Reined cow horse derbies are specifically for 4- and 5-year-old horses. They are shown two-handed in a snaffle bit or hackamore and judged in three events: herd work, rein work and cow work. At the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Celebration of Champions on Monday, Feb. 12 in Fort Worth, Texas, winners in five Open divisions of the NRCHA Cow Horse Classic Derby were determined as competitors went down the fence in the last phase of this cow horse triathlon.
In a big and highly competitive field, a proven horse-and-rider combination rose to the top. Duals Lucky Charm (Dual Smart Rey x TRR Ms Pepcid Olena x Pepcid) and Scottsdale, Arizona, professional Kelby Phillips, the team that won the 2016 National Stock Horse Association and NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open championships, blazed a trail of high scoring runs through three events to claim the Derby Open Championship.
“It feels really good. I knew coming into this there’s a ton of great horses in here and there’s a whole bunch of really good 5–year-olds,” Phillips said. “Just to come and compete with them is really nice.
“In the reining, he felt as good as he ever has,” he continued of his run. “He turned really good, ran and stopped big, and circled like he always does. He’s just pure everywhere. I nearly messed up my first cut [in the herd work], but he saved me. He’s always been a really good fence horse. When all else fails, you know you can kick him and he’s going to stay with the cow.”
After watching tough cattle take out some of the competitors before him, Phillips made a game plan for his run.
“I made four turns [on the fence] on him just because I felt like the cows were kind of running off from people,” he explained. “The cows seemed like they had a lot of air, catching some more gears as people were trying to gain on them, so I wanted to make as many turns as I could and keep him in the right spot as well as I could.”
He and Duals Lucky Charm scored a 444.5 composite (147 herd/149.5 rein/148 fence), taking home a $22,639 paycheck. They added $1,324 for placing first in the rein work, $662 for taking fourth in the herd work and $221 for their score down the fence, and their total take on the day was $24,846. For winning the Championship, they also received a Bob’s Custom Saddle, a Gist buckle, product from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health, and a gift certificate from NexGen Compounding.
Duals Lucky Charm, who now boasts earnings of nearly $160,000, has been a token of good fortune for Phillips. That wasn’t always the case, though, Phillips admitted.
“His mid-3-year-old year, I almost wanted to call the owner to tell him he needed to go home,” Phillips said with a chuckle. “After we cut him [gelded him], it was about July of his 3-year-old year – probably the second time I took him to a little schooling show – he just all of a sudden came on. After the Stock Horse Futurity, I knew he was dang sure a really good horse.”
“Will,” as Phillips calls him, still retained some quirks, though. He’s found of giving Phillips a hard time the night before a finals, causing the trainer to question how his performance will go the following day.
“He never schools good the night before. He almost wants to make you worried,” he said. “But every time I’ve showed him, he’s never done anything bad.”
Will is owned by Mike and Robyne Stewart, who were Phillips’ first customers when he went out on his own. He was bred by Carolyn and Mark Murray.
Phillips thanked his employers, Dean and Leslie Tuftin, for providing him a “great place to train out of and great horses to ride.” He also thanked his wife, Abbie, helper, Spencer, herd help – Corey Cushing, Zane Davis, Ty Brown and Phillip Ralls – and sponsors Classic Equine, Hansbro Sport, JW Brooks, Santa Cruz Ultra Cruz and Dennis Moreland Tack.
When Bet He Sparks and Clayton Edsall marked a 148.5 in the fence work for a 442.5 composite (145 herd/149 rein), they momentarily led the whole pack until Phillips and Duals Lucky Charm knocked them out of first. Edsall and the Bet Hesa Cat stallion settled for the Intermediate Open Championship and third place in the Open, which came with a total check for $20,983.
The leading money-earner out of Sparking Train (by Shining Spark), Bet He Sparks’ lifetime earnings shot past $58,000. Prior to the Derby, his and Edsall’s biggest check came from the 2017 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, where they took the Intermediate Open Reserve Championship.
Bet He Sparks is owned by K & L Phillips, of Corona del Mar, California, and was bred by Gardiner Quarter Horses.
Playing With Rey and David Dillman may have been in the second to last set of horses, but they proved correct the old adage “it ain’t over til it’s over” when they scored a 141 in the cow work for a composite 424.5, winning the Limited Open Championship. Dillman and his mare received $2,979 for the title.
They also acquired $92 for tying for second in the Limited Open rein work with their score of 142.5, $37 for tying for third in the herd work with a 141 and $72 for taking third in the cow work.
Bred by Rancho Picante Quarter Horses, Playing With Rey is a 5-year-old Play Dual Rey daughter. She is out of ARC Holly Cee Lena, an unshown daughter of Smart Little Lena.