For years, Matt Gaines has been billed as a superstar trainer/rider on the National Cutting Horse Association circuit because the Weatherford cowboy has won numerous high-profile shows.
Gaines has won some of them in dramatic fashion. For example, he clinched the title at the NCHA Super Stakes in 2001 on a horse named Sunettes Dually after turning in a stunning finals score of 231.
But the NCHA Futurity open division title has been the big one that got away. The Futurity is sport’s most prestigious show, the cutting horse equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.
When the 2016 Futurity title was a stake Saturday night at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, Gaines and a mare named Second Spot blew away the 20-horse field with a 229, seven points higher than second-place finishers Austin Shepard and Sir Long Legs.
The Futurity victory earned Second Spot’s owners Gary and Shannon Barker the $225,395 winner’s prize. Sir Long Leg’s owner Lew Hall of Highland City, Fla., pocketed $195,407 for the reserve championship.
The December Futurity is the first jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown Series. The April Super Stakes is the middle jewel and the July/August Summer Spectacular is the third jewel. All three jewels are conducted in Fort Worth.
The Futurity features the sport’s most promising, debuting 3-old horses.
Gaines won the Futurity’s non-pro title in 1990 aboard a young horse named Playboys Lynnea. But the coveted title in the open division, the class that primarily is dominated by pro riders, had eluded the superstar rider until this weekend.
Asked about winning the Futurity after failing for more than two decades, Gaines said: “Relieving. I’ve had a couple of good shots at it before and come up short. So, to be able to finally pull it off is relieving. I’ve always said that the Futurity is one show and it’s always meant more to me to be consistent throughout the year. But it’s no doubt that this is the show that everybody wants to win.”
Gaines, 47, who has NCHA earnings of more than $7.8 million, gave a clue that he might win the 2016 Futurity when he and Second Spot won the semifinals round on Friday with a 225. However, no previous scores counted in the final round and Gaines and Second Spot had to turn in the highest score of the night.
Saturday night’s Futurity open finals started off with a bang when Shepard and Sir Long Legs, who were the first duo to compete in the first bunch of cattle, turned in the 222. Shepard and Sir Long Legs led at the end of the first bunch, after the first 10 riders had worked.
But then Gaines and Second Spot, who were the fifth duo to compete in the second and last bunch, worked three cows in the allotted 2 1/2 minutes and took the lead with the 229.
However, some of the sport’s insiders believed that a horse named Cinca Im Hot, which was the last horse of the night to work, and rider Jesse Lennox had the potential to clinch the title. But the duo received penalties and turned in a 209.
Junior Nogueira, a Brazilian who lives in Burleson, clinched the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s 2016 all-around title as the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo concluded its 10-day run Saturday night at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Nogueira, who competed at the NFR in team roping, finished the year with $231,728 in all-around earnings. Clayton Hass of Weatherford finished second in the all-around race with $228,107.
Tyson Durfey of Weatherford clinched the PRCA’s 2016 tie-down roping title after finishing the year with $212,445. Marcos Costa of Childress finished second with $208,926.