It is National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Super Stakes time here in Fort Worth, Texas! The Super Stakes is the second leg of the NCHA Triple Crown, the second largest cutting horse competition behind the NCHA Futurity and one of the biggest equine events in the world. I’ve attended every Super Stakes since 2005, so you could call me a 12-year veteran.
The Super Stakes is an event that derives the bulk of its added money from stallion subscriptions and foal nominations paid by breeders. There are other events in the equine world that follow a similar subscription-based model. The Breeders’ Cup for Thoroughbreds, All American Futurity for running Quarter Horses, Breeder’s Invitational for cutting horses, National Reining Breeders Classic for reiners, Future Fortunes for barrel horses, and the list could go on and on and on. This is a very smart way to increase purses, thus increasing entries and participation. The bigger the purse, the more incentive for people to want to be a part of it and “invest” to hopefully win that money.
Like I said, I’ve attended every Super Stakes since 2005, I’ve seen some major changes to that program during that time. In 2007, I began attending the NCHA Convention and the Stallion Owners Committee meeting. At that time, the committee’s primary role was to oversee the NCHA Super Stakes and help craft policy for its success to be sent to the NCHA Executive Committee for approval. The first Super Stakes was in 1981, and it has had primarily the same structure ever since.
To be able to show in the Super Stakes, a horse’s sire had to be subscribed. That subscription was due in October of the horse’s 3-year-old year to be eligible to compete in the Super Stakes as a 4-year-old. For a horse to be eligible as a 5-year-old, the subscription for the stallion needed to be paid in October of the horse’s 4-year-old year, and so on as a 6-year-old. The subscription fee for the stallion was equal to the advertised breed fee of the stallion or no less than $3,500.
So in 2007, when I started attending the Convention and Super Stakes meetings, I started to study the history of the program and the trends over time to forecast the direction the program was headed. I could see a couple of problems in the program relating to when a stallion was subscribed. Many things could occur in the four-year period from when the mares were bred to when the resulting foals turned 3 and the stallion subscription was due. Stallions can change ownership, and stallion owners can die, divorce, have financial problems, etc. I saw that, for the viability and integrity of the program, subscription needed to happen before the breeding season began.
By 2009, the overall economy had a huge impact on the horse industry and the NCHA was no different. Huge downward trends were imminent and the viability of the Super Stakes was in question. By that time, I had become Chairman of the Stallion Owners Committee, and we needed to act for the program to have a viable future.
In 2009, there were 123 stallions subscribed to the Super Stakes, which amounted to $550,000 in added money, which is indeed great. But the trends were showing some serious problems in the near future, and we needed to act. Our committee devised a plan to alter the entire program to change the subscription fee and time of payment, and also enlist the mare owners to increase the purse dramatically. We wanted to make the Super Stakes a million-dollar event! Some great minds got involved and we crafted a plan. The plan was to have a $2,500 stallion subscription fee due in October prior to the breeding season and a $200 foal nomination fee due by Dec. 31 of the foaling year. With those rules, we felt confident we could get to that $1 million added-money goal!
Just because we had a plan in principal doesn’t mean it was perfect or that it would be easy to make these changes. Biggest hurdle was how would the “old” program transition into the “new” program. I remember clearly (and I still have the notes) when I presented these changes to the NCHA Executive Committee in August 2010. We had a good new format, but we had a big problem of how to keep the added money for the Super Stakes at $500,000 so that the purses wouldn’t take a major hit. Some great minds on the Executive Committee came up with a way to bridge the transition period from the old format to the new, which was going to take eight years. The NCHA would “loan” the program $2 million for four of the eight years to keep the added money at $500,000, and then the program would pay back the $2 million “loan” over the final four years. Then the transition would be complete and the new format fully functioning. The forecast was to make that big jump from a $500,000 added-money event to over $1 million!
There have been tweaks and changes made to the Super Stakes program, and rightly so, over the past few years. The roll out wasn’t perfect and some errors were made, but I will tell you that when looked at from a macro point of view, the benefit to the NCHA has been great. With great pride and with the help of some very talented and bright members of the NCHA, the Super Stakes is a thriving program. The first year that the Super Stakes will be completely through the transition from the old format to the new will be 2023. Forecasts show that it will indeed be around a $1 million event! With huge purses for competitors, financial payouts to both stallion subscribers and foal nominators for finalists, and a thriving event for the NCHA to put on, the future is looking very bright for the growth potential of the Super Stakes! And where growth happens, all benefit.
I have written this out for a few reasons. I don’t know who will read it, but I think it is important to explain the whats, hows and whys. I have not explained everything, but the basic gist is here. I was part of these changes, and I, like many others, depend on a healthy viable horse industry. All of us involved in the horse business – whether we are breeders, competitors or service providers – depend on a healthy, thriving environment. We are all connected, and we are all in this together. A political process had to take place for these changes to come about. I am proud of where we stand in 2017 from that October 2010 meeting. It’s been one heck of a roller coaster ride!