Best of the Best

Cream of the Futurity Crop
With all eyes on the futurity scene, we take a look at the young high-money campaigners, top sires and dams of 2023.
Reys of Pep was the 2023 ARHFA Head Horse of the Year under Colby Lovell and Kaleb Driggers. | Elite Equine Promotions photo

It would make sense that, over the grueling conditions of team-roping futurities all season, 6-year-old horses would have the most success. But Bama Fury and Nu One Time Blues do not make sense.

They are 4.

And they are freaks.

Each earned more than $67,000 in 2023 at the hands of Trevor Brazile and Joseph Harrison, respectively, to rank in the top five of all futurity money-winners in 2023—against 5- and 6-year-olds.

In fact, Brazile’s and Miles Baker’s Relentless Remuda owned the two winningest horses of the season in head horses Step N Small Town (“Kobe”) and Bama Fury (“Bugatti”). And, listen: Bugatti is now healed up, but in August he took a bad step at Rock Springs’ Royal Crown Futurity and never even got hauled to the last three shows of the year.

Editor’s note: This story was published before the Gold Buckle Futurity in December, and that event’s impressive payout put Time To Glo, shown by Bobby Lewis, Joseph Harrison and Cade Rice to the TOP of the futurity class. While this story ran in our Breeder’s Guide in January, we are awaiting final tabulations from AQHA’s QData Service to report the official top horses of 2023.

2024 Rope Horse Futurity Calendar

Year’s best

Trevor Brazile and Step N Small Town, practicing at the start of the futurity season in Arizona. | TRJ file photo

The top cat in ’23 was Kobe, the brown 6-year-old gelding by Wimpys Royal King out of Small Town Blondys by Von Starlight, that came from the rope horse training program of Canadians Vaughn Warken and Kiel Wilson for Gerold and Maureen Arnold before he was added to the Remuda. Last February, Brazile said the horse “feels like you’re riding a rodeo horse in the futurity.”

That works great for three-time NFR header Clint Summers, who bought Kobe with a partner last winter and waited out his final futurity year while Brazile seasoned him.

“Kobe was a 6-year-old with a 10-year-old mind,” said Baker. “He was the same horse every single time. Those are the kind you want in the barn, that don’t take a lot of maintenance. They just let you win.”

As for Bugatti, until he got hurt, he was virtually unbeatable. The 4-year-old by Bama Cat out of Pops Zoomin Fury by Furyofthewind, was bred by Larry Rice of Flag Ranch and bought by the Relentless Remuda as a 3-year-old.

“I hope I don’t mess him up along the way, or I think he’ll be one of the great ones,” said Brazile. “I find myself wanting to take him to jackpots, and I have to remember that he’s 4.”

Brazile has turned down plenty of money for the huge sorrel with the exceptional mind and unique lineage of both High Brow Cat and Furyofthewind.

“Larry’s done a great job with his breeding program,” said Brazile. “I’ve enjoyed visiting with him about colts he has; they’re outside the box. He pioneered the cow/race cross and was a forward thinker for his time.”

A 4-year-old on the other end won nearly as much in ’23—and as a stallion, no less. When Premier Rope Horses’ Clay Smith and Jason Richey bought Nu One Time Blues (“Big Time”) in 2022, the bay roan had just placed 10th at the Snaffle Bit Futurity under Matt Koch for Ryan Sellers and Jack Bogart, but had never been out of a roping box.

“I knew the One Time Pepto horses were good, and Ryan Sellers knows what he’s doing,” said Smith, who won PRCA world heading titles in 2018 and 2019.

Smith heeled on Big Time that spring before sending him to Joseph Harrison for 60 days—at which point Harrison (who calls the stud “Boujee”) told Smith he’d likely win a lot next year. Instead, the flashy 4-year-old won the ’23 Platinum Medal and ARHFA World Championship 4-Year-Old heeling futurities. Premier has no plans to stand him to mares until he ages out of futurities, so Big Time (or Boujee) will stay with Harrison through 2025.

Joseph Harrison and Nu One Time Blues, the 2023 ARHFA World Champion 4-Year-Old Heel Horse. | Elite Equine Promotions photo

Best ever

Two 6-year-old stallions that also won big in ’23 are now among the winningest roping futurity horses of all-time. Jake Cooper’s Reys of Pep (“Pepper”) and Marshall and Lezlie Wier’s Sevens Star Glo (“Hank”) each had big seasons to push their all-time earnings over six figures.

