Champions Crowned at the 2016 NRCHA Derby

Todd Bergen and Some Kinda Merada win the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby open championship.

From the National Reined Cow Horse Association

Todd Bergen and Some Kinda Merada. Photo courtesy of the NRCHA.

The best 4- and 5-year-old reined cow horses in the country put their talents on display at the Paso Robles Events Center Saturday, June 18, in the National Reined Cow Horse Association Jack & Phoebe Cooke Memorial Derby Finals. Champions in three open and three non-pro divisions were crowned at the NRCHA's largest Premier Event for derby age horses, which paid out nearly $300,000 and attracted the industry's elite horsemen and -women.

Derby Open Champion

Leading National Reined Cow Horse Association professional Todd Bergen, Eagle Point, Oregon, added another Premier Event title to his impressive resume when he guided Some Kinda Merada (Cats Merada x Ima Fern Believer x Peptoboonsmal) to the NRCHA Derby open championship.

Bergen and the 2011 mare, owned by Cable Creek Ranch, Aurora, Oregon, earned $30,767 when they scored a 670.5 (218 herd/225.5 rein/227 cow).

How did Bergen feel about another big win?

"It never gets old," he said. "This event has gotten so tough and so deep. Everybody's always rooting for each other. We could run this whole thing again tomorrow and it could change around completely. Any time you come out on top, it's a thrill. I don't care how many times you show or compete, it's always gratifying."

Bergen, a NRCHA Two Million Dollar Rider, had piloted Some Kinda Merada to just over $24,000 in reined cow horse earnings since he bought her for Mike and Cindy Warn's Cable Creek Ranch as a 3-year-old. While Bergen never doubted the mare's abilities, a major win had eluded her until her performance in Paso Robles.

"I have to thank Justin Wright and Eric Freitas for selling me this mare, and I'm sorry it took me so long for me to show everybody what she could be," Bergen said, "I've always believed in her. This has been a great mare for a long time, and I just have never got it all put together. I was starting to scratch my head and wonder why. I told myself to trust her, and just do it, so that's what I did, and it worked," Bergen said.

Some Kinda Merada was in a three-way tie for first place after the herd and rein work finals. She needed a big score down the fence to move into the lead, and when the judges marked the run a 227, the resulting 670.5 composite score proved untouchable.

The last time Bergen won the NRCHA Derby open championship, it was in 2010, and he was riding another horse owned by Cable Creek Ranch: Smart Luck (Very Smart Remedy x Gunna Be Lucky x Gunna Smoke), a 2006 stallion who has gone on to be a brilliant performer with more than $245,000 in reined cow horse and reining money on his record.

"That goes to show you how great a customer Cindy [Warn] is. She supplies me with good horses and trusts my program and trusts my judgment about what to do with these horses and where to go with them. I can't thank her enough. This mare just got an embryo flushed out of her about a month ago to Smart Luck, so hopefully, in a few years, we'll be riding that baby," Bergen said.

The Derby open championship prize package included a Scottsdale Western World and Silver Spurs Equine saddle sponsored by Eric Freitas and Korie Baker; a Gist buckle; boots from Rios of Mercedes, and gift certificates from San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health and Platinum Performance.

Click here for the video of Some Kinda Merada and Todd Bergen's 227 fence work.

The Derby open reserve champion was Smooth Bellingrath (Smooth As A Cat x Very Special Peppy x Peppy San Badger), shown by Nevada professional Nick Dowers for Triple D Ranches.

Dowers and the 2011 stallion had the high score in the preliminary composite, and in the finals, they had the high rein work score on their way to an overall 664.5 (217 herd/226.5 rein/221 cow). They took home $23,283, as well as a pair of boots from Rios of Mercedes and gift certificates from Farnam and Platinum Performance.

Intermediate Open Champion

Dualin Stargun (Dual Rey x Amanda Stargun x Playgun) and Justin Lawrence, Alzada, Montana, are two-for-two at National Reined Cow Horse Association Premier Events in 2016. At the NRCHA Stallion Stakes in Las Vegas, Nevada, in April, the pair won the intermediate open championship and qualified for the open finals. They did the same thing in Paso Robles, scoring a 661.5 composite (220 herd/218 rein/223.5 fence) to win the intermediate open title and finish fifth in the open.

"I was excited at the Stakes, and probably more excited now, because you wonder if it was a one shot deal. He was better this whole trip. Better in the prelims, better in the finals. It was such a tough finals, with great horses and great riders. I'm pretty stoked!" Lawrence said.

