In a stunning reversal of fortune, defending champions Les (Hollywood) Timmons of Kamloops, B.C., and Smart Frele Cat laid down an eye-popping score of 230 on Thursday evening – and then watched as Lyons, the cutting guru from Grandview, Texas, and Thomas E Hughes upstaged that performance with a breathtaking 231 to win the Open division of the Calgary Stampede’s 38th annual Cutting Horse Competition under the Big Top.
Lyons, who has stacked up $3.5 million in career earnings through half a century of National Cutting Horse Association competition, stuffs another $8,822.40 in his Wranglers and wins his first Calgary Stampede championship buckle, to boot.
“My exact thoughts? Les had a helluva run . . . and I told the owner of the horse (Don Boone of West Columbia, Texas), ‘They pay second-place money here. I really think we need to try for second,’ ” recalled Lyons, who has won every major NCHA event in existence, including the Futurity, the Summer Spectacular, the Derby, and the World Finals. “He said, ‘That’s fine. Whatever you want to do.’ But after that first great cow, I said, ‘To heck with it, guys – I’m going for the win.’ This was one of those kind of runs that you dream about. I wouldn’t change any part of that run. I’m gonna tell you, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Timmons, who’d won the 2009 Stampede cutting competition aboard Smart Frele Cat, had laid down the gauntlet with a dazzling run, as the pair befuddled a trio of bovines and got the Big Top crowd on its feet. He eventually earned a second-place cheque for $7,057.92 as reserve champ.
“The horse was good. I couldn’t ask for him to do any more. We cut good cows, and he was where he needed to be,” said Timmons, who earned his Hollywood nickname decades ago during cuttings at Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). “That’s my first (230). The NCHA world record is a 232.
“But I’m still feeling happy about this particular show,” added Timmons, a multi-time Stampede Open champ who’s also the president of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association. “They used to have an aggregate award, and in a total score over three runs, I’ve still got a seven-point lead (over Lyons). We were marked at 225 the first go-round and had a 223.5 in the second. So my horse was super-consistent.”
The sport of cutting highlights the pure athleticism, instinct, agility and intelligence of the cutting horse. With horse-and-rider teams attempting to cut at least three individual cows out of a herd within 150 seconds, cutting has evolved into one of the most exciting equine events in North America. The Stampede’s four-day cutting competition, which began Monday, July 12 at the Okotoks Agricultural Society, is the sixth event on this year’s Mercuria/NCHA World Series, which has expanded to eight stops from its original four-city tour in 2009.
Because of the World Series’ involvement, the Stampede’s Cutting Horse Competition featured $25,000 in added money in each of the Open and Non-Pro divisions. The Open division featured a purse of $37,408, compared to $42,296 in Non-Pro.
Dustin Gonnet of Cayley, Alta., placed third in the Open division aboard Christanis Blue, owned by Ronald Patton of Nanton, Alta., with a 222 score that earned him $5,293.44. Will Nuttall of Red Lodge, Mont., had some rotten luck in Thursday’s championship round – he placed two entries in the final 11, but lost a cow each time to drop out of contention.
Dan Hansen of Nampa, Ida., later won his second Stampede Non-Pro title in three years on Woody Be Lucky, scoring 227 and earning a winner’s cheque of $9,988.80. Nuttall’s daughter Fallon was reserve champ with a 224 aboard Shortys Royal Blue, earning $7,991.04. “I was (NCHA Non-Pro) world champion on this horse in 2007,” said Hansen. “His barn name is Super Freak, because he’s big for a cutting horse. He’s kind of a freak of nature.”
For the second straight year, Andrea Rudkin of Calgary won the Bill Collins Youth Excellence Award as Youth division champion, with a 215.5-point ride sealing a three-round aggregate title. This time around, she earned the Stampede title on her own horse, six-year-old mare Anita Steady Date, which she’s owned for two months. “I get along with her great. She’s the smoothest horse I’ve ever owned, and she’s also the prettiest,” said Rudkin, 16. “She has a lot of heart, and she’ll show it even with the toughest cows.”
The NCHA’s popularity has gone international in the past few years, and that was evident again Thursday as a father-and-son team, Daniel and Benjamin Jaeggi of Geneva, Switzerland, advanced to the Non-Pro and Youth finals, respectively. Daniel, the founder of Mercuria Global Energy Solutions, the title sponsor on the NCHA’s World Series, finished sixth in Non-Pro with a 214 on Bobs Lucky Lady. Benjamin, 14, acquitted himself well on WR Bingo Lingo, earning a 213 in Thursday’s final to go along with earlier scores of 210 and 211 in only his second cutting show. The first was in the north of France earlier this year.
“I always wanted to do cutting. One day I woke up and I said, ‘It’s time,’” said Benjamin, whose sister Constance, 20, has shown in previous years at the Stampede’s cutting competition. “I like the contact between the horse and the cow. The feeling when he stops, when he runs . . . I love it.
“I was a bit scared at the beginning of the week,” added Benjamin, “but when I scored a 210, I was really happy. I told myself it’s for fun; why be scared?”