Justin Wright Rides Shiners Diamond Cat to Win 2018 NRCHA Derby

The AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred mare scored a 672 to win the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby.

Justin Wright and Shiners Diamond Cat circle up to the tune of a 225.5 and the 2018 NRCHA Derby open championship. (Credit: Primo Morales photo courtesy of NRCHA)

A thrilling day of reined cow horse action Saturday, June 16, wrapped up the main event at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby in Paso Robles, California.

The NRCHA Derby is one of the largest and richest events for 4- and 5-year-old reined cow horses, with the total payout in 2018 exceeding $300,000. Shown two-handed in a snaffle bit or a hackamore, horses are judged in three events: rein work, herd work and cow work.

View complete results from all NRCHA Derby classes and divisions.

Humble is not a word you would expect to hear from a competitor with three horses qualified for the clean-slate finals of the Open Derby but, that is how NRCHA Professional Justin Wright described his week in Paso Robles. The 2017 NRCHA Jack and Phoebe Cooke Memorial Derby Champion returned to the Heart Equestrian Center working toward another opportunity to win the coveted title, and that is exactly what he accomplished.

"It was a very humbling week and it was just fun," Wright said. "Last year we had a great year, but this week has been so much fun, just enjoying doing good and enjoying the ride and the good horses."

All eyes were on the Santa Maria, California, horseman and Shiners Diamond Cat (WR This Cats Smart-Shiners Diamond Lady by Shining Spark) as they maintained a solid lead throughout the preliminary go-rounds with an overall score of 665.5. Come finals time, the team seemed to find a new level of performance, marking an incredible 672 in the Derby open finals composite (225 herd / 221.5 rein / 225.5 cow).

"I knew I had to be big. I had to make something happen. My mare was great. She tried her guts out and I was just along for the ride. She handled everything," Wright said.

Bred by AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Wagonhound Land & Livestock of Douglas, Wyoming, Shiners Diamond Cat changed ownership a few times before landing with Mike and James Draper during her 3-year-old year. The Drapers owned horses in the past, but they never made it to the show pen.

"They are the greatest owners that you could ever ask for," Wright said. "They are the nicest people." 

They say it takes a village, and that could not be more true for Justin Wright Performance Horses. Wright thanked his team back home, his help here at the show, his herd help and his good friend/ mentor, Clayton Edsall, who earned the open reserve championship aboard Bet He Sparks (Bet Hesa Cat-Sparking Train by Shining Spark) for owner K&L Phillips LLC. 

"If it was not for (my village), I would not be here doing this," he said. 

Wright, eager to praise Shiners Diamond Cat, said, "That's what means the most to me about this show, is having her win it. It is all about her. She supposed to win those and I'm basically along for the ride."

Before the NRCHA Derby, according to Robin Glenn Pedigrees, Shiners Diamond Cat's LTE stood at $84,890. The NRCHA Derby open championship paid $39,89.19 and came with prizes including a saddle from Bob's Custom Saddles, a Gist buckle; boots from Lucchese and product from Platinum Performance. 

Wright's other two mounts in the finals were Shine A Lil Light (13th, $3,262) and Step To The Light (19th, $2,447). 

Justin Wright says working a rope is essential to his cow horse training program. Read "Rope Wright" in the June-July 2018 Performance Horse Journal to see what he means.