic Open alone.

Two days later, Monday, Nov. 6, Allsup and Shake N Play were first up in the Classic Non-Pro finals. Shake N Play, a Freckles Playboy mare out of Irish Jolee by Peppy San Badger, was on the road to recovery from the flu.

Allsup and his help found three good red motts in the herd and let Shake N Play go to work. The judges rewarded the effort with 219 points, which led the 10-horse finals until Stacy Shepard, Hartford, Ala., and Play Hickory were done working.

Shepard was ninth up and just wanted to get her horse shown. After making it to the second go in the last hole with a lost cow and a miss at the end of the second go-round, she said she was just glad to be in the finals.

Play Hickory is a 1995 sorrel gelding that Stacy and Austin bought in the Phil Rapp sale last December.

Charlton and Mr Guard N Flite, a homegrown project, led the Classic Amateur from the beginning. Their 217 was the top score of the first go-round and what’s more, they drew first in the finals of the class the morning of Nov. 8.
Charlton followed the 217 with a 216 in the finals of eight, but was unable to savor the moment right away.

"During my last cow, one of my ribs got stuck under my shoulder blade and I was in excruciating pain," she recounted after she was done showing for the day. "I missed the next three horses."

Luckily, a friend was able to get Charlton back into working order because she had a horse to show in the the following class, the Amateur Derby, where she went on to place second.

Charlton, who has shown at every one of the Tomato Futurities, is definitely a fan.

"This is a wonderful show," she said. "They do a wonderful job."

Chances are, next year’s Tomato Futurity will be moved up a week so as not to overlap with the already busy growing season at Dunn Diehl farm, and Frank and Ora also intend to modify some of the changes they made this year.