With 21 of the top 5 and 6-year-old horses back from the semi-finals, the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) crowned the 2023 Open Classic Challenge champion July 22 at the Great American Insurance Group Summer Cutting Spectacular held at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.
Michael Cooper and Starry Eyedd (Im Countin Checks x Catrina Starlight x High Brow Cat), owned by Marco Salvatori, marked a stunning 229-point run in front of an exceptional crowd to take home the win.
Bred by Amanda and Rhein Standish, the 5-year-old sorrel mare had something special that Cooper was drawn to. On June 5, 2023, Salvatori bought her from Circle R Cutting Horses.
“Cullen Chartier called me at the Breeder’s Invitational and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to sell this mare. She’s good; I promise she’s good. You need to buy her.’ So I did. I didn’t even try her,” Cooper recalled. “I talked to Marco Salvatori and Rosy with the Rosy o’ Grady ranch, and then I said, ‘Hey, we’ll take her.’ She’s a little mare; but she’s all heart, just an enormous amount of heart and so cowy.”
At the bottom of the second set with a 223 leading the finals, Cooper and Starry Eyedd rode into the pen with their sights set on a few head of cattle, knowing they had put in the work to get to that moment. After cutting their three cows, which earned them $27,246, the team walked back to a heart-warming celebration with their extensive support system.
“We had three or four black cows, and then we had a red dark-nosed cow that I was actually kind of scared of. We went in, found the first black cow and cut it first. On that first cut, the red dark-nose was on the cut. I turned around and cut that cow, and she was outstanding,” Cooper said. “I’ve been reserve and third, but it just all has to line up to win. There are a lot of emotions that go into the sport and a lot of time; and I think that’s where the emotions come from: the early mornings, the late nights and so much work.”
The 223-point run made halfway through the first set by Morgan Cromer and CW Blu Rey (Once In a Blu Boon x Smarty Pretty Rey x Dual Rey) earned the reserve champion title and $23,674. Troy Boutonnet owns the 6-year-old blue roan gelding bred by Carole Wyatt.