The intermediate open championship paid $6,583, and Lawrence collected another $11,641 for their top five Derby open finish. He and his wife, Kelcie, own the 2011 stallion with another couple, John and Heather Kennedy, as the Dualin Stargun Partners.

"They (the Kennedys) make everything possible. I don't know if we'd venture that far on our own paycheck, and they're always there and always supportive, and it makes it easier to go to the shows," Lawrence said.

The little gray stallion may barely make 14 hands in height, but Lawrence says he possesses the grit and heart of a horse three times his size - and proved it again in Paso Robles. Lawrence was most proud of their fence work in the preliminaries and in the finals.

"In the prelims cow work, we were a 224.5. The cow - I'll be the first to say wasn't the fastest cow - but it was 100 pounds bigger than he was, and he pushed it around. Today in the finals, the cow was faster, and he stepped up and handled it. I've waited a while to have one like this that's so consistent and gives me his heart, " Lawrence said.

Besides the two paychecks, Lawrence took home a Gist buckle and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance.

Click here for the finals fence work video by Dualin Stargun and Justin Lawrence.

The intermediate open reserve champion was Metallic Masterpiece (Metallic Cat x Kings Masterpiece x Peppy San Badger), shown by Kyle Trahern, Walsh, Colorado, for owner Silver Spur Operating Co. LLC. They scored a 651.5 (214.5 herd/221 rein/216 cow), earning $4,851.

Limited Open Champion

The 2016 NRCHA Derby was the first time for Ryan Thomas, King Hill, Idaho, to make the finals at a National Reined Cow Horse Association Premier Event. He marked the occasion by winning the limited open championship and finishing 8th in the intermediate open aboard Magicat (Metallic Cat x Magical Lena x Little Lenas Legend).

Thomas and the 2011 mare worked their way to a 646.5 composite in the finals (211 herd/215.5 rein/220 cow), winning the limited open championship by a 26.5 point margin. Their combined paychecks totaled $6,930. Thomas also took home a Gist buckle and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance.

"I'm just happy I did it right," Thomas said. "It's only my second time to show her, and I didn't get her shown very well the first time [at the NRCHA Stallion Stakes in Las Vegas]. I'm grateful to be able to show her, especially at two major events."

For the past four-and-a-half years, Thomas has worked as an assistant trainer to NRCHA Hall of Fame Professional and Million Dollar Rider Anne Reynolds, King Hill, Idaho. Magicat was raised and trained at Reynolds' Why Worry Ranch. She is owned by Reynolds' mother, Joyce Pearson, as part of the mother-and-daughter team's joint breeding program.

"There are a lot of real good horse trainers who have trained on her, and I just got to capitalize on that this week," Thomas said. "Nick Dowers started her and Nic Brunelli [Reynolds' former assistant] rode her ,and Annie rode her, and Gusti [Buerger, another former assistant to Reynolds] rode her a little bit. Now I get to show her - how lucky am I?" Thomas said, smiling.

Thomas acknowledged the mare's particular talent for the fence work, and noted that their rein work performance in the preliminary round, where they scored a 218, was a personal best and a mental victory for him.

"She's a machine down the fence, as long as she's relaxed, and she was super relaxed here," he said. "The fence work was fun, in the prelims and in the finals. The prelims rein work was awesome for me as well because I never have scored a 218 at a major event."

He thanked Reynolds and Pearson, and also appreciated the motivation and coaching from two other mentors in particular.

"I'm grateful to Annie for letting me show her, and to Joyce for raising awesome horses, and all my help - Jake Telford is an inspiration, and Nick Dowers is an inspiration, and I'm fortunate to be around those guys as much as I am."

Click here for the video of Magicat and Ryan Thomas in the Derby finals fence work.

Derby Non-Pro, Intermediate Non-Pro and Novice Non-Pro Champion

Canadian competitor Keri Hudson Reykdal guided SLR Won Smart Wolf (Paddys Irish Whiskey x Smart Miss Wolf x Smart Trip Olena) to a clean sweep of the non-pro, intermediate non-pro and novice non-pro divisions.

Reykdal, a veterinarian from Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, piloted her 2011 gelding to a 642.5 composite (215 herd/211 rein/216.5 fence), and her three paychecks totaled more than $12,000!