Pepper, who won titles at both ends the past two seasons under the gold buckle prowess of Colby Lovell, Kaleb Driggers and Kollin VonAhn, came to Lovell as a 5-year-old from Jeremy Michaelis, who’d sent him to Brad Lund as a 3-year-old. Lund trained Pepper for the 2020 Snaffle Bit Futurity (where they drew poor cattle) before starting him roping.

“He was a good horse, a good student,” said Lund. “Every single day, he was like, ‘Okay, what do you want me to do now? What can I do better?’”

The blood, sweat and tears that go into Snaffle Bit prep are legendary; these are dirty-broke colts, already comfortable at a dead run, knowing where the cow is at all times. Lund, 55, deflects credit for the horse’s wild success at both ends, saying, “They’ve had great pilots on him, and he had a good foundation already.”

But Cooper’s no dummy. He hunted Lund down last fall to ask if he’d also start a couple of Pepper’s colts. Cooper, an NFR veteran who’s heading at rodeos this season for NFR header Frank Graves’ son Chase, said his 6-year-old niece rides the kindly stud that’s so good on both ends you can take him from one box to the other without even a bridle change.

And what hasn’t been said already about Hank? Let’s just say every futurity trainer except Cade Rice is overjoyed the horse is finally turning 7. The defending and back-to-back ARHFA World Champion Heel Horse—and AQHA Sr. Heading World Champion—remarkably defeated up to 280 of the best colts in the world, twice. Rice will start roping on a three-quarter sister to Hank this spring.

Incidentally, Hank was also the only top money-earning horse still owned by his breeder. Marshall Wier, 65, and his wife, Lezlie, began raising horses–and seven kids–decades ago. They love what Rice has done aboard Hank. But they can’t say enough about Tee Richardson, the Central Texas, old-school hand who’s ranched on all their colts for nearly a decade now.

“He’s a cowboy who’s trained lots of great horses and nobody really knows about him,” Wier said. “When Cade started hauling Hank, he’d only ridden him 17 times and won a round of the Redbud Futurity. You can take Hank to the pasture and sort, drag calves to the fire, or doctor a cow in a wheat pasture— he’s been used. He thinks this horse show stuff is an easy deal.”

Wier, who bought Hank’s third dam—a Colonel Freckles granddaughter— from legendary breeder Lowell Hankins some 30 years ago, said Hank is the product of world champions on world champions on world champions.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s pretty cool,” Wier said.

Rice, who was raised by cutting trainers and mentored for years by Clay Logan, commends Hank’s scoring, ability to read a cow, and immovability once he drops anchor. The horse just doesn’t mess up.

Sevens Star Glo and Cade Rice are back-to-back ARHFA heeling champions. | Elite Equine Promotions photo

Relentless dominance

A staggering four of the top six horses in the all-time earnings category were campaigned by Relentless Remuda. Brazile’s first big winner, Lari Dee Guy’s American Greed, was a superstar in 2021—the year Brazile finally quit rodeoing to form his partnership with Baker. What’s impressive about two of those horses making the shortlist is that Big Time Movie Star missed her 5-year-old year with an injury, and Tuckin Away Buckles missed his 6-year-old year after being sold. But that’s just scratching the surface of their good ones.

The Relentless Remuda and Solo Select syndicated their stallion The Darkk Side in 2023, selling out shares in 24 hours. | TRJ file photo

For scale, Relentless Remuda horses earned a jaw-dropping $400,000 in 2023. And that is only on horses they own outright, not including horses owned in partnership with Solo Select or ridden for owners of horses they’ve sold. Has any owner of rope horses ever been able to say the same? Brazile, 47, became known for outworking his competition over 25 years and 26 gold buckles in ProRodeo, but he has a couple of other ideas about why Relentless Remuda is so dominant.

“For one thing, we don’t take other people’s projects,” Brazile explained. “That’s a big factor; we start with what we want to start with. Our horses aren’t repurposed from something else when they get here and weren’t already mashed on extra hard.”

The other contributor is that he and Baker switch horses back and forth all the time and work well together; they’re unafraid to provide input or tell each other whether to get on or off a certain horse.

“It’s easy to get into a ditch if you’re always roping or riding by yourself,” Brazile said. “We always have another set of eyes on us, so we don’t have to wait until the show to realize where there’s a problem.”

