Chris Dawson, Jacksboro, Texas, claimed the NRCHA Stakes Open Championship Saturday night at the South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, Nev., aboard his own horse, Travelin Jonez (Smart Chic Olena x Travelin With Sass x Travalena). Dawson piloted the 5-year-old stallion to a 664.5 composite score (221 herd/218 rein/225.5).
"Everything just came together. It was unbelievable," Dawson said. Watch the herd work video here.
The Stakes win continued Dawson's hot streak which began in January in San Angelo, Texas, when he won the NRCHA Celebration of Champions Derby on Travelin Jonez, and also piloted A Spoonful O Sugar (Hes A Peptospoonful x Poco Smokum Oak), owned by Cryin Coyote Ranch, to the Reserve Championship.
The NRCHA Stakes Championship paid $32,072 and came with a Bob's Custom Saddle, Gist buckle and CR Morrison Trophy sponsored by the NRCHA; a pair of custom boots sponsored by Rios of Mercedes; and a $50 gift certificate and cooler bag from Santa Cruz Biotechnologies.
The nominator of Smart Chic Olena, Travelin Jonez's sire, will receive the NRCHA Champion Sire Award, a $4,000 check and CR Morrison Trophy.
While the Celebration of Champions Derby win in San Angelo was the 31-year-old horseman's first major reined cow horse title, the Stakes Championship elevated Dawson's game yet another notch – a payoff for a young horse trainer's mandatory dues-paying years.
"I asked a guy, a pretty good trainer, for some advice once. He said, 'Keep your head down, work your tail off and hope for a little luck.' That's kind of what I've done, and I've had a lot more luck than anything," Dawson said.
Travelin Jonez earned the high-scoring herd work of the finals, a 221, from his eighth working position in the second set.
"We watched the cows really close in the herd, and I was kind of late in the set, but all had all our picks were still fresh so I went and cut them. They were good cows. I just kind of hung him out there," Dawson said.
In the rein work, Travelin Jonez ran down at blistering speed to some huge stops, getting everyone's attention, including the judges', who scored the run a 218.
"The throttle stuck a little bit but the emergency brake worked every time, so it was all right. They were fast, by golly, but I told him before we went, 'I'll let you pick the speed, partner, as long as you do your job, I don't really care.' But it all worked out and he was good," Dawson said with a smile.
With a decisive lead and everything on the line going into the last event, the cow work, Dawson banished thoughts of winning from his mind before he entered the arena. All that mattered was the cow, he told himself.
"You get in there and you're leading the deal, and it's going through your head – 'Man, I need to be big, or I need to be safe,' or whatever. No, you just need to work that cow for what it is, and that's what we did," he said. "I thought, there are no scores tonight. We're working a cow, just like were at the house. We'll work the cow for what it is and not try and force anything, not try to make anything happen, and it all worked out. We made four turns and marked a big score."
Dawson thanked his support team and his mentors, NRCHA Hall of Fame horseman Don Murphy and the late Harold Farren, who passed away last summer.
"I can't thank Don Murphy enough. He's done so much for me. And then Harold Farren, without that guy, I don't know where I'd be. I feel like between Don and Harold and my two late grandfathers, I've got a lot smiling down on me."
The Stakes Open Reserve Championship ended in a three-way tie that included the Stakes Intermediate Open Champion, SDP Blue Blood (Laredo Blue x SDP I Got Good Genes) shown by Matt Koch for K & H Performance Horses; Oh Cay Meriah (Light N Lena x Meradas Oh Cay), shown by Todd Crawford for Russ Mothershead; and Wanna Winna Prize (Smokums Prize x Ill Be A Winning Gal), shown by Justin Wright for Winston Moore. All scored a total 653 on three events to earn $19,358.