"I really lucked out with a good draw in the herd. My trainer, John Swales, I believe is the best help here for picking cows. Between him and Cody [McArthur] and Cayley [Wilson], they always pick me awesome cows, always, so I knew I could count on them for that. In the rein work, we're still struggling and just trying to get through, so I was happy to mark over a 210 again. This horse is amazing down the fence, so I know I can count on him. He was a little hot today and wanted to go, but we were able to make it through, so I was happy," Reykdal said.

The non-pro division was sponsored by Pony Tail Sportswear. For winning all three divisions, Reykdal collected a pile of prizes including a Scottsdale Western World and Silver Spurs Equine saddle; boots from Rios of Mercedes; a triple stack of Gist buckles; multiple gift certificates from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health; and a pair of Pony Tail Sportswear underwear for riders. The non-pro divisions also received award sponsor support from the City of Fort Worth, Texas.

Click here for the video of the finals fence work by Keri Hudson Reykdal and SLR Won Smart Wolf.

Open Novice Horse Champion

Not only did the preliminary go-round determine the Derby finalists, it also decided the champion in several divisions, including the open novice horse. The novice division is for 4- and 5-year-old horses with less than $5,000 in NRCHA earnings.

The open novice horse champion was Caymus Pepto (Peptoboonsmal x Bet On Merada x Bet On Me 498), shown by NRCHA Hall of Fame horseman Ken Wold, Wilton, California, and owned by Joe Putnam.

Wold said the win lifted the cloud that had been hanging over the 2012 stallion's limited age event career.

"He's kind of been a hard luck horse. Every aged event we took him to, something happened that wasn't his fault. At Reno, he stubbed his toe in the cutting and didn't make the finals. We took him to the Stallion Stakes and he was on track to make the finals but drew a rotten cow down the fence. I brought him to the Mother's Day Quarter Horse Circuit [in Paso Robles in May] and in two rein and fence runs, he won 28 AQHA points, but at the aged events, he's just been snake-bit," Wold said.

Caymus Pepto put all the pieces together at the Derby, scoring a 649 (216 herd/214.5 rein/218.5 cow), winning $2,910 and a gift certificate package from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health. The composite score was also enough to put the stallion into Saturday's clean-slate derby intermediate open finals, which is positive for Wold's program all the way around.

"Having this novice horse division, his owner felt comfortable to keep going with him, and now he wins a good check, makes the finals, and is on track again," he said.

Click here to watch the video of Caymus Pepto's fence work.

Level 1 Limited Open Champion

The level 1 limited open championship was also determined by the preliminary go-round. Winning the title with a tremendous 20.5 point margin was Showmethe Cat (Cat T Masterson x Say Showmethe Money x Nu Cash), owned and shown by Hollister, California, horseman Brendon Clark.

The 2011 gelding earned a 640 composite score (210 herd/213 rein/217 fence), and took home a $6,929 check. The level 1 limited open title also came with a Gist buckle, a CowTrac system sponsored by CowTrac, and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance.

Clark, a former professional bull rider, was elated by the win, his first NRCHA Premier Event championship.

"There are a lot of similarities between bull riding and the cow horse, in that it's very unpredictable. You have two animals involved, and anything can happen. People laugh at me when I say this [reined cow horse] is the toughest thing I've ever done, but I mean it. Riding bulls is tough and physically demanding, but there are so many variables in this sport - cattle, horses, keeping your horse sound and happy. One day you come out and everything's good, and then it can all fall apart. It's a whole different ball game when you come to the show and walk into that arena by yourself. It truly is the hardest thing I've ever done," Clark said.

He credited some of his horsemanship mentors, leading NRCHA professionals Phillip Ralls, Nick Dowers and Corey Cushing, as well as reining specialist Warwick Schiller, for helping him through challenges in the training process.

"It's easier to make mistakes than it is to do things right, and I wouldn't be here or be able to win anything if it wasn't for everybody helping me," Clark said.

Click here to watch the video of Showmethe Cat's fence work.

Amateur Champion

One of the novice non-pro finalists, Sonya DiStefano, was already a champion when she rode into the Derby finals on Saturday, because her preliminary score of 632.5 was enough to win the Derby amateur championship!

DiStefano, a 17-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is showing in her first NRCHA premier limited age event on her first derby horse, who she has only been riding for a couple of months - but she didn't let the pressure keep her from shining in the show pen.

