A Vintage Smoke is reining’s newest Triple Crown winner.
Trainer Jason Vanlandingham and the jet-black stallion owned by Diane Mesmer won the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Derby Level 4 Open Championship over a talented field of horses and riders Saturday, June 20, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The winning score of 227.5 was the final jewel they needed to complete the crown, as they had already won the NRHA Futurity Level 4 Open Championship (2018) and the National Reining Breeders Classic Level 4 Open Co-Championship (2019).
It was Vanlandingham’s second Triple Crown. He previously won with Not Ruf At All in 2016.
“In our business there are so many great horse trainers and guys that are just far superior to my talent, and to be able to do something that nobody else has done in the history of our sport, winning two Triple Crowns, that’s a pretty big moment for us,” he said.
The reining Triple Crown is particularly challenging, Vandlandingham said, because it requires a horse to be precocious enough to win the Futurity as a 3-year-old and also to maintain a level of excellence during its Derby years.
“To have a horse that can do it at the Futurity and then turn around and be great for years to come after that, it takes a very very special animal,” he said.
The thing that makes A Vintage Smoke stand out to Vanlandingham is his heart. In a finals where some horses struggled holding their stops, the trainer from Whitesboro, Texas, said the horse “just went out there and held it like a champ.”
The fact that the performance came at the end of a long horse show was only more impressive.
“He doesn’t back down,” Vanlandinham said. “Any time he’s got in trouble it was because he was trying too hard, not because it was a lack of effort. And, that’s special.”
A Vintage Smoke’s Derby
The win in Oklahoma didn’t come easy for Vandlandingham and the Quarter Horse stallion.
Per usual, the Derby was stacked with a deep field. This year’s Open finals icluded 2019 NRHA Futurity Level 4 Open Champion Super Marioo, 2019 The Run For A Million Co-Champion No Smoking Required and two-time NRHA Derby Level 4 Open Champion Guaranteed A Magnum.
It also featured Patriot, a 5-year-old son of Smart Spook who frequently produces top-notch performances at the sport’s biggest events. Those efforts include tying with A Vintage Smoke for the co-championship at last year’s NRBC.
The two Quarter Horse stallions also tied for third at last year’s NRHA Derby, as both marked an incredible 230.5.
Patriot and Nathan Piper put in another great performance on Saturday in Oklahoma City, marking a 226 to earn the NRHA Derby Level 4 Open Reserve Championship for owner Shannon Reid.
For Vanlandingham, one of the biggest challenges for the 2020 Derby was controlling his own anxiety. Although he and A Vintage Smoke marked a huge score at last year’s Derby — the 230.5 tie with Patriot for third — he’d been thinking about that show a lot since then.
“I missed my last stop last year – he’d of probably won the Derby last year and wrapped up the Triple Crown then, so I was frustrated with myself and so [after] a year of anticipation getting back to that point, I was definitely ready for it but the nerves were kind of getting to me a little bit,” he said. “So, we had to just kind of slow down, actually have a visit with the good Lord and just pray for some confidence and to ease my anxiety, because I was over-fired-up coming into it and I think I would’ve over-showed him.
“But, it all turned out really good and, boy, we were definitely grateful for it.”
A Vintage Smoke is now the second Triple Crown Champion sired by the stallion A Sparkling Vintage. The son of Shining Spark, who stands at Silver Spurs Equine in Scottsdale, Arizona, first earned the honor when Not Ruf At All completed the crown with his NRBC victory in 2016.
Like A Vintage Smoke, Not Ruf At All was ridden to his Triple Crown win by Vanlandinham.
Overall, the stallion A Sparkling Vintage has sired the winners of more than $2.1 million.
Bred by Karl & Debbie Hapcic, A Vintage Smoke is the leading earner out of the mare Lady Smoke Peppy (by Mister Dual Pep). The first-place check of $60,000 pushed the 5-year-old’s lifetime earnings to more than $410,000.