Legacy parentage

It’s no surprise that 19-year-old Metallic Cat is the all-time leading sire of roping futurity horses. After all, the roan stallion owned by Rockin P Ranch is the all-time leading NRCHA sire, as well. Metallic Cat’s offspring had only earned $64 million before team roping had futurities.

But 14-year-old Hickory Holly Time, by One Time Pepto and out of a Doc’s Hickory daughter, isn’t far behind. The stallion that won the Snaffle Bit Futurity under Kelby Phillips and a World’s Greatest Horseman contest is already a million-dollar reined-cow-horse sire for DT Horses.

“His babies are really good-minded— that’s the one thing he puts in them,” said former NFR heeler Dean Tuftin. “They’re really easy to train and go on with.”

Hickory Holly Time offspring only just started trickling into roping futurities. Because, despite sinking a lot of money into roping futurities as a big proponent years ago, Tuftin kept his own program focused on cowhorses. However, a couple of years ago, he pivoted.

“I’m excited now about the future,” he said. “This year at our place in Scottsdale, we’re 100% into rope horses; riding probably 25-30 this winter to get them ready.”

Last fall, Tuftin personally roped horns at the Riata Buckle on a big, 4-year-old gelding by Hickory Holly Time named DT Hickory Striker, who’s out of Dixon Flowers Rope Horses’ all-time leading dam, DT Sugar Chex Whiz (“Sugar”). “He’s got a lot of her characteristics,” said Tuftin, who also bred Sugar.

DT Sugar Chex Whiz came out of the breeding barn to help Saebens in the Northwest in 2023. | Click Thompson photo

“He’s collected and kind of runs stopping, which I love.” The colt was one of a few embryos Tuftin kept as part of the early sale of Sugar, now 14, to Dixon Flowers. She went on to become a 5-year-old AQHA world champion under J.D. Yates and an NFR heel horse and 2019 PRCA/ AQHA Heel Horse of the Year under Billie Jack Saebens. Dixon Flowers has long celebrated Sugar and her babies, including ‘23 futurity superstars The Notorious B.I.G. and The Darrk Side (fresh off an AQHA Junior Heading World Championship).

But Sugar’s siblings have also had mind-blowing success for years. Recently, Tuftin sold a full sister that earned $70,000 by the time she was 5, and he said another sibling is now Speed Williams’ son Gabe’s heel horse. Of the limited mares Tuftin initially bred to her sire, Shiners Lena Chex (now standing in Brazil), they nailed down a whopping 12 world championships.

Here’s a fun backstory: When he stopped rodeoing, Tuftin purchased the stud from Carol Rose and bred him to the only mare he had then, by his mother-in-law’s barrel racing stallion. The resulting twin embryos became jet black fillies. Since his daughters played tennis, Tuftin called them “Venus” and “Serena.” He sent them to elite NRCHA trainer Jake Telford to get broke, after which he tried to put Serena in cowhorse events, but she wasn’t great in cutting—a little too “juicy.” So he started roping a lead steer on her. The twins were awesome, but Serena was bigger and prettier and caught the eye of J.D. Yates. Dixon Flowers acquired her and “Serena” became “Sugar.”

In 2015, the mares had both won Junior World Championships in tiedown roping and heeling. Tuftin still has the old dam, and Ryan Sellers is currently standing a full brother to them named DT Shiner. There’s a reason this line of horses has been owned by the likes of George Strait and Penny Knight (whose husband founded Nike).

“When you really put it in perspective, Sugar’s bottom side is interesting (the granddaughter of an NFR barrel horse), but her top side is out of Carol Rose’s best bottom side,” said Tuftin, who credits Rose as the greatest Quarter Horse breeder of all time. “When Carol had her $4.7 million dispersal sale, she kept a full sister to Sugar’s sire. Their success has just been unparalleled.”

Tuftin admits that fate lined things up perfectly to create Sugar, including great management by Dixon Flowers and world-class horsemanship by Yates and Saebens. But, Tuftin thinks a horse’s initial foundation is everything.

“It all goes back to when she was 2,” Tuftin said. “She was a great-looking filly but a little juicy. The start that Jake put on her, those two years of riding she had were big. Without that start, that horse doesn’t go where she went.” TRJ

2024 Rope Horse Breeder’s Guide

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