"I was intimidated and nervous to come here for the first time, because I haven't showed in a big derby, just our local ones. I just showed my horse like I did at home, and he was good," the polite, soft-spoken teen said.

Riding her new horse, Reys Stylish Bell (Dual Rey x Blues Stylish Bell x Doc's Stylish Oak), DiStefano earned $1,268 when she scored a 632.5 composite (217 herd/215 rein/200 cow). The amateur championship also came with a Gist buckle and gift certificates from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health.

"My horse was really good in the rein work and really good in the herd work. We had a little tough luck down the fence, but we had enough of a lead from our first two events that we were able to hold our spot in the amateur," DiStefano said.

She has been riding with Canadian professional Cody McArthur for the past three years. DiStefano started her NRCHA career showing a bridle horse, and when she was ready to shop for a derby horse, McArthur thought Reys Stylish Bell, who belonged to his wife, Farrah, might be a good match. The deal was made, and DiStefano took her new horse's reins in April, after the NRCHA Stakes in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"I love him. I couldn't be happier. He's so sweet and easy to ride, and he does his job. You don't have to train hard on him. He's calm and relaxed and talented," she said, describing the horse known as "Trouble" around the barn. "I'm hoping to do the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association Derby [in October], and I'm hoping to get him qualified in the hackamore to go to the NRCHA World Show. Then he'll be a bridle horse and I want to do spectaculars and everything with him, so I'm very excited for the future with him."

DiStefano thanked her support group, both in the barn and at home, for helping her achieve her dreams.

"My mom and dad are so supportive of what I do, and the horses and the training and traveling. They're so great. My coach, Cody, is amazing. I love him - he's taught me so much, and Farrah has been a huge support."

Click here for the video of the high scoring herd work by Sonya DiStefano and Reys Stylish Bell.

Non-Pro Limited Champion

Cliffhanger, thriller, close call, photo finish - any number of suspenseful adjectives could accurately describe the road to the Derby non-pro limited championship for Anne Albert of Roy, Washington. It involved a tie, followed by another tie, the possibility of a co-championship, and finally, a cow work-off to decide the title once and for all.

"I've always wanted to come to this horse show, and to come here the first time and win it - I'm ecstatic," Albert said.

After the first two events, the rein work and herd work, Albert and her gelding, White Knight Time (One Time Pepto x Little Lady Stylish x Smart Little Uno), were tied for first place with Erin Mendes and Recklessly Abandoned (Smart Little Pepinic x Wright Now Ima Star x Lenas Wright On). Both riders had 424.5 composite scores. A third rider, Linda Wood, was just a half-point behind them heading into the third phase, the cow work.

"I thought that was so fun, to be going into the boxing with the top three so close. You want everybody to win. I want her to win, and her to win... but darn it, I want to win too! I would have been just as happy for one of the others if they had been the one to win," Albert said. "It could have been anybody's win. Those girls were so game-ready! It was fun."

But as it turned out, one round of boxing wasn't enough to break the tie; both Albert and Mendes guided their horses to identical 217.5 cow work scores, which left them with a matching 642 on three events. First-place ties are broken by the cow work score, but because those were also the same, there was talk of a co-championship. Ultimately, it came down to a work-off. Mendes boxed her second cow for a big score of 218, while Albert scored a bigger 222 for the win.

Albert took home a check for $1,592, along with a Gist buckle and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance. It was the second consecutive NRCHA Premier Event title for Albert; she and "Rudy" had claimed the non-pro limited Stallion Stakes Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the end of March.

"He's an easy, super fun horse to show," she said, describing the gelding she purchased sight-unseen from the National Cutting Horse Association 2-year-old sale in Fort Worth, Texas. "I think every non-pro should have a horse like him. He's so polite and so funny. He's like a gentleman with a real wicked sense of humor. You can always count on him to open a door or pull out your chair. Mister polite, but funnier than heck."

Albert thanked her previous trainer, Dean McCann, Graham, Washington, who she credits with teaching Rudy plus-quality reining maneuvers. She now spends "every weekend I can - about three weekends a month," riding with her current trainer, Cayley Wilson, at his facility in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

"Cayley and his wife, Katie, are really nice. I'll go up and stay overnight and hang out for the weekend. They're so kind. They are the nicest people. Katie's so helpful and supportive, and Cayley is so positive - always with a smile," she said.

Click here for the video of the winning cow work-off by Anne Albert and White Knight Time.

Click here for the complete 2016 NRCHA Derby results, schedule and information.