The fourth and final round of what has turned out to be a popular attraction, drawing a near-capacity crowd on Nov. 27, concludes with Round 4 tonight (Nov. 28) at 8 p.m. in Watt Arena – located near Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. There is no admission fee.
Elizabeth Queen, Lipan, Texas, moved closer to capturing her first career Non-Pro World Championship as 7-year-old gelding Sister CD (CD Olena x Little Baby Sister x Dual Pep) carried her to a 228 on Nov. 27. The duo secured their second win in three tries to earn $6,410 and push their three-round earnings to $14,102. A finish near the top of the leader board in tonight’s fourth and final round will clinch a season-long 2009 Non-Pro World Championship for Queen.
Seven-time NCHA Non-Pro World Champion Mary Jo Milner and Show Biz Ben (Show Biz Billy x Haidas Amour x Haidas Little Pep), an 8-year-old gelding formerly owned and ridden well by Queen’s mother, Becky Elliott, set the bar high while cutting second in Round 3 with a 224. Queen and Sister CD topped it while cutting seventh in the 15 horse-and-rider set to earn $6,410. Milner and Show Biz Ben finished second and earned $5,128, but failed to gain and instead lost a little ground in the World title race.
Queen and Sister CD lead Milner and Show Biz Ben by just over $11,000 heading into the last of four rounds. They also lead the Non-Pro average race through three rounds. The average pays another $6,410 to its winner and checks from $5,128-$1,026 for second through eighth. To secure an eighth Non-Pro World title, Milner needs to win tonight’s fourth round and claim the average title, too, without Queen earning much at all.
“Right now, I’m not nervous, but tomorrow night [Nov. 28] I will be,” Queen said about heading into Round 4 with the lead. “I’m kind of relieved that it’s almost over, but this [hauling for a possible World title] has been really fun. I’m trying to enjoy every little minute.”
Until the third round, this had not been a satisfying week for Burch, 58, Weatherford, Texas, and Play Peek A Boon (Freckles Playboy x Peek A Boon x Smart Little Lena) a 10-year-old mare that carried the trainer to earnings of better than $175,000 during a strong aged-event career. At the World Finals, the duo started out quite well with its first and second cows during the first and second rounds, but had lost third cows both times. After another strong start in the third round, Burch took another chance, cutting a tough cow with 32 seconds left.
Herd helper Kathy Daughn, the only woman other than Burch that has won an NCHA Futurity Open title, advised her friend to cut a particular Hereford cow Burch didn’t like that much. That cow fueled a winning flourish as Play Peek A Boon completed a great run.
“It was the only thing left,” Burch said. “She [Play Peek A Boon] was on target tonight, the cattle were good and thank God for the Hereford at the end that lasted 32 seconds.”
Play Peek A Boon, owned and bred by Oxbow Ranch, Weatherford, Texas, and trained and ridden by Burch through her career, finished No. 16 in season-long NCHA Open standings, but received an invitation to join the field of 15 at the World Finals when another horse dropped out. Until this year, the mare had been retired 2 ½ years following a suspensory injury. Burch brought her back slowly this year after noticing she seemed to be moving around quite a bit better.
“I love this mare. She’s a 7/8ths sister to my great mare Bet Yer Blue Boons [a career-earner of $350,000], so I’ve always had a special place in my heart for her,” Burch said. “When the World Series [new NCHA World Series of Cutting events that offered four much bigger paydays for older horses this year] came to a fruition, I turned around and I didn’t have an Open horse.
“I happened to look out in the pasture and Play Peek A Boon just ran by and she looked awful sound. I thought ‘I wonder …’ So, I started legging her up real slow and brought her back specifically for this program.”
The mare will compete again in NCHA Open events next year, as long as she remains sound, Burch added.
The Open’s third round also featured two more strong runs by the only two horse-and-rider duos actually contending for the NCHA Open year-long World title: 10-year-old gelding Dual Rey Me and Jeremy Barwick, Stephenville, Texas; and 6-year-old stallion Thomas E Hughes and Austin Shepard, Summerdale, Ala.
Thomas E Hughes (High Brow Cat x Smart Letha x Smart Little Lena), owned by Don and Kathy Boone, West Columbia, Texas, marked a 225.5 to place second and earned $5,128. They won first round and placed second in the second go to earn $16,666 so far.
Dual Rey Me (Dual Pep x Miss Smart Rey Jey x Smart Little Lena), co-owned by Jeremy and his wife, Candace Barwick, a two-time Open World Champion horse with Jeremy in 2006 and 2007, continued a strong bid for his third Open title in four years. “Reno” and Barwick placed third in the third round with a 225 to earn $3,846. They’ve placed third, first and third so far while earning a combined $14,102.
