The 29th edition of the Augusta Futurity begins next week with its continued Western flair.
The largest cutting event east of the Mississippi River runs Jan. 17-26 at James Brown Arena. More than 600 horses will compete in nine official events.
"We think it's a great show," event chairman William S. Morris III said, "and we continue to keep our standards high."
Morris, chairman of Morris Communications Co., parent company of The Augusta Chronicle , welcomed a roomful of futurity enthusiasts to the annual Champions Club Roundup meeting Tuesday morning at the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
The Champions Club is a patrons group of the futurity. Members pay $1,000 in annual dues. The money goes into the show purse as added money.
Total prize money is expected to reach $930,000, about $4,000 more than last year. The show has given out more than $14 million since its inception.
The Augusta Futurity also has an annual economic impact of more than $11 million, according to the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I'm continually out there trying to educate the public on exactly how much this event means to the city," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. "It has the second-largest economic impact behind the Masters.
"It cannot be understated what this event means to this community."
A scoring alteration marks the biggest change for the 2008 event.
This year the Augusta Futurity will display only three of the five judges' scores for each contestant. This ruling against the immediate disclosure of all five judges' scores was made by the Executive Board of the National Cutting Horse Association.
Since the Augusta Futurity is sanctioned by the association, it must follow their mandate.
"It is wrong for the National Cutting Horse Association to require its sanctioned shows to withhold information that spectators, contestants and horse owners are entitled to," Morris said. "We live in a free society. Withholding information is unacceptable."
The Western Horseman Cup Open and Non-Pro finals will be held Jan. 25.
One of the popular accompanying events is the USC Aiken Benefit Bull Riding Championship, a Professional Bull Riders event, that will be held Jan. 19.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.