Chris Dawson, Jacksboro, Texas, rode into the National Reined Cow Horse Association record books when he piloted Travelin Jonez (Smart Chic Olena x Travelin With Sass x Travalena) to the NRCHA Jack and Phoebe Cooke Memorial Derby Championship Saturday, June 15 in Paso Robles, Calif. Dawson has won all four NRCHA Premier Limited-Age Event Championships thus far in 2013; three of them aboard Travelin Jonez.
The 5-year-old stallion, who Dawson owns, claimed the Derby title by an 8-point margin, scoring a combined 670.5. (219.5 herd/223 rein/228 cow), and winning both the rein work and cow work rounds on his way to the $35,465 Championship check.
Dawson also won a Bob's Custom Saddle and Gist buckle from the NRCHA; a pair of boots from Rios of Mercedes; a $50 gift certificate and cooler from Santa Cruz Biotechnologies; a fleece blanket from Back On Track; and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance.
"It's unreal. I'm in shock right now. I'm in complete shock," Dawson said.
The 31-year-old horseman struggled for words to express his feelings about achieving a dream he had hardly dared to think about, let alone speak of.
"I never talked about it, but I thought, 'Man, how cool would it be if you could win all four majors?' And that was as far as it got. I didn't' even say it out loud to anybody. And son of a gun, we got 'er done, and it's unbelievable!"
In January, Dawson and Travelin Jonez claimed the NRCHA Celebration of Champions Derby title in San Angelo, Texas. Dawson also was the Reserve Champion there aboard A Spoonful O Sugar (Hes A Peptospoonful x Poco Smokum Oak x Smokum Oak), owned by Cryin Coyote Ranch. At the end of March, Dawson and Travelin Jonez won the NRCHA Stakes Championship in Las Vegas, Nev. A month later, in Pueblo, Colo., Dawson and A Spoonful O Sugar captured the NRCHA Hackamore Classic Championship, and Dawson took the Reserve Championship on Travelin Jonez.
Dawson brought three Derby horses to Paso Robles and qualified all of them for the finals. He placed 10th aboard Travelin Jonez's half-brother, Callme Mister Mister (Mister Dual Pep x Travelin With Sass x Travalena), a 4-year-old gelding owned by Stephen Roseberry, earning $5,600. A Spoonful O Sugar also made the Derby Open finals, but she lost a cow in the herd work and Dawson scratched her from the remaining two events.
"She was the only horse that beat [Travelin Jonez] all year, and she had some rough luck here," Dawson said.
By contrast, fortune smiled on Travelin Jonez throughout the finals. Showing in the hackamore. "TJ" turned in a 219.5 performance in the herd work, placing him fourth on the results sheet. Then, the bay stallion won the rein work round with a 223, the same score he marked in that event during the prelims.
"He was really good in the reining; as good as he's been all year. To mark a pair of 223's in the go-round and finals – that's the highest he's ever marked in his life, and that's his weakest event," Dawson said.
Going into the fence work, TJ was in second place behind PRF Spoonful Of Gold (Hes A Peptospoonful x Sons Miss Sprat x Sons Rushette), shown by Corey Cushing. Dawson and TJ were fourth to work in the first set. The cow tested them on the end, and then showed plenty of speed down the wall. Travelin Jonez responded with alacrity, rating in perfect position and engulfing the cow with one dirt-spraying turn in each direction.
"I never felt anything like it," Dawson said. He intended to turn the cow once more on the fence before circling, but Travelin Jonez had other ideas. "I wanted to go for a third turn, and I swear, he told me 'Partner, you just sit up there and sit still. We're gonna go circle this rascal,' and I just held on for the ride."
Dawson was awestruck by the caliber of horses and horsemen in the finals; of the 20 Derby Open finalists, 10 of them scored a 218 or above in the fence work, demonstrating impressive control against a pen of consistently fast and challenging cattle.
"It was a great cow work final. There were so many good horses, and so many good guys.[NRCHA Hall of Fame horseman] Ronnie Richards came up to me after I got done and gave me the biggest compliment I've ever had. He says, 'You know, I've been around a long time, and that was as good a cow work as I've ever seen.' That's something right there. It's just incredible to be in that company, and be four-for-four," Dawson said. "The things I've learned, and the quality of horsemen in this deal – I can't stress that enough. I feel like a little kid kicking the dirt around them. It's a real honor to be in this group of guys."
Corey Cushing, Scottsdale, Ariz., rode Cathy Corrigan Frank's 5-year-old stallion, PRF Spoonful Of Gold, to the Derby Open Reserve Championship. They scored a total 652.5 (225 herd/221 rein/216.5 cow), earning $26,132. It was Cushing's fourth consecutive Derby Reserve Championship. In 2011 and 2012, he rode Docs Catty Jo (Cowboy Cattylac x Lena Jo Doc x Doc O Dynamite) to the Reserve Championship for owner Suzanne Clark. In 2010, Cushing was Derby Reserve Champion aboard Smart Boons (Peptoboonsmal x Smart Little Easter x Smart Little Lena, owned by Kevin and Sydney Knight. In 2009, Cushing and Smart Boons were the Derby Champions.
The Derby Open Reserve Championship also came wtih a set of skid boots from Classic Equine; quick wraps from Back On Track; and a $50 gift certificate and cooler bag from Santa Cruz Biotechnologies.
