Just when we thought reigning World Champion Team Roper Junior Nogueira’s horse herd couldn’t get any better, he buys Lucky Bucky from nine-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler Cesar de la Cruz and steps up his already dominant game. Nogueira and his partner in the 2021 gold buckles, Kaleb Driggers, have a commanding lead in the 2022 world championship race. And this little buckskin horse and a whole lot of horsepower has everything to do with it.
“I should have owned Lucky Bucky a long time ago, but God’s timing is always meant to be,” Junior said. “I’m very, very happy with my horses—Timon, Lucky Bucky and Chupapi, and Hali’s hanging out at home and ready if I need her. I have four great horses right now. God’s been good to me. If I don’t do good on these great horses, it’s my own fault.”
Smokin Copper King (Lucky Bucky) is actually registered with the American Paint Horse Association.
“He’s got a little bitty white strip on his forehead and two white socks,” de la Cruz said. “Otherwise, he’s just a beautiful buckskin horse. He’s what I like my heel horses to look like, and Lucky Bucky and Johnny Ringo (who’s also a registered Paint, for the record) are kind of built the same—about 14.2, close to 1,200 pounds, huge hip and super strong.”
Cesar swears Lucky Bucky, who’s 12 now, is a born winner.
“(1990 BFI heeling champ) Tommye Flenniken took Lucky Bucky to all the big Northwest rodeos when he was 5 and as green as green gets, and Tommye was cracking out his (now NFR header) son Jeff for the first time,” de la Cruz said. “Tommye sold him to Brandon Bates, then I bought him from Brandon when he had quite a few horses in his rig and said he had one he thought I might like.
“I bought Lucky Bucky from Brandon Bates three days before the 2017 Ellensburg (Washington) Rodeo. He was 7 at the time. Brandon Beers and I won Ellensburg that year. I dubbed him Lucky Bucky, because I won the first rodeo I took him to. He had that same special something about him that Johnny Ringo had. I was training horses, and getting ready to rodeo less, but that win on that horse gave me another spark.”
Junior bought Lucky Bucky from Cesar in January of this year. The new pairing’s first official rodeo outing was RodeoHouston in March.
“I gave Lucky Bucky a little break after I bought him, and rode him at home so we could get used to each other,” Junior said. “His first rodeo with me was Houston, because he’s so fast and is really good in long set-ups because of his speed. But this horse is good everywhere. We won Oakley (Utah), St Paul and Prescott (Arizona) over the Fourth this year, and Oakley’s a super fast set-up. Lucky Bucky’s so fast, like (his great gray mare) Hali when she was younger. He can fly, get around every steer and makes a great turn every time.”
It was tough for Cesar to part with Lucky Bucky, who was his #1 since he bought him in 2017. But he takes great pride in the horse’s partnership with Junior. And it’s time for de la Cruz to stay home with his wife, Arena, and their little cowboys, Camilo, 12; Gio, 10; and Zorro, 7.
“Little Bucky was like a member of our family,” Cesar said. “It was really hard to sell him. But I didn’t want him to go to waste, and it doesn’t get much better than one of your favorite heel horses going to one of your favorite heelers and best friends. It’s bittersweet. But their personalities match so good. You can see Junior’s focus from a mile away, and Lucky Bucky’s the same way. They have the same intensity.
“Lucky Bucky’s style fits perfectly with Junior’s, and I love watching them rope together. I went and did roping clinics in Brazil for a few years, and I know where Junior comes from. There are unbelievable ropers there, and they’re a great group of guys. Junior’s a hero to a lot of those people back home in Brazil, and he had nothing handed to him. He worked so hard to get to where he is today.
“Lucky Bucky’s the same way. He knew how hard I was trying, so he matched my intensity. Now he’s doing that for Junior, too. Lucky Bucky can feel that. And he loves it. His heart rate gets to running 100 miles an hour, but when you back him in the box, he calms down, dials in and focuses. He knows it’s time to do his job.”
Like so many of the good ones, Lucky Bucky has his quirks.
“Lucky Bucky’s a little crazy,” Cesar smiles. “When he hears the music and gets around the arena, he hits a trot and gets a little jiggy. He knows when it’s time to do his job, and gets pumped up like a UFC fighter. He likes it when you dally and the crowd goes wild.”
“He gets pretty excited,” Junior agreed. “But when you put him in the box, he settles down and is outstanding.”
Horsepower separates good from great, and in de la Cruz’s words, “Junior’s horsepower right now is out of this world.”
“My whole team of horses is amazing, and Lucky Bucky’s been a great addition,” Junior noted. “He’s super fast, and just runs so hard. All my horses have been great this year, and Lucky Bucky’s been a blessing. I’ve won a bunch on him. Lucky Bucky fits into my horse herd, because he’s great and so are the others. Kaleb and I have won a lot on strong steers, because he’s so fast and I can get there. We’re having a great year, and our team of horses is a big part of that. I just feel very lucky and very blessed.”