For the first time in history, the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity saw two family members share the coveted Open Championship title December 15 with Texas-based professionals Tarin Rice, 23, of Spearman, riding He Bea Cat, and his great-uncle, Ronnie Rice, 60, of Centerville, riding CR Tuff Hearted Cat, each scoring a 222.5 to take the win.
Even better was the fact that with the tie, awards were duplicated for each of the rider’s connections, including the $201,971 first-place paycheck, bringing the total purse for the open championship to $2.218 million and an overall payout for the Futurity to an astounding $4 million.
The younger Rice threw down the gauntlet as the 13th horse to work in the first herd of 15 in the finals after meeting 630 other contenders throughout four rounds of competition. Another young rider in the competition, Monty Buntin, 21, of Lockeford, Calif., riding High Brown Jackson, set the pace scoring a 220 as the first rider into the bunch of fresh heifers, but was quickly struck down by veteran Lloyd Cox on another High Brow Cat three-year-old, Lil Catabaloo, who scored a 221. Tarin, however, dashed their hopes of taking home the prize money and the highly-coveted Fort Worth Cup when he and He Bea Cat, yet another High Brow Cat progeny owned by Jim Crawford of Lexington, Neb., managed to read the herd almost perfectly, going from a rank first cow to a dream bovine in the third cow to lay down the 222.5 for the lead moving into the second herd.
“The horse was really good, he got smarter as the run went, listened to me, and did everything I wanted him to do,” said Tarin. “That last cow was unbelievable, she was awesome. I’ve never felt anything like that last cow and she was so good that I relaxed a little bit and just let him work.”
But the gelding would soon meet his match in a mare named CR Tuff Hearted Cat, bred and owned by Finis Welch’s Center Ranch and by the ranch’s own stallion Woody Be Tuff.
As the next to last horse in the herd, the sorrel three-year-old bore the weight of the win on her shoulders and a three-time Futurity winner in her saddle, and she would step up to the challenge, even after Ronnie Rice somehow got both bridle reins on her left side.
“She was so on, even after I did that,” he said. “It didn’t affect her any, but I’ve never had that happen in all my years. She had so much try and she just kept killing her cows. I am so proud of this mare. She just kept coming.”
And the scores did as well, with another 222.5 popping up to the roar of the crowd.
“Just being here, there are so many people who have been my heroes, Ronnie especially, it’s unbelievable,” said Tarin shortly after the win. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Ronnie was quick to compliment his young nephew. “He’s such a good kid. He’s actually a clone of Boyd (Tarin’s father), as much as any father-son team there is,” he said. “He’s got so much raw talent. We’re just now seeing a little bit of it.”
Both also received the $10,000 M.L. Leddy fully-tooled custom saddle, along with gold Gist Silversmiths championship buckles along with a slew of other prizes valued at more than $20,000.
Family values were also evident in the Non Pro December 13 with the win of Donas Suen Boon, a home-bred owned by Paula and Kobie Wood of Stephenville, Texas, and by Boon Too Suen and out of their mare, Donas Cool Cat. Scoring a 220 to win the top-placing check of $44,978 in the total of field of 318 entries, with 32 returning to the Finals, Paula said the win has been a long time coming. Non Pros competed for a total purse of $1,041,641.
“She’s a special mare,” said Paula. “Kobie trained her dad and we own the mama, so there is a lot of heritage with this mare. The Futurity is always a dream to win. I’ve been close several times and it was nice to ride one that Kobie trained and we raised. It was just a special win.”
Rios of Mercedes Amateur
Amateurs, often the unsung heroes of the sport, were well represented at the Futurity with more than 230 competing for a purse of $249,913 December 13 in the Amateur Finals, along with the highly-sought Gist Silversmith belt buckle and boots from Rios of Mercedes.
Perhaps it was the attraction of the purse and the prizes that drew 19-year-old Destini Benson from Hillsborough, New Jersey to Texas to the Futurity for the first time with her gelding Jimmy Cracked Corn, by Widows Freckles and out of Bobcorn. Owned by her father, Brad Benson, a former NFL Pro Bowler and offensive lineman for the New York Giants, the gelding looked like he had drawn on some of the family’s competitive spirit.
Scoring a 217 to win nearly $9,000, Benson said she was proud to be plowing new ground in her area for cutting. “It makes me hopeful that cutting will grow in our area.”
Limited Non Pro
It was truly a sweet win in the Limited Non Pro December 11 when Jessica Gonsalves of Millsap, Texas, took Poundcake Deluxe to the win with a score of 221 over a field of 31 in the final round and a total of 196 competing for a purse of $246,941.
Riding the daughter of Cats Quixote Jack and out of a Dual Rey daughter, Etta Rey, a gift from her mother Susan Hearst, Jessica credited her husband, trainer Gary Gonsalves, for getting the mare ready. “He got on her and got her brightened up and she felt really good to me. She’s kind of lazy, but she will brighten up when you get to work on her. I was really worried that she’d be tired since we had to do the semis and the finals today. I just wanted to go for it and if she was fresh, I was going to go for it.”
John Deere Open
Tate Bennett was having a great week and not just because of one, but two, horses he owns and trains, bringing both to Fort Worth from Hereford, Texas. Rios Jewel, a gelding by Bobs Hickory Rio, and Nothing To Lose, out of High Brow Cat, were taking the high plains cowboy on the ride of his life, with both scoring a 221 in the first round of open competition to take the lead over 630 other contenders and then going into the semi-finals with Nothing To Lose in the Lead and Rios Jewel splitting second.
The pair would switch places in the John Deere division of the Open December 3 when Rios Jewel came out on top with a score of 224 to earn a check for $25,229 from the field of 20 horses.
“We feel blessed, it’s good to be here and we’re glad to get our horse showed good,” he said. “He’s always in the right spot in seems like, when we cut, even though it doesn’t sometimes feel like it. He has so much heart. He’s always been that way. People make fun of this horse because of the way he’s built, but he’s never let me down.”
The 2012 NCHA World Championship Futurity and Mercuria NCHA World Finals offered more than $4 million in cash to nearly 2,000 horses competing over 21 days in Fort Worth, Texas. The Futurity is the pinnacle of competition for three-year-old cutting horses, who are mostly American Quarter Horses, at the onset of what will become a career of cutting competition. Horses are shown in open, sometimes referred to as professional, competition, non professional and amateur events. The Mercuria NCHA World Finals is a year-end celebration of the weekend cutter whose earnings has qualified him or her to appear as one of the Top 15 in the nation in different event categories, also based on earnings and in open, non professional and amateur levels.
The National Cutting Horse Association, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is the world governing body for the sport of cutting. With more than 16,000 members worldwide, its mission is to promote and celebrate the cutting horse, whose origin on Western supports ranching and Western heritage. By establishing rules for the conduct of cutting horse shows, NCHA provides a level playing field and a progressive class structure, which accommodates everyone from the beginner to the advanced competitor. NCHA draws on the diverse talents and backgrounds of its members and encourages their participation in helping it achieve these goals.