Eric Freitas (left) and Justin Wright pictured with their NRCHA Stallion Stakes Champions • Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

Déjà Vu in Vegas

The last time Justin Wright and Eric Freitas showed horses in Las Vegas, they both returned to California with a win. For Wright, topping the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Stallion Stakes field riding Freitas’ Scooter Kat felt eerily familiar; however, winning an NRCHA premier event was even more special for this longtime trainer-owner pair.

“Here in August, Scooter Kat won the [National Stock Horse Association] Pre-Futurity Open, and Eric won the Non-Pro Futurity. That feeling was unbelievable,” Wright said. “To come back, our next trip to Vegas, and have both of us win a major aged event, I am so happy.”

Earlier in the day, Wright coached Freitas to the Stallion Stakes Non-Pro win with CR Tuff Tornado (Woody Be Tuff x CR Shes Uh Secret x Peptoboonsmal). And, with five horses qualified back to the Open finals, Wright had his hands full.

Big scores kept the crowd in the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center on the edge of their seats, but Wright’s cow work score of 223.5 held the composite of 667 from the first set through the end of the third set.

In the end, 2018 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Reserve Champion Scooter Kat (Kit Kat Sugar x Scooters Daisy Dukes x Dual Smart Rey) walked out of the arena as the winner.

“Seeing Kelby [Phillips] have an unbelievable run [225.5 fence work on CR Truffles N Lace] right before, its easy to get intimidated. But Scooter Kat, he is such a great horse,” Wright said. “He is always on board and tries 110-percent. He was fantastic all week long and I’m happy with him.”

Wright had two mounts in the first set, one in the second and two in the third. He said he relied on his exceptional assistant trainers throughout the week of preliminary rounds, as well as the finals.

“The prelims went extremely smooth and we actually go a lot of sleep. We had 16 show horses here, with the 3-year-olds I brought. My assistants that I have — I shouldn’t even call them assistants because they are such great horse trainers — it makes it real easy. Russell Probert, Jared Jones, Nick Howard — they’ve made it so easy to get through this show,” he said. “After the rein work, I went back to the tack room and I was dragging a little bit. After the cow work started and my adrenaline started going, I was all right. But, I am thinking about working out after this!”

Looking back over the week, Wright said he lost sleep before the finals wondering about Scooter Kat’s fence work. There was no need for the nerves; the 4-year-old exceeded his trainer’s expectations.

“He felt great all week. In the prelims, it got a little scary in the cow work [because] he was hanging in the ground a little bit. All week, one of my worst runs in the prelims was with him. He is such a great fence horse, it surprised me a little bit,” Wright said. “But as the show started [on the final night] there was no doubt in my mind that he could pull that run off.”

Wright’s 222 in the herd work finals was the top score, and the pair hung in with a 221.5 in the rein work before marking a 223.5 in the cow work. The horse added $37,150 to his earnings record, in addition to the feather in both Wright’s and Freitas’ hats.

Riding CR Tuffles N Lace (Woody Be Tuff x Calie Del Rey x Dual Rey), Phillips scored a 666.5 (218.5 herd/222.5 rein/224.5 cow) to earn $26,396 for owners DT Horses LLC and take the Reserve Championship.

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