Dual Rey Me leads Thomas E Hughes $88,527 to $80,327 in the year-round NCHA Open standings. They are tied with 680-point composite World Finals scores heading into Round 4. The Round 4 winner earns $6,410. The winner of the average also earns $6,410.
Round 2 Coverage
When it comes to cutting, it doesn’t get much better than the competition that arose Nov. 24, during the NCHA World Finals second go-round. The hyped-up atmosphere had the crowd roaring, and the cattle were on a craze, which put the top 15 cutting horses in the World to the ultimate test, while the top finalists continued to battle it out in an all or nothing approach in pursuit of the next World Championship title.
Dual Rey Me, the leading horse going into the Open round with Jeremy Barwick, substantiated his plan to claim his third World title when he posted an astonishing 231- point run, the ninth horse out.
“It was a little nerve-wracking because the cattle haven’t been very good tonight,” said Barwick following his run. “But we cut some cows we liked, and luckily, they were good.”
While “good” seems like an understatement when associated with the gelding’s high score, it’s not the first time he’s lit up the leader board in the 230s. The pair actually posted a 232 once during the Celebrity Cutting in the Will Rogers Coliseum and has secured numerous 78s during weekend cuttings.
“He likes to go fast and he can hold just about anything,” Barwick said of the horse’s attributes that place him in top brackets. “He tries so hard and he’s so smart. He’s just a phenomenal horse.”
Dual Rey Me has earned more than $800,000 in earnings and, according to Barwick, won’t be retiring any time soon. Barwick and his wife, Candace, have set a goal for the gelding to reach $1 million in earnings before turning in the towel.
A draw that put the top two Open horses back-to-back had the walls of the Watt arena rattling while the thunder of the crowd pounded behind their favorites.
Thomas E Hughes (High Brow Cat x Smart Letha x Smart Little Lena) and Austin Shepard, Summerdale, Ala., may have entered the herd with a 231 to beat, but that didn’t stop their forceful reckoning. As soon as the incredible showman, known as “Big A,” dropped his hand, his fans backed a 225.5-point run, which even included a small bobble in the beginning.
While the No.1 score kept Shepard in second runnings, the possibility for him to catch and surpass Barwick is still present. Barwick and Dual Rey Me (Dual Pep x Miss Smart Rey Jay x Smart Little Lena), are holding strong at $84,681 going into the third round of the competition, while Thomas E Hughes, a stallion owned by Don and Kathy Boone, West Columbia, Texas, and Shepard are sitting on $75,199 for the year. With two rounds left, where the top hole pays $6,410 and the second $5,128, Shepard and Barwick will be dueling out top honors until the very end.
“Austin is a great showman and he’s got a great horse,” Barwick said of his competition. “We both have to good every night. You’ve got to try to win every night. It will work out to be what it is. If Austin wins and I’m second, I sure don’t mind being second behind Austin. It’s going to be fun, because I’m sure going to try every night and I know he is.”
Thomas E Hughes, originally trained by Sam Shepard, has earned more than $350,000 in winnings.
Paula Wood, Stephenville, Texas, may not be in the runnings for the Non-Pro World title, but the Texas cowgirl and her mare, Donas Cool Cat (High Brow Cat x Sweet Peppy Again x Peppy San Badter), are definitely nipping at the heels of an average winning title.
Following a 226-point run in the first round that trailed a 230 turned in by leaders Elizabeth Queen, Lipan, Texas, and Sister CD, Wood and the horse bounced back in round two with a 229 – a run that was so fast, Wood even lost her hat, something she said has never happened to her.
“That’s kind of embarrassing,” she said with a grin. “We were going so fast I was afraid if I reached up and pulled it down I might fall off.”
While Wood set the bar high, the top two contenders for the World title, Mary Jo Milner and Queen weren’t so lucky.
Queen and Sister CD had yet another intense run going in round two, but just before the buzzer, the great gelding stumbled a bit and lost a hard-running cow to the right. Still, they pulled off a 211 for $1,282 and a $9,766 lead over Milner and Show Biz Ben, whose lost cow garnered a 198 in round two and no paycheck.
Round 1 Coverage
Six-year-old stallion Thomas E Hughes and Austin Shepard, Summerdale, Ala., marked a 229 to win the Open division, earning $6,410 and narrowing the gap between them and World Championship leaders Dual Rey Me and Jeremy Barwick, Stephenville, Texas.
Lipan, Texas, cutter Elizabeth Queen and her 7-year-old gelding Sister CD matched their career best with a 230 to win the Non-Pro division, earn $6,410, and extend their lead for a possible World Championship.
The new-format Mercuria Energy/NCHA World Championship Finals also proved a dramatic and artistic success while starting a four-night run at Watt Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Competition continues Nov. 25, Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, skipping Thanksgiving Day, with starting times at 7 p.m. until Nov. 28, when it starts at 8 p.m.
