The tears and champagne flowed freely on the sands of Will Rogers Coliseum after John Mitchell and Janie Wood’s win in the Metallic Cat National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity.
Competing ninth of 28 horses, the Australian trainer and the Slate River Ranch homebred mare by freshman sire Stevie Rey Von brought the house down with a huge score of 230 during the finals on Saturday, Dec. 11. The next-closest score came from the last horse of the finals, Tagging, a son of Metallic Cat who Cara Brewer rode to a 227.5.
Mitchell, who grew up near Sydney, Australia, got into horses when he got a pony as a child. He didn’t come from a ranching community, quipping he was supposed to be a surfer or get into the family business as a plumber, not be a horse trainer.
“Look, you’re a kid from Australia, you watch videos – America is the best place in the world, and you get to move over here. The whole story is just way too long, but you know, you’d never think you can achieve this,” said Mitchell, who became an EquiStat Elite $5 Million Rider thanks to the Futurity win. “Like, you try, but you don’t ever think you can pull this off and … it happened!
Mitchell’s victory was an extremely popular one, with competitors lining up in an informal receiving line to congratulate him on the arena floor. The ceremonial champagne bottle still in hand, Mitchell greeted them with hugs, and there often were mutual tears.
“The support I’ve had in my life is unbelievable,” Mitchell said later, marveling at all the people who have acted as his ‘mums and dads’ over the years. “And I hope all this gets out and reaches them people because if I start naming them I might leave someone out.”
To Mitchell, his Futurity win with Janie Wood symbolized someone coming “from the bottom to the top.”
“I’m a mongrel kid with no pedigree from Australia and [I] get a job,” he said. “And we win the deal.”
The score of 230 is the highest ever marked in the history of the event. It was previously marked in 2010 by Lloyd Cox and One Time Royalty.
Slate River Ranch and Mitchell have been a team for more than two decades. Even when Mitchell went out on his own for some years, Slate River Ranch’s Glade Knight supported him by sending him horses.
Their work together has been extremely successful. Even before this year’s win, Slate River Ranch – whose horses have earned it $6.3 million as an owner and now, with the Futurity, more than $10 million as a breeder – was the all-time leading owner in the history of the NCHA Futurity with more than $1.3 million in earnings, according to EquiStat. It also was the fifth-leading breeder in the show’s history.
Mitchell also showed Janie Wood’s mother, Junie Wood, for Slate River Ranch to NCHA Open Horse of the Year honors. Some of their many show highlights include wins in the NCHA Super Stakes Derby and Classic Open titles, as well as the NCHA Summer Spectacular Derby Open Reserve Championship.
Junie Wood, Mother of Janie Wood
Junie Wood’s broodmare career, unfortunately, was cut short due to her death last year at age 10 from kidney disease. She had several unshown foals at the time, including Janie Wood, who is now her dam’s leading money earner thanks to the $241,340 first-place paycheck at the Futurity.
Knight, the ranch owner, said Janie Wood represents what Slate River Ranch is trying to do –– raise winning homebred babies out of its broodmare herd. Both Mitchell and Knight said the 3-year-mare reminds them of her late mother.
“I think that’s what we’re work for, in our case at Slate River, is to have the breeding program to have the mama that we rode and have the baby,” Knight said. “She looks like her, she works like and so that whole process to see those little teeny babies … and they grow up and it’s kind of like your family.”
In total, Junie Wood has foaled five earners of more than $380,436, according to EquiStat. Her next-highest money earners are Lil Rickey ($86,333, by Meteles Cat) and Mamaz Boy ($30,355, by Metallic Cat).