The elimination rounds are over in the Augusta Futurity's aged events. Expect to see some high scores now that the wraps are about to come off.
With the conclusion of the second go-rounds of the Classic Open and Futurity Non-Pro's second go-round Thursday, the stage is set for the finals in the show's final four aged events.
It is in the finals where riders ask more of their horses, normally resulting in the highest scores each year in the show.
The idea in the go-rounds is simply to stay out of trouble, show your horse and keep advancing toward the finals, where the big money is.
he Classic finals (for 5- and 6-year-old horses) will be tonight at 7 and the Futurity finals (4-year-old horses) will be on the final night of the show, Saturday at 6:30.
The Classic Open and Futurity Non-Pro wrapped up their second go-rounds Thursday.
The second go-round of the Classic Open gave an inkling of what might be to come in the finals, as three horses marked in the 220s. Before the round, there had been only six scores in the 220s in the previous six days of the show. On Thursday, Bill Freeman and Tumbleweed Smith had a 223 while Guy Woods (on Laker Doc) and Bronc Willoughby (on Mr Mom) had 220s.
None of them could match Acres on Fire for consistency, though. The mare, owned by Glade Knight of Buckingham, Va., and ridden by 25-year-old Australian John Mitchell, had the top aggregate score through two go-rounds at 219.5-218 -- 437.5. Clays Little Kit, ridden by Matt Gaines, and Playgun, ridden by Jody Galyean, had the second-best combined scores at 435.
t has been a coming out party of sorts this week for Mitchell, the Aussie who just moved to the United States in mid-December. This is the first time he's shown in a major cutting horse show.
"We're just kicking off doing this," said Mitchell, who has been one of the top cutting horse trainers and riders in his homeland over the last three years.
Mitchell had an easy run on Acres on Fire, a mare by Bob Acre Doc out of Pobre Marvilla, despite a poor draw (second-to-last in the final bunch of the round).
"It was good, but not as good as it could have been," Mitchell said. "I just needed to get her shown. Now she's in the finals. We cut two fresh cattle, which always helps when you're late in the bunch."
reeman had a memorable second go-round in the Classic Open, advancing both of his horses to the finals with thrilling runs.
On Thursday, Freeman rode Tumbleweed Smith like it was the finals, resulting in the 223. He had no other choice after barely making it past the first go-round with a 209. The finalists are determined by the two go-round aggregate scores of the horses. It took a 429 to make the Classic Open finals and a 424.5 to make the Futurity Non-Pro finals.
"If I'd had a 216 or 217 in the first go-round, I would have backed off just a little bit, but with a 209 I had to step up to make the finals," Freeman said. "It was all-or-nothing. It was either try and go all out and win the round or go home."
Freeman did win the round, by 3 points over Woods and Willoughby.
eanwhile, in Thursday's Futurity Non-Pro second go-round, there was a familiar story line. It centered on Phil Rapp, the outstanding rider so far in the show.
Rapp, of Weatherford, Texas, advanced two more horses to a finals (he already has two in tonight's Classic Non-Pro finals and one in the Classic Open). In the Futurity Non-Pro, he had the top aggregate score through two go-rounds on Smart Little Jerry (219-215) and had the 12th best horse in Cats Bobby Sox (216-211 -- 427). The top 22 horses advanced to Saturday night's finals. Smart Little Jerry is also in the Classic Open finals tonight.
That means of the six entries Rapp had in three classes this week, five are in the finals.
"People have been teasing me that it's Phil Rapp Week," Rapp said. "We've done good this far. But go-rounds mean little if you don't do well in the finals. We're very humble and optimistic that we'll do well, but anything can happen in the finals."
Rapp's wife Mary Ann has an even better percentage going than Phil. She has both her Classic Non-Pro horses in the finals and her lone Futurity Non-Pro horse is in that finals.
"In the finals, it would surprise me if we didn't do well on at least one of the horses in each finals," Phil Rapp said. "It wouldn't surprise me if we had a wreck or two. It depends on how you draw and if you've got the luck with you."
None of the Futurity Non-Pro finalists are as thrilled to be riding for the title than Cator Hartley, who is best known as the standard-bearer of the flag during the dramatic opening ceremonies of the Saturday night finals each year.
This is the first time Hartley, of Covington, Ga., has ridden in the Augusta show. On Wednesday, she advanced her Classic Non-Pro horse (Uno Dos Seventyseven) to tonight's finals.
Then in Thursday's Futurity Non-Pro's second go-round, Hartley had a 211 on Angies Little Girl to finish at 424.5. By advancing to the Futurity Non-Pro finals, that means Hartley will be doing double duty Saturday night, first as the standard-bearer and then as a competitor.
"I usually wear something glitzy for the opening ceremonies so I don't know what I'm going to do about that," Hartley said. "It depends on the draw (when she works in the finals). If I've got time to make a slight change, I can do that. If not, I don't think these judges would mind if I wear a star-spangled banner vest to show a horse on finals night, do you?"
Only in her wildest dreams did Hartley pictured herself making both the non-pro finals in the Classic and Futurity divisions.
"It's been a phenomenal week," Hartley said. "I've been so blessed with good help, great horses and good cattle. It's been wonderful. It's so far exceeded my expectations.
"I'm pretty excited about the finals, to say the least," Hartley said. "I'm a little bit nervous and anxious but excited all at the same time. I'm just so thrilled to be there."
All events at the AugustaRichmond County Civic Center and start at 8 a.m., except Jan. 31, which starts at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 30
First go-round of the $50,000 Amateur Any Age, followed by the finals of the $50,000 Amateur Any Age.
7 p.m. --
Finals of the Classic Non-Pro, followed by the finals of the Classic Open.
Saturday, Jan. 31
10 a.m. --
Augusta Futurity Horse Sale (no admission charge).
6:30 p.m. --
Futurity NonPro finals, followed by Futurity Open finals.
General admission: Jan. 25-30, adults $5, children $2. Thursday, Jan. 29 night show, adults $8, children $2. There are no general admission seats Jan. 31. Reserved seating: Adults $12.50, children $5, except Jan. 31, adults $15.50, children $5.