Cushing also placed 3rd in the Derby Open aboard CD Diamond (CD Olena x Shiners Diamond Girl x Shining Spark) with a 658.5, Cushing and the 4-year-old stallion, owned by San Juan Ranch, were the 2012 NRCHA Futurity Open Champions. Third place came with a $21,466 check, and third through fifth place received a gift certificate and cooler bag from Santa Cruz Biotechnologies along with their paychecks.
Derby Intermediate Open Champion: Cats Smart Oak, shown by Mark Luis
The NRCHA Derby Intermediate Open Champion, Cats Smart Oak (WR This Cats Smart x Cookie Q Lena x Quanah O Lena), is owner Polly Potocar's Non-Pro Limited Derby horse,. The 5-year-old gelding was entered in the Derby Open with Potocar's trainer, Mark Luis, to school so he would perform better for Polly.
But the schooling run became much more when Luis qualified Cats Smart Oak for the Derby Intermediate Open finals – and then won the Championship with a total 660 score.
Luis and Cats Smart Oak scored a 216.5 in the herd and a 218.5 in the rein work, bunching them closely at the top of the Intermediate Open division with John Ward and Gotta Go Get it (Smart Little Pepinic x Got Mister x Mister Dual Pep) and Barney Skelton and Lucky Money (Meradas Money Talks x Lucky Baylite x Grays Starlight). Cats Smart Oak was the second horse to work down the fence, and he clinched the Intermediate win with a huge 225 in the cow work.
"The fence run is what did it for me," Luis said. "All the stars lined up, I guess! It felt great. That little horse – I haven't shown him that much. I showed him in one other little schooling show. He was kind of messing with Polly, his owner, in the show pen, and she said she wanted me to show him here to get some schooling on him. The schooling ended up being a first-place win, so it was pretty neat."
The Intermediate Championship came with a check for $6,424, a Gist buckle from NRCHA; a set of quick wraps from Back On Track; and a Platinum Performance gift certificate.
Potocar and her sister, Linda Wood, are both clients of Luis's, and have been enthusiastic competitors in the NRCHA's Non-Pro Limited Derby division since it was first offered two years ago. The sisters keep their horses at Luis's Paso Robles, Calif., training facility full time, and while Luis rides Cats Smart Oak regularly to keep him in shape for Potocar, he rarely works the gelding down the fence.
"I didn't realize he was as good a fence horse as he is," Luis said. "I didn't even know he could run that hard! Polly just does the boxing and we don't go down the fence much. When he took off tonight, I thought, wow, he does have some speed! It's a heck of a way to finish out his derby years."
Potocar is offering Cats Smart Oak for sale, in order to bring up another young horse for the brand-new NRCHA Non-Pro Limited Futurity divison, which debuts at the Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno this fall. Both she and Wood are excited about showing in three-event competition without the demands of fence work.
"They really enjoy the Derbies, and they've already bought two 3-year-olds for the Non-Pro Limited Futurity," Luis said.
The Derby Intermediate Open Reserve Champion was Nic It Starlight (Nic It In the Bud x Okie Starbella x Grays Starlight), shown by Brad Barkemeyer, Scottsdale, Ariz., for owner Barbara Truex, DVM. Barkemeyer guided the 4-year-old gelding to a total 650 score (215 herd/213.5 rein/221.5 cow), earning $5,011.
Derby Limited Open Champion: Fancy Boons N All, shown by Kelby Phillips
Up-and-coming professional Kelby Phillips, the resident trainer at Garth and Amanda Gardiners' Gardiner Quarter Horses, Ashland, Kans., won his third NRCHA Premier Event Championship of the year when he claimed the NRCHA Derby Limited Open title aboard Fancy Boons N All (Peptoboonsmal x Smart Fancy Zan x Smart Little Lena), a 5-year-old mare owned by the Gardiners.
Phillips and "Fancy" scored a total 654 in the Derby finals (213 herd/219 rein/222 cow). The Championship paid $3,905 and came with a Gist buckle from the NRCHA; a set of quick wraps from Back On Track; and a Platinum Performance gift certificate.
Phillips has been showing "Fancy" and another mare, Shes Wright On (Hes Wright On x Sue C Shiner x Shining Spark) for the Gardiners this year. He won the NRCHA Stakes Limited Open Championship on Shes Wright On, and was Reserve on Fancy Boons N All, and then rode the mares to the same placings in the Hackamore Classic Limited Open.
At the Derby, Phillips and Shes Wright On missed the finals, but he was pleased to get Fancy Boons N All into the winners' circle for the Gardiners. Phillips won both the rein work and cow work rounds on the mare, and tied for the high score in the herd work, clinching the win by an impressive nine-and-a-half point margin.
"I feel very fortunate to have the opportunities that Garth and Amanda have given me," Phillips said. "It means a great deal to me to be able to win for them on their horses."
The Derby Limited Open Reserve Champion was Shiney Dual Rey (Dual Rey x Shiners Madam x Shining Spark), shown by Tucker Clark for Rogers Heaven Sent Ranch. Clark and the 5-year-old stallion scored a total 644.5 (213 herd/215 rein/216.5 cow), earning $2,929.