They brought out the heavy artillery Tuesday night in the America's Greatest Cowboy contest at the Augusta Futurity, headed by the legendary 16-year-old stallion Cash Quixote Rio.
The revived Cowboy was a smash hit as famous horses such as `Cash' came back to the scene of their former triumphs.
`Cash' had a 222 in the second round to propel rider and part-owner Kobie Wood into the quarterfinals.
"I wouldn't be here if he (Cash) wasn't as solid as any horse here," Wood said.
Unlike the other major classes in the Augusta Futurity, in the Cowboy horses of any age can compete.
Their experience showed in the scoring. Of the 48 rides in the first two rounds of the single elimination Cowboy event, 15 riders marked in the 220s. In the previous four days of the show, 615 riders had taken horses to the pen and only five had been in the 220s.
The top scores in the Cowboy were 224.5 by Matt Gaines in the first round and Faron Hightower in the second round. Gaines followed his brilliant score with a 221 in the second round, but was eliminated by Bill Riddle, who answered with a 223.5.
As for Hightower, he had a 222 on Play My Dream to beat Tony Langdon in the first round and then needed the 224.5 in the second round to beat Merritt Ranew, who had a 222.
"This horse has been consistent from Day 1," Hightower said of the 7-year-old Play My Dream. "John Wold trained him. He gets him ready and I just try to hang on."
Hightower's next opponent is Wood, the winner of three of the five America's Greatest Cowboys, which were held from 1990-94.
"Faron's going to be tough," Wood said.
As for the prospect of going up against Cash Quixote Rio, Hightower said "he's just another horse; just another horse."
In addition to Wood and Hightower, six other riders are in tonight's quarterfinals, which start at 7 p.m. The semifinals and finals will also be held tonight.
Tuesday's winners earned $2,500. The eventual winner will pocket $12,000 in the event which has a $47,000 purse.
In the other matches tonight, Dean Sanders will take on Mary Ann Rapp in a battle of non-pros; Bill Riddle meets John Mitchell and Terry Riddle squares off against Ronnie Rice. If the two Riddles keep winning, the brothers would meet in the finals.
"That would be fun," Bill Riddle said.
First, Terry Riddle has to get by Rice, the winner the America's Greatest Cowboy in 1991. Wood won it in 1990, 1992 and 1994 and Tom Lyons, who is not participating, won it in 1993.
There were many surprises in the first two rounds. For starters, two legendary horses, Playgun and Tap O Lena, didn't make it very far. Playgun and rider Jody Galyean were eliminated 216-215.5 in the first round by Terry Riddle. As for Tap O Lena, rider Phil Rapp advanced the horse past the first round with a 223- 218.5 win over Sam Shepard, but lost 219-217.5 to Mitchell in the second round.
Another surprise was the appearance of Cash Quixote Rio. Wood hadn't shown the stallion in almost a year and didn't ride him in the first round. Instead, he rode Smart War Lena to a 219-182 win over Ascencion Banuelos. Banuelos had ridden first and when Wood saw his score, he held Cash back until the second round.
"If I'd ridden him in the first round, he'd be twice as tired now," Wood said. "I'll probably have to ride Cash all the way, unless someone has a wreck."
The Cowboy was discontined after the 1994 show because it lacked a sponsor. Thanks to Charon and Tom Caldwell, who help raise $15,000 to sponsor the event, it's back in business. Wood was one of the people who donated money to bring it back.
"I think it's a fun deal and I wanted to be a part of it again," Wood said. "I sent them some money because I wanted to support it."
Asked how much money, Wood said "that's nobody's business."
From the way these talented veteran horses performed on Tuesday, Pete Branch's arena record of 227, set in 1995, could fall in the final three rounds.
David Westin covers equine events for The Augusta Chronicle.