Compete with a Royal Crown Horse: How and Why

A lay-of-the-land look at the Royal Crown Futurities, started by two rodeo heelers and becoming a fast favorite for everyone from team ropers to barrel racers.

“Do these two team ropers really think they can put on a big barrel race?”

That’s what Matt Zancanella figured all the can-chasers in Rock Springs, Wyoming, were thinking last August at his and Levi O’Keefe’s first-ever Royal Crown futurity. The stallion-incentive-backed roping futurity featured a big-time barrel racing futurity, too, complete with a gigantic Open and a gazillion exhibitions.

“Well, I’ve been to a few of them,” he chuckled.

READ: Brazile and American Greed Sweep Heading and Heeling at Inaugural Royal Crown Futurity

Zancanella is a three-time NFR heeler with a barrel racing wife who grew up in Rock Springs with a barrel-racing mom and two barrel-racing sisters. He and O’Keefe decided to first aim their brand-new stallion incentive at the barrel-futurity industry to gain steam. It worked. 

The Rock Springs futurity was a rousing success. Barrel racers were uncommonly happy, and Trevor Brazile, for instance, liked the format so much that he has since purchased a handful of Royal Crown stallion enrollments.

THE BACKGROUND

This season, there are three Royal Crown Futurities—the first was in Buckeye, Arizona, in February; the second is in Waco, Texas, in May; and the third in Rock Springs, in August. To enter your horse, it must have been sired by one of the 200 stallions enrolled as “Royal Crown” stallions.

Royal Crown Coverage from Buckeye: Feb. 2022

NOT FOR SALE: Cullen and Cowboys Famous Guy Blow ‘Em Away in Royal Crown Open Heading 

Cowboys N Indians and Richard Nab Royal Crown Open Heeling Win

Richard and Chics Magic Corona, Davison and CR Deeva Win Royal Crown Maturity

Driggers and RR Shiners Fame Get Royal Crown Heading Derby Win, Woods and Hard Rey Take Heeling Title 

Richard and SJR Diamond Bond, Rice and First Class Vintage Claim Royal Crown 4-Year-Old Titles

Matt Zancanella and his old friend Levi O’Keefe, also a rodeo heeler and horse trainer originally from North Dakota, had heard about the Pink Buckle stallion incentive that had all the barrel racers buzzing.

“I wanted to come up with a stallion fund that had a ‘wow’ factor to it like the Pink Buckle,” Zancanella told the Tri-Sate Livestock News last year. “Especially to make the money that we need to make our programs work.”

But there’s a difference. The Royal Crown is the only nationwide breeders’ incentive program that doesn’t require annual nomination fees for colts to be eligible.  

Why? Because Zancanella was tired of that. For 14 years, his extended family have stood a race-bred stallion named Lion’s Share Of Fame that was advertised mostly to barrel racers (until Junior Dees won the BFI on his get).

“We were having to pay annual nomination fees of $250 per colt to keep them eligible, and that was coming to around $7,500 per year,” ‘Zanc’ recalled. “There was no way to tell how many colts were nominated into those programs, so how could you know what proportion of money they were paying back? In Quarter Horse racing, you can see a list of how many colts are paid into those big races. I wanted a program to benefit stallion owners by putting on these big events to make it lucrative for people to go for these incentives.”

READ: 2022 Breeder’s Guide Incentive: Royal Crown

They opened up 100 enrollments for barrel racing stallions at $12,500 each (those colts are eligible for either barrel or roping futurities) and 100 for roping stallions (colts are eligible for roping futurities) at $6,250 each. 

As of this winter, every enrollment is sold. That’s 200 sires from which you can choose a colt to enter in Royal Crown team roping, tie-down roping or breakaway futurities.

“Now that we’ve sold every roping stallion enrollment, we have $625,000 we can add to our events,” said Zancanella.

In addition, by capping the stallion roster, they’ve created demand for those stallions. For instance, one owner of a Royal Crown barrel racing stallion already sold her enrollment for $50,000, while other owners can rent theirs out for a year.

