NCHA Futurity winner maximizes first trip to finals

Posted Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The first time proved to be the charm for Clay Johnson, who won the NCHA World Championship Futurity on Saturday night.

Johnson turned in a score of 224.5 aboard Dual Smart Kitty at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum to win the first prize of $200,000.

“The first couple of go-rounds I rushed around on her, Johnson said. “Tonight I just sat there the whole time, and she’s just a great mare. She crawled around underneath me all night.”

The win, which comes in Johnson’s first appearance in the Futurity finals, gives him his second win in the sport’s Triple Crown Series. In April 2012, Johnson claimed the $100,000 NCHA Super Stakes open division title aboard KR Isadora Dual in his first Super Stakes finals appearance.

“I never dreamed it,” said the 34-year-old Johnson, who, struggling to make ends meet early in his career, nearly walked away from the sport. “Right before I won the Super Stakes I was getting ready to throw the towel in and do something else. I don’t think you could stick a piece of dynamite under me and get me to quit right now!”

Johnson got a late challenge from the next-to-last rider, TJ Good, who finished with a strong performance aboard Stunned. The crowd waited in hushed anticipation following his 2 1/2-minute run. When his score of 222.5 was posted, the Johnson camp could feel the energy shift in its direction.

With over 600 entered horses vying for the title of champion, the Dual Smart Kitty team remained optimistic throughout the monthlong competition.

“We had our hopes up pretty high,” said owner Rusty Simpson, who lives just outside of Granbury in tiny Nemo with his wife, Shelley. “This is the first [horse] we’ve bought. We’ve bought several since then but we hope this is one of many to come.”

Simpson was lured into the sport thanks to his 15-year-old daughter, Sadye, and her love of horses.

“I decided I would start riding and then [my dad] got into it more and more and here we are,” said Sadye as she stood smiling next to her father.

The win pushes Johnson’s career earnings just north of $500,000, something he finds hard to believe.

“I’ve had a great career,” Johnson said. “That’s the feeling that we all want every day and I’m just grateful to have a horse like that.”

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