Biggest Stage

Clay Smith’s 6-Year-Old ‘Apache Promise’ Shines as First Futurity Head Horse to Win NFR Go-Round
Clay Smith Apache Promise Rope Horse
Clay Smith on Apache Promise at the Redbud Spectacular in June 2023 (left) and winning Round 7 of the 2023 NFR December 13 (right). | Elite Equine Promotions Photo, Jamie Arviso Photo

Clay Smith wasn’t having the NFR he wanted when, in Round 5, he got off his great head horse Chief Quanah Parker and onto Apache Promise, the 6-year-old futurity standout he’s been seasoning at the jackpots.

Just 24 hours later, Smith and the mare were part of the three-team victory lap in Round 7 thanks to a 4.0-second run on a tough steer. He’s placed in all three rounds in which he’s ridden her, earning $34,843 so far at the Finals—in addition to the $49,519 she’s won in her horse show career. This makes her the first futurity head horse to have won a round at the NFR. (Logan Medlin’s TRR Freckles Holidoc was the first heel horse to accomplish that feat, while, in 2022, Cody Snow rode Play Sleeping as the first futurity head horse to appear at the Finals.)

“I just feel so comfortable on her,” Smith said of the mare. “It had nothing to do with Chief to start off with. We had some bad juju going on, and there was weird stuff happening. And I decided to get on something I knew would be comfortable ride. No better time to crack one out than at the NFR.”

The mare came to Las Vegas via Wickenburg, where Clay’s sister-in-law, 13-year-old Miley Richey, had been jackpotting on her all week.

“Miley rode her in the #12.5, and Levi Pettigrew had a heel horse get hurt, and he was riding her during Round 1 of the NFR while we were here,” Smith said. “And she got out here about Round 3. I had practiced on her a handful of times probably 10 or 12 steers before we came out here, but she’s pretty smart and I feel comfortable because I’ve been riding her so long. It’s a freaky deal how good she’s doing out here. I’m proud of her.”

Apache Promise Pedigree

Great from the Get Go

Famed AQHA breeder David James (former owner of legendary show-horse sire Invitation Only) raised Apache Promise in Smith’s home state of Oklahoma.

“I had watched them compete on Apache Blue Boy, and he was a great horse,” James explained. “Several different guys won a lot on him. I just always thought they were nice horses. I was just trying to cross some different type of mares on my stud, Promise Of The Sun, to see what crossed the best on him. I had some customers who were also partners in Apache Blue Boy. They had some daughters of his just standing around. They had six of those mares, barely halter broke. I had MP Jet To The Sun, a brother to Stingray, that I bought from Mel Potter. Then I had Promise Of The Sun the next year, by MP Jet To The Sun, and I bred one of those Apache mares to that stud, and that’s how I got her. This ended up being one of the better crosses.”

James just had the mare riding around when Smith bought her as a 2-year-old.

“She’s one of those horses you never really remember training,” Smith said. “I used her quite a bit as a 2- and 3-year-old. I rode her outside, I branded steers on her, and we cut a bunch of bulls with her as a 2-year-old. I heeled on her quite a bit when she was 3. And by the end of her 3-year-old year, she was really good to head on.” 

So by the next year, Smith and Apache Promise were ready to win. They finished second behind Tate Kirchenschlager’s Born In The Boondocs at the 2021 ARHFA World Championship, and they won Cole Davison’s futurity that year, too. As a 5-year-old, Smith rode her at the Guymon (Oklahoma) Pioneer Days ProRodeo, placing in the first go there, and winning an Ariat WSTR qualifier on her in Graham, Texas, this winter. They also won the Redbud Spectacular in the summer of 2023.

As for the mare’s debut in Las Vegas, James is taking it in stride.

“I think it’s amazing, but I’m not surprised,” James said. “That mare, for something as quick-footed and has as much speed as she’s got, she’s VERY good minded. First steer he ever runs on her at a jackpot as a 3-year-old, they were like 5-flat. She’s so good-minded, and Clay has done such a good job—he’s spent a ton of time on her. Taylor and his sister-in-law have jackpotted on her. He turns her up, then turns her down. He doesn’t just ask her for her life every time, until now.”

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