Chris Dawson, Jacksboro, Texas, knew he had two good derby horses in Travelin Jonez (Smart Chic Olena x Travelin With Sass) and A Spoonful O Sugar (Hes A Peptospoonful x Poco Smokum Oak), and he proved it Sunday, Jan. 27 at the Celebration of Champions in San Angelo, Texas.
Dawson won the Celebration of Champions Derby Open title aboard his own horse, Travelin Jonez, with a total score of 440.5 (herd: 146/rein: 142.5/cow: 152). He also took the Reserve Championship on Cryin' Coyote Ranch's mare, A Spoonful O Sugar, with a 440 (herd: 147/rein: 145.5/cow: 147.5).
Dawson's combined paychecks totaled Sandy Jirkovsky and her son, Chris Dawson. Jirkovsky, a judge's scribe at the Celebration of Champions, nervously marked her son's winning Derby runs on Sunday.$16,615. He also won a pair of Gist buckles sponsored by Smart Boons and Kevin and Sydney Knight, monogrammed jackets from Gardiner Quarter Horses, and $50 gift certificates from Santa Cruz Biotechnologies.
"It was just unbelievable," Dawson said. "It's my first major win, and to be first and second – it was amazing."
The highlight of Dawson's Derby performances was a scorching cow work on Travelin Jonez, which scored a round-high 152.
"The hardest thing is to just go in there and work your cow, and not trying to force something to happen," Dawson said.
About two months before showing in San Angelo, he had sought advice from master horseman Don Murphy to improve his fence scores.
"I've been [at past shows] where I was in a pretty good situation, but then I try to force something down the fence and it all comes apart on me. I went to Don, and he told me, 'You're trying to force stuff. Don't worry about it. Just work your cow, and let the judges do the work!' That's what I was trying to do on all my horses," Dawson said.
The Derby Championship represented another significant win in a successful career for Travelin Jonez, a 2008 stallion Dawson purchased as a 2-year-old.
"He's a cool horse. I don't know if everybody would get along with him, but we get along. People say we're just alike. He's kind of an obnoxious rascal that pesters you all the time, but he's good-hearted about it," Dawson said, laughing. "I've been real blessed to have him. He was in the top five at everything last year – except the NRCHA Derby. Our goal is to try to do it again this year."
Travelin Jonez won't be on Dawson's sales list anytime in the near future.
"He's been paying the rent. I don't know if my operation would work without him right now!" he said.
Dawson's Reserve Champion horse, A Spoonful O Sugar, is owned by Danny and Sherri Rumph of Cryin' Coyote Ranch, Hempstead, Texas. Dawson wore a bright pink shirt to show in the Derby in honor of Sherri Rumph's status as a cancer survivor. A Spoonful O Sugar and Travelin Jonez are frequently neck-and-neck at the top of the results sheet, which is confidence-inspiring for Dawson.
"It's nice to have two bullets," he said, smiling.
Dawson's mother, Sandy Jirkovsky, a NRCHA and AQHA judge, was scribing for the Celebration of Champions judges. She nervously watched every move her son made in the show pen.
"I just try to be real quiet when he's showing. It's great to see him do so good, but my hand does shake a little! Any time he shows, the adrenalin really rushes. It's really wonderful. We love the cow horse," she said