The National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Stallion Stakes Open Bridle Spectacular, held April 2 in Las Vegas, was more than just a win for Todd Bergen, who rode Smartly Starstruck to the championship. It also was a moment of redemption.
The Equi-Stat Elite $4 Million Rider had pointed the son of Very Smart Remedy at the 2021 World’s Greatest Horseman, but herniated a disc in his back two weeks before the show and was forced to scratch from that prestigious event.
“It just progressively got worse because I tried to keep riding and keep going through it, and pretty soon I couldn’t ride. I couldn’t even put my socks on,” Bergen said. “I didn’t ride a horse for about four-and-a-half weeks, just laid off and did a bunch of rehab stuff.”
Bergen had been preparing Smartly Starstruck specifically for the World’s Greatest Horseman competition and was disappointed by the poor timing of his injury. His preparation from earlier in the year paid off at the Stallion Stakes, though, even though he wasn’t feeling 100%.
“To come here and go make those runs that I felt like I could do at the World’s Greatest felt good,” Bergen said. “It showed me that what I was feeling was right. I’ve always thought that was a really good horse, and he’s the kind that can win these big events like this.”
Smartly Starstruck’s Win
The pair first marked a 221.5 in the herd work, the second-highest score overall. Bergen and Smartly Starstruck drew up first, which isn’t Bergen’s favorite position. Though it went well, the run wasn’t without a little excitement.
“It started off good, and then we had a cow jump out,” Bergen said. “They ended up reviewing the deal so there was a little drama there waiting to see what they were going to do. I knew it was a pretty good run and felt pretty good, you just never know how they’re going to see it.”
The judges didn’t dock the pair for the cow, and they advanced to the rein work, where they scored a 223. Bergen and the stallion then drew up last in the cow work, giving Bergen time to watch some of the runs ahead of him.
“A lot of those cows came out real wild and really going, and people were boxing them a little too long and then running out of air. They weren’t giving you enough to be able to mark big toward the end of your run,” Bergen said. “I had that in my head already — ‘don’t stay too long on this back fence, especially if it comes out wild.’ I just tried to remember that, and I left pretty early with a lot of cow.”
The pair scored a 222.5 down the fence for a composite of 667, which tied with the composite score marked by Shine Smarter and Sarah Dawson. Thanks to their higher fence score, though, Smartly Starstruck and Bergen took home the Championship and a check for $10,320, pushing the stallion to $87,045 in earnings.
Bred by Cinder Lakes Ranch, Smartly Starstruck is a 2012 stallion out of NRCHA Hall of Fame horse Katie Starlight – a daughter of Grays Starlight who in 1999 was the winner of the first-ever World’s Greatest Horseman competition.
Smartly Starstruck’s win was a special gift for his owner, Linda McMahon of McSpyder Ranch, as it took place on her birthday. It also added to an already successful year for McMahon, whose mare, Gunna Be A Smartie, actually won this year’s World’s Greatest Horseman Championship six weeks ago.
Bergen’s long-term goal for Smartly Starstruck is to win his own title at the prestigious event. He intends to show the horse lightly for the rest of the year so he’s ready to go in 2022.
“I try to be a little bit conservative in how much I show those horses I take to the World’s Greatest because I want them to be fresh and ready and not used up when you get there,” Bergen said. “He’s really starting to get super confident, and he’s fun to show. He’s a great-minded horse and obviously has a lot of ability.”
Dawson and Shine Smarter’s composite of 667 (225 herd/221 rein/221 cow) took home the Reserve Championship and $8,256 for owner Linda Mars.
The 2012 mare (WR This Cats Smart x Shiney Tari x Shining Spark) bred by Carol Rose and Richard Bell holds a unique distinction in the field, as she already is a successful broodmare. Her daughter, Selvarey (by Dual Rey) won the 2020 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity with Dawson aboard.