The 2019 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Open finals was nothing short of entertaining, keeping the audience cheering until the very end. Twenty horses and riders made it back to the finals, held Dec. 15 in the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.
From the first draw, Twice In Santiago and Adan Banuelos kicked the finals off on a high note, marking a 223. Eight draws later, Banuelos’ uncle, Cookie Banuelos, marked a 220, and by the time the first set ended, both Banueloses’ scores were sitting in first and second.
Three horses into the second set, though, were Metallic Rey Mink and Gary Bellenfant, who won the 1995 NCHA Futurity Open with Peptoboonsmal. Bellenfant hadn’t made the finals in 10 years, and as they cut their first cow, the crowd’s cheering became a roar. That noise kept up all through their run, and after it was over, the judges marked the pair a 226. When it was all said and done, Bellenfant, 69, had won his second NCHA Futurity Open Championship.
“Somebody’s gonna have to pinch me; I’m not sure it’s real yet,” Bellenfant said after sipping champagne out of the champion’s cup. “I really wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to win the Futurity this year.’ I’ve come here with good horses before and didn’t do any good, so I wasn’t like, ‘Oh man, this is my time,’ but that’s a special horse.”
Metallic Rey Mink had already shown he had it in him to win during the Open first go, when he marked a 225 to top the leaderboard. During the second go, the pair tied for sixth in the composite when they scored a 213.5.
“It wasn’t a very good bunch of cattle,” Bellenfant said of the second go. “What made it worse was there were several cows we liked that got cut early that were not any good, and we thought they would be. We tried to just get through it the best we could.”
In the semifinals, Bellenfant, an Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider, thought Metallic Rey Mink felt tired and seemed to be struggling to get across the pen, but they still scored a 219.5 to tie for 12th. It was the morning of the finals that he realized the stallion had a small respiratory issue going on, but with some treatment, the horse was ready to compete that evening.
It wasn’t the first time Metallic Rey Mink was nearly prevented from competing at the Futurity, as a few weeks before, he came up lame after “never taking a sore step in his life.” Bellenfant thinks the horse was injured during a pre-futurity, and at the time, he was afraid that it was his suspensory ligament. It turned out to be a bone bruise.
“I didn’t work him for three weeks. I worked him three times before I showed him in the first round, and he hadn’t been worked in the three weeks previous,” Bellenfant said. “But he’s been trained for a long time. My biggest chore with him [while training] was giving him enough other stuff to do and not keeping him in the pen, harping on this little thing and that little thing.”
Gabrielle Densley, who works for Bellenfant, started Metallic Dual Mink, and from the moment Bellenfant saw her work the horse on a cow, he knew he was special. When he took over the horse, Bellenfant decided to ranch with the stallion. Giving him a job to do helped the horse develop mentally, he said.
“I did more punching cows on him than training him,” Bellenfant said. “I don’t like to train one; I just kind of rub it on them with experience. There’s guys that are just absolutely great at it, all the sophisticated horse training, and it doesn’t fit me.”
Metallic Rey Mink’s owner and breeder, Burt Bull of Los Jaboncillos Ranch Inc., agreed with that philosophy. Bull, of Premont, Texas, usually starts his 2-year-olds and rides them through their 2-year-old year, but with Metallic Rey Mink, it was different.
“I guess God had a hand in the fact that I didn’t have a hand in this horse because Gary had him from the beginning,” Bull said with a laugh. “He’s loved him from the very beginning.
“Gary uses him like a using horse, and so he acts like a using horse. He’s not really very studdy, even though he’s a stud,” Bull added. “He works cattle on him and all, and he’s done a really good job. I couldn’t ask for a better guy and better trainer for that horse than Gary Bellenfant.”
Metallic Rey Mink (by Metallic Cat) is out of Bull’s mare Dual Rey Mink (by Dual Rey). That mare made the semifinals at the 2014 NCHA Futurity, but she was injured shortly before and never was able to go back in the show pen.
“She was real hot, but she had a big stop, was real bright and real smart,” Bull said of the mare. “He’s got all the good stuff and not the bad. He kept the big stop and the brightness and all that. He’s a joy to be around.”
This was the first time for Bull and his wife, Linda, to have a horse make the Futurity Open finals. Collecting the winner’s check of $175,398 was “just amazing,” and they were looking forward to the horse’s future.
“It’s unbelievable that he was even able to be shown, and God just blessed us and healed him,” Bull said. “Even through those go-rounds, he was kind of getting better and better.
“We raise and show our horses that we breed. We don’t buy outside horses,” Bull added. “We never in our wildest dreams thought we’d ever win this thing.”
Banuelos’ 223 put him in reserve, and he and Twice In Santiago banked $155,020. The mare (Once In A Blu Boon x Twice As Reycy x Dual Rey) is a homebred belonging to Double Dove Ranch.