Futurity double-dippers

So just what does it take for a horse to win the coveted NCHA Futurity Championship? Ability, charisma, cow sense, or just a lot of luck?So just what does it take for a horse to win the coveted NCHA Futurity Championship? Ability, charisma, cow sense, or just a lot of luck?

Story originally posted by: Karen Cannon

So just what does it take for a horse to win the coveted NCHA Futurity Championship? Ability, charisma, cow sense, or just a lot of luck?

Before a trainer can begin writing his acceptance speech and practicing his toast to the reserve champion, his mount must carry him through two grueling go-rounds and a semifinals to be invited back to the finals. With only 24 horses making that fourth trip into the working area, one has to wonder, what makes a horse futurity finals caliber? And since the Futurity is the 3-year-old’s debut performance, what gives them the confidence to persuade the owners to write the entry fee check months in advance?

Cutting fans that filled the Will Rogers Coliseum on Dec. 16 for the Open finals may have thought they were experiencing deja vu. Five entries in the Open battled their way through the first two go’s and the semis, to enter the finals on not one, but two horses, proving it’s not just what’s under the saddle that counts.

The riders
Ronnie and Tag Rice dominated the last night of the 20-day competition, claiming the first two positions and riding four of the 24 horses in the Open finals. The youngest of the Buffalo, Texas, cowboys kicked things off aboard Jerry R. Jones’ Mr Beamon to set the standard with a 222. WIth no time to contemplate on the ride, Tag hopped onto a help horse to hold the herd for his dad, Ronnie. Riding Smart Sugar Badger, owned by the Flying M Ranch, things were just getting started. Tag returned in the second hole of the second bunch riding Short Candy to a 219.5. Five horses later, Tag became the Reserve Champion when his dad rode San Tule Freckles to capture the win with a 223.5. Ronnie padded his pocket with $246,170 for first and 11th, while Tag took home $271,000 for second and fourth.

Matt Gaines, Weatherford, Texas, may not have ousted the Rice family from the top two spots, but he did give them a run for their money. Riding Little Pepto Gal, owned by Crystal Creek Ranch, Aledo, Texas, in the second bunch, Gaines ended up between Tag’s horses, taking third with a 220. Five horses later, he and C Bar S Ranch’s Zacks Lena posted a 212.5.

Ascencion Banuelos could be seen both in the first and second go of the finals. Riding Lonnie and Barbara Allsup’s Angels Little Gunner, he marked a sixth-place 218. Drawing last in the second bunch, he rode Nitro Dual Doc, owned by Hollis Akin to mark a 214.

Paul Hansma rode Haidas CD, owned by the Coleman Cattle Co., Texarkana, Texas, in the middle of the first bunch to mark a 211 and Milt and Mary Bradford’s Doc Alley at the bottom of the second bunch to post a 215.5.

The horses
We all know these five trainers. They’ve graced the stages of numerous winners’ circles and they’ve filled the saddles of some amazing horses. It’s no surprise that they entered the herd on finals night twice. But the horses that carried them into the herd are rookies. So what is it about these 3-year-olds that kept them from falling into the trenches of one of the three preliminary rounds?

According to Matt, the two mares he rode on Sunday night are as different as night and day. He said Crystal Creek Ranch’s pretty little mare, Little Pepto Gal, that he rode first in the finals, is more of an intellect than a jock.

"She’s a real thinker," he said of the mare, which is by Elaine Hall’s Peptoboonsmal out of Freckles O Lena by Doc O’ Lena. "She’s real showy and smart. Her real attribute is that she always trys to outthink the cow and that shows through in her expressions. That’s the best thing about her."

Zacks Lena, by Matt’s father’s stud, Zack T Wood, out of Ceelena Jo by Doc O’Lena, and owned by the C Bar S Ranch, is the athelete of the two.

"That mare, she’s a very strong mare," he said. "She’s got a big stop. She deserved to finish higher than she did today but there just weren’t any cows left. She’s a great mare that’s going to win a lot of money."

Banuelos nearly recited Matt’s reasoning for his two horses surviving the go-rounds. Of the Allsups’ horse, Angels Little Gunner, Ascencion called the mare "smart, athletic and very well-trained." The mare, by Terry Riddle’s Young Gun out of Little Bitty Angel by Smart And Trouble, should be well trained. The Allsups’ home-grown mare was broke and trained by Ascencion’s program.

Ascencion entered the finals with high hopes for his second mount, Hollis Akin’s Nitro Dual Doc.

"He’s a great horse," he said. "That horse was capable of winning it all. Some things just didn’t work out."

The red roan stallion, by Peptoboonsmal out of Miss Dual Doc by Doc’s Remedy, proved mature beyond her mere three years, holding three cows despite drawing last in the second bunch.

Hansma credited his appearance in the finals aboard Haidas CD to the horse’s maturity and consistency.

"We bought that horse in February in Memphis for Cookie Coleman," he said of the sorrel gelding, by Bar H Ranche’s CD Olena and out of Haida Ho by Haidas Little Pep. "J.B. McLamb trained him and he’s just a nice little, stable gelding."

As for Milt and Mary Bradford’s Doc Alley, Paul claimed it was the mare’s appearance in the center of the pen that got her to the finals and the lack of center of the pen cows that kept her from placing higher in the finals.

"She’s a real showy horse," he said of the mare, by Bar H Ranche’s Dual Pep out of Sannie Olena by Doc O’ Lena. "I wish we would’ve got some better cows cut because she’s not really a big run-and-stop type of horse. She’s got a lot of look right in the middle of the pen."

The unanimous conclusion seems to be that to have a Futurity Open finals caliber horse, at the tender age of 3, the horse must possess one of the following traits: The brains of Little Pepto Gal, the consistency of Nitro Dual Doc and Haidas CD, the strength of Zacks Lena, the appearance of Doc Alley and the athleticism of Angels Little Gunner.

And of course, a top-notch trainer in the saddle never hurt.