Big money could get thrown on the table here. This idea of stallion-funded nomination revenue originated in Quarter Horse racing and, eventually, a similar breeder’s incentive futurity for halter horses went sky-high. That was actually the model used by the people who founded the Pink Buckle stallion incentive in barrel racing—which paid out $2.7 million to Pink Buckle-nominated horses last year. Now they’ve added a Ruby Buckle incentive to enroll more stallions, and begun hosting regional competitions.

THE BIG PICTURE

The best format evolution of the Royal Crown events—outside the stand-alone 4-year-old incentive—has been the separation of the lower-handicapped Intermediate and Limited ropings for 8-and-under horses. Now, your trainer can show the horse in the Open and you can rope on him in the lower-numbered class. What’s more, each Royal Crown Futurity also offers “open” futurities in heading, heeling, breakaway, tie-down roping and barrels, so any young horse can be shown regardless of sire.

This is a new frontier. And Matt Zancanella has always been about financial transparency.

“I’m not making a dime off of what the stallion owners bring to the table,” Zancanella said. “It’s 100% payback. In 2020, we used just $100,000 for advertising purposes and $50,000 for a 4D barrel race at our first event.”

If you want to enter a Royal Crown horse in a Royal Crown Futurity, expect 80%-payback and the fees are $1,050 per side (breakaway and calf roping are $850). No memberships are required. That’s $50 off the top to the judges. Then $800 goes in the pot. Of that, $500 is paid back to ropers and $300 is split and paid back to stallion owners and breeders. All the added money goes into the pot.

So, say there are 30 Royal Crown horses entered. That’s $15,000 in the pot and, if they add $20,000, you’re roping against only 30 horses for a $35,000 purse. 

In the $190,000-added Waco event in May, there’s $40,000 added to each side, and the Intermediate/Limited class for horses 8-and-under has $35,000 added—plus a 4-year-old incentive. Plus, Rock Springs last year paid another $80,000-plus across the Open futurities in the heading, heeling and breakaway (no Royal Crown sire necessary).

This year? Fans of good horses won’t want to miss it. The Royal Crown Rock Springs is offering a Super Horse bonus of $50,000 to any Royal Crown horse that places in the top 10 of barrel racing, team roping and calf roping.

“People like to say they don’t ride papers,” Zancanella said. “Well, you’d better start!”

THE NUTSHELL ON FUTURITIES

The explosion of the roping futurity industry is in full swing. Here’s what’s out there.

Royal Crown

The Royal Crown stallion incentive launched in 2021 with futurities including calf roping open to the get of 200 Royal-Crown-enrolled stallions (at $6,250 each). Total scores include the time and marks from three judges on horses 8-and-under, 6-and-under, and 4, sired by Royal Crown stallions. Intermediate and Limited classes are offered. Entry fees are roughly $1,000 per side. There are three events in Arizona, Texas and Wyoming, with a $25,000-added incentive coming for Royal Crown colts purchased at the annual sale.

The American Rope Horse Futurity Association 

The ARHFA launched in 2017 with a handful of stand-alone futurities across the country for heading, heeling and calf roping. Total scores include the time and marks from two judges, on horses 6 and younger, with no regard to breeding. Non-Pro classes are offered, and handicapped sidepots for Intermediate and Limited. Entry fees are $750 per side at five total events in Arizona, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. Last year, events paid out a collective $728,250.

Riata Buckle 

The Riata Buckle stallion incentive launched in 2022 with futurities including calf roping open to nominated get ($200 per year) of 150 Riata-Buckle-enrolled stallions (at $10,000 each). Events will be timed only—a #10.5 slide and #12.5 slide for horses 5-and-under sired by Riata Buckle stallions; a slot futurity; and a #10.5 slide and a #12.5 slide for horses of any age sired by Riata Buckle stallions. Entry fees are $1,000 per side for nominated horses and $1,500 for un-nominated horses. The inaugural event is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2022, with an 80% payout of a guaranteed $2 million (20% goes to stallion owners and breeders).