“This is a really good venue for the World Finals,” said Shepard, winning rider at the NCHA Futurity Open finals two years ago with High Brow CD. “The older horses deserve to be showcased like this. Horses aren’t done when they’re 7. For them to have a big-money show and let us do it during the Futurity, when everybody that loves cutting is here in town, it’s just a great thing. Everybody loves Amarillo [site of the past few World Finals]. They were very nice in Amarillo, but this [the new format] is great.”
With the first-night win adding an extra $6,410 to his total, Thomas E Hughes (High Brow Cat x Smart Letha x Smart Little Lena), a competitor at weekend and aged events this year, pushed his 2009 NCHA non-aged event earnings to $70,071.
Dual Rey Me (Dual Pep x Miss Smart Rey Jay x Smart Little Lena), a 1999 gelding affectionately known as “Reno,” and Barwick, who have already won two Open World titles together, finished a strong third with a 224 to earn $3,846. That gives them $78,271 and a still significant lead as they continue a bid to earn a third Open title in four years.
“I felt like I needed to jump out and have a big run the first night, because I’m behind,” Shepard said. Dual Rey Me and Barwick posted a 224 to take the lead from an early draw, with Thomas E Hughes and Shepard competing right in the middle.
“We’ve got to keep it up now,” Shepard said. “The good thing about achievement is it raises expectations. We’ve got to get after it.”
Thomas E Hughes was originally trained and ridden in the Open by Austin’s father, Sam Shepard. Austin and his wife, Stacy Shepard, owned the horse last year, and they both competed with him. Don and Kathy Boone, West Columbia, Texas, who both are competing in the Non-Pro division at the World Finals, bought the horse early this year.
One major highlight came on the very last run of the evening, as A.J. “Curly” Tully, 63, Goldthwaite, Texas, and Stylish Curly (Docs Stylish Oak x Smart Little Curly x Smart Little Lena) posted a 226.5 to finish second in the Open and earn $5,128.
Tully, who has competed at more than a dozen NCHA World Finals, owned the horse when he was a 2-year-old and has ridden the 2001 gelding from the start. The horse, a career-winner of about $150,000, topped several that have earned quite a bit more with a spectacular and crowd-pleasing effort. Katherine Turner, Lexington, Okla., owns him.
“He’s a good-minded little horse,” said Tully, a career-earner of about $1.7 million as a cutting horse rider the past 31 years. “If I cut him the cattle, he’s been good every day. He’s probably the least trouble of any horse I’ve every trained.”
First-night Non-Pro winner Queen was ecstatic after recording a 230 aboard 2002 gelding Sister CD (CD Olena x Little Baby Sister x Dual Pep) for the second time in two months. The duo marked a 230 at the 6666 Ranch/NCHA World Series of Cutting event in Columbus, Ohio, during October. Cutting’s top active money-earning horse also marked another 230 to win a youth scholarship for a teen rider during midsummer.
By winning on the first of four World Finals nights, Sister CD and first-year NCHA hauler Queen extended their season-long earnings to $79,140. Seven-time World Champion Mary Jo Milner, the only competitor who has a shot at catching Queen, trailed by about $3,000 heading into the first night. She fell further behind while marking a 215 to tie for eighth and earn $855. Milner has $70,566 overall heading into round two. Each rider can earn up to $6,410 per round, plus an equal bonus for the best four-go average.
Queen, 33, wife of cutting trainer Skip Queen, who has also competed many times and quite well with Sister CD, admitted she was nervous before her first World Finals ride.
“Once I started walking down to the herd, though, I get better,” Queen said. “It’s kind of the anticipation of it all that gets me nervous. When I put my hand down [to start her cutting run aboard Sister CD], he just felt great. He’s been such a fun horse.”
Paula Wood, Stephenville, Texas, competed from the last draw in the Non-Pro with Donas Cool Cat (High Brow Cat x Sweet Peppy Again x Peppy San Badger), a 2001 mare she’s already won a World Finals Show Championship with. Her husband, Kobie, and her daughter, Lane, have also competed well on the same horse.
With a nearly unreachable 230 was already on the board, Wood headed to the heard aboard the talented mare and clearly took aim at it. They marked a 226 to earn $5,128.
“I was trying to beat her,” Wood said. “She [Queen] has got a great horse, too, and she’s a very nice person. None of the cows I wanted to cut were in the right spots, so I just went to the top. I have a great horse, so it all worked out.”
World Champion horses and riders in the Open and Non-Pro divisions will be determined Saturday, Nov. 28, when the four-day event ends. Each round in each division offers a total purse of $25,640, with a total payout of $128,200 in both the Open and the Non-Pro.