In a quiet way, Matt Gaines put up a notable score during Thursday’s opening performance of the National Cutting Horse Association Super Stakes.
There was very little crowd noise as Gaines and a gelding named Card Trick made a 2 1/2-minute first-round effort as the renowned $2.9 million show began its 24-day run at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
The judges liked the way Card Trick held the cows at bay, and marked down a 218.5, the type of score a rider wants during the prelims. In this sport, riders, for the most part, do not take risks during the prelims when no prize money is at stake. Risk taking is reserved for the finals when previous scores don’t count.
With that in mind, the 45-year-old Gaines, a Weatherford resident with almost $7 million in NCHA earnings, carefully made an error-free run against tougher cattle.
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“These cows are pretty tricky today, so you have to be sneaky,” Gaines said. “With these cattle, if you scare them and you don’t get them cut clean, they are very tough. Knowing they are plenty tough anyway, I try to be quiet and just ease through there. I just wanted to have a good clean run, because there’s not going to be many of those today. It is what it is and you make the best of it.”
Gaines and Card Trick are expected to advance to the second round of the Super Stakes Classic/Challenge, which features 5- and 6-year-old horses who are second- and third-year competitors. The first round concludes Friday night and the second round is scheduled for Saturday. The semifinals are Monday and the finals are Friday, April 4.
Card Trick originally was trained by accomplished rider Matt Budge. Gaines, who began riding the gelding in August, said he likes what he sees in Card Trick.
“He’s a very talented horse,” Gaines said “He has a huge stop. I’ve been hauling him a lot on the weekends and he’s gotten a lot smarter. I feel like he’s coming into his own and is becoming a really good horse. He feels like he’s getting better all of the time.”
About an hour before turning in the 218.5 on Card Trick, Gaines put up a 217 on a mare named Mercedes Smooth. That pairing also is expected to advance to the second round.
“That mare is a lot like her daddy [Smooth As A Cat],” Gaines said. “She’s very accurate on a cow and very smart. She just has a good presence on a cow and she has a lot of eye appeal. Just everything she does is real neat and clean and she doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Gaines, who won the Super Stakes Classic open division title in 2003 aboard a horse named Nu I Wood, said both Card Trick and Mercedes Smooth are good enough to win the 2014 edition. The two horses are owned by Reata Cutting Horses LLC of Los Olivos, Calif.
“We don’t know yet which horses are going to make the finals, but I bet just about every horse in there, if the right cows are cut, they will be good enough to win it,” Gaines said. “That’s the way it’s gotten these days.”
But in order to win, Gaines said, a rider has to select great cattle to work.
“You just have to do your job and get your horses prepared the best you can, and then cut the right cows,” Gaines said. “That’s the main thing anymore. In terms of the competition, the gap is so narrow now between the trainers and the horses. It really does come down to who picks the best cows and who executes the best on that night.”
“It has gotten that way within the last five to seven years, and that’s where it needs to be,” he added. “We have more good hands and better breeding. The horses are better and stronger.”