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.
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.
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.
As Matt Koch rode SDP Blue Blood (Laredo Blue x I Got Good Genes) in the NRCHA Stakes finals in Las Vegas, Nev., Saturday night, he followed the advice and encouragement of his friend, Chris Dawson – a wise choice, as Dawson ultimately won the Stakes Open Championship. Koch also finished in fine fashion, piloting SDP Blue Blood, owned by K & H Performance Horses, to a total 653 score (219 herd/216.5 rein/217.5 cow), good for the Stakes Intermediate Open Championship and a three-way tie for Reserve in the Open.
“Chris kept saying, ‘It’s the finals, just let it all hang out!’ So, in the herd work, I cut my first cow and just put my hand down and cut one-handed, all three cows, and he was really good. Same thing in the rein work. I watched Chris go first, and he was wide-open and going, so we tried the same thing and it worked. We survived the cow work and ended up here! Chris has been here before, and I’m pretty new to it all, so I’m just listening and taking lessons,” Koch said, smiling.The Intermediate Open Championship paid $5,400 and Koch collected another $19,358 for the Stakes Open Reserve placing.
Koch, 28, a Kansas native, started working for NRCHA Breeder Sponsor Wagonhound Land and Livestock, Douglas, Wyo., in February. SDP Blue Blood made the move with him; the stallion does a substantial amount of roping, ranch work and outside riding in addition to his show training.
“My girlfriend rides him outside on days I don’t get to him. It lets him get out and be a horse. For me it helps out because you can leave him off. Today, I didn’t ride him until an hour or two before the show started,” Koch said.
He thanked Dawson and his other herd help, Brad Lund, Robbie Boyce and Todd Crawford. The next stop for Koch and the roan stallion is the NRCHA Hackamore Classic in May.
Riding Shes Wright On (Hes Wright On x Sue C Shiner) for owner/breeders Garth and Amanda Gardiner, Ashland, Kans., Kelby Phillips captured the Stakes Limited Open Championship with a total 642.5 score (208 herd/214 rein/220.5 cow).
The Limited Open title paid $3,218. Shes Wright On also earned the Stakes Intermediate Open Reserve Championship, which paid another $4,320.
“In the herd work, she felt a little tired from the prelims. She was better in the prelims. She was still good, I just cut really soft cows, which left us with some ground to make up. In the reining, she was good the whole time. I’ve had a little bit of trouble with her running and stopping but she really started coming on the last few weeks. The fence work was the best she’s ever been at a show. She’s big down the fence at home, and it was nice to put it together here,” Phillips said.
As the resident trainer for Gardiner Quarter Horses, Phillips said he was pleased to ride a product of their breeding program into the winner’s circle. Shes Wright On is by the Gardiners’ stallion, Hes Wright On, and her mother, Sue C Shiner, is particularly special to Amanda.
“It was her first cow horse, the first horse she learned to show in the bridle, so we went overboard on breeding Hes Wright On to her. We have more of that mating than we do of anything else,” Garth Gardiner said. “It’s rewarding as an owner and a breeder to have a horse be successful, especially at a show like the NRCHA Stakes, where it’s all about the sire.”
Another Gardiner-owned mare, Fancy Boons N All (Peptoboonsmal x Smart Fancy Zan), also shown by Phillips, finished as the Stakes Limited Open Reserve Champion, earning $1,930 with a total 638.5 score (207 herd/217 rein/214.5 cow). Phillips thanked the Gardiners and his herd help, Brad Lund, Brandon Buttars, Todd Crawford and Robbie Boyce.
“Most of all, I’d like to thank my fiancée, Abbie [Burtenshaw] for helping me. It’s been a long week. We haven’t slept hardly any, and I want to thank her for her help,” he said. The couple’s wedding is less than two weeks away.