Mark Blake in the “Money” at the Cactus Reining Classic

Mark Blake (right), pictured at the 2017 NRHA Winter Meeting, took the win in nearly all levels of the Cactus Reining Classic Derby Non-Pro.

The Cactus Reining Classic, held in Scottsdale, Arizona, March 21-25, brought reiners from all over the country to its warm, dry climate. The facilities at Westworld of Scottsdale left little to be desired, with plenty of room for everyone to branch out.

The competition in the Derby Non-Pro was fierce, with more than 60 competitors vying for the top prize. Rick Christen and Xtra Voodoo Step (Wimpys Little Step x Voodoo Chic x Smart Chic Olena) put up a 219.5 early, and it seemed like the score would hold through the rest of the class. That is, until Mark Blake and Hot Hollywood Whizky stepped into the ring as the third to last draw. Their performance wowed the judges, who marked them a 220.5. Christen and his mare settled for Reserve.

“I’m on top of the world,” Blake said. “I’ve got a really nice horse.

“Rick’s a great guy,” he continued of Christen. “He had an awesome run today too, so I was proud to be able to stay up with him. Rick’s a really big supporter of our Arizona Reining Horse Association and he’s just a good friend, and it’s a mutual respect we have for each other. Rick’s been riding a long time, so for me to win against a guy like him, I couldn’t be prouder.”

In addition to winning the Level 4, Blake went home with the championship in the Levels 3, 1, Prime Time and Masters. Overall, he banked $15,008, which combined with his lifetime earnings to equal $47,951.

Hot Hollywood Whizky, a 2012 gelding by Topsail Whiz, boasted earnings of more than $32,000 prior to the Cactus Reining Classic. Bred by Turnabout Farm Inc., he was still a stallion when Blake purchased him at the 2017 National Reining Breeders Classic through Yonathan Baruch.

“He is by far the most talented horse I’ve ever ridden,” Blake said. “Really good-minded. We gelded him when we bought him; they had him as a stallion so Craig asked me, ‘Do you want a breeding stallion, or do you want a show horse?’ He was kind of getting nippy and pushy and all that, so it was time for me to do something if we wanted. I just didn’t want anybody to get hurt around a stallion. I didn’t need to ride a stallion. He’s really kind and good-minded. He’s awesome.”

“Money,” who is so-called because that was his name at the time of his purchase, is out of the Hollywood Dun It mare Hot Hollywood Jewels, an earner of $42,082. She has produced nine money-earners that have collected nearly $300,000, including Money’s full sister Whiz Jewels ($96,295) and half-sister Chexy In Jewels ($66,115, by Bueno Chexinic).

Blake, 62, has been reining for seven years. He got into the discipline while looking for a sport besides golf to play and was immediately hooked on its maneuvers. He currently trains with Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider Craig Schmersal, who won the National Reining Horse Association Futurity last year with Face The Attitude.

“He does an awesome job at training and getting me ready. He had me ready to go today,” Blake said of Schmersal.

Outside of reining, Blake owns an insurance company in Minneapolis. He is also the president of the Arizona Reining Horse Association and the Reining Horse Foundation. Despite his busy schedule between working and riding, Blake enjoys giving back to the sport and animals he holds so dear.

“Horses, to me, are very spiritual animals,” he said. “If you work with a horse and you’re kind to a horse, they’ll do anything. I learned with my first horse and I really feel blessed to be in this sport. I believe in giving back – if you get something, you need to give back.”