Saturday, October 1, was the long- awaited National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Finals day. Twenty-five riders who spent the last two weeks striving to become finalists began with a clean slate and a fresh chance to win the $100,000 paycheck.
It was an unforgettable night of fence work, with 10 of the 25 finalists marking a 219 score or above. For most of the fence work finals, it appeared that two-time Futurity Champion and Million Dollar Rider Corey Cushing, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Moonstruck One Time (One Time Pepto x Moonstruck Cat x High Brow Cat), owned by Allan Kaplan, were on track to win it all. They were fourth in the working order, and made a big 221.5 run to move into the lead with a 660.5 composite.
Cushing and Moonstruck One Time maintained that lead until the 24th horse went down the fence - Duals Lucky Charm (Dual Smart Rey x TRR Miss Pepcid Olena x Pepcid), a gelding shown by NRCHA Top 10 Professional Kelby Phillips of Bend, Oregon, and owned by Mark and Robyne Stewart.
Phillips, who arrived in Reno with just over $276,000 in lifetime earnings,
had been in the Futurity Open finals before, but never won the big prize. That all changed in the span of one fast fence work - when the score of 224.5 became a life changing moment for the young horseman. His composite 663 score (218 herd/220.5 rein/224.5 cow) claimed the Snaffle Bit Futurity Championship.
"It's great. I don't really know what to say," Phillips said, admitting the full impact of his achievement with Duals Lucky Charm hadn't quite sunk in. "T
his horse, he's solid every day. He doesn't ever do anything bad. He's been really fun to train."
Phillips, the resident trainer at NRCHA Corporate Partner DT Horses, Bend, Oregon, felt confident on the gelding he started riding last November.
"He's really good in the cutting. I didn't get good cows cut for him here, especially in the prelims," Phillips said. "In the reining, he does about the same thing every time. Every time I've shown him, he's been a 220, so I can rely on him in the reining to be pretty solid there."
Phillips knew he had to bring a big fence work score if he was to overtake Cushing for the Championship.
"I knew it was going to be plenty of cow when it came out.
Brandon Buttars, he had been telling me, 'Don't weaken,' so I was trying not to. Once I knocked him around down there, I knew I had to go, because to be a big enough score to win, I knew we had to go with a little bit of cow. After the first turn, I knew he was good, because he's always good after the first turn, if I can get him out of there. And then he circles really good. I know I can turn him loose and he'll just hunt that cow on both sides. I can trust him there," Phillips said.
Besides the $100,000 paycheck, the Futurity Championship came with a Scottsdale Saddlery Custom Saddle sponsored by Matthews Cutting Horses, an original CR Morrison bronze trophy sponsored by Beverly Vaughn/Triangle Bar V Ranch, a Gist buckle sponsored by McSpyder Ranch, boots from Rios of Mercedes, a 100x and 30x JW Brooks Custom Hat, a $500 CR RanchWear gift certificate, a cooler from Classic Equine, a jacket from NRCHA, and product from Platinum Performance.
Phillips thanked his owners, the Stewarts, as well as his wife, Abbie; close friends Brandon and Sophia Buttars; Don and Nelle Murphy, and his herd help: Mark Luis, Phillip Ralls, Brandon Buttars, and Zane Davis.
"It's nice to know you have so many friends around here," Phillips said.