One of the top defensive backs in NFL history is putting pressure on the Augusta Futurity's winningest rider.
Phil Rapp, the winner of a record five Augusta titles, is in his customary top spot in the Futurity Non-Pro class, which he has won twice.
The Weatherford, Texas, cutter had a 219 Tuesday, as did Bill Burns of Sweetwater, Texas, in the first go-round of the class for 4-year-old horses. Rapp is riding Cats Full Measure, while Burns is aboard Doctor Dirt.
The NFL Hall-of-Famer in question is 51-year-old Mel Blount, a native of Vidalia, Ga., and a member of the NFL's 50-player All-Century team. Blount, who won four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was an eight-time All-Pro in 14 seasons, is in 11th place after a 215. The top 52 riders in this 94-rider class advanced to Thursday's second go-round. It took a 206 to move forward.
Blount hasn't ridden in this show since 1997 because of a conflict with the Super Bowl. A member of the NFL Players Association Advisory board, Blount attends meetings during Super Bowl week. With the Super Bowl being played in Atlanta on Sunday, Blount can ride in the Augusta Futurity and still make his meetings. In addition to the meetings, Blount will be honored as the NFL Alumni Man of the Year on Friday in Atlanta for his work with youngsters.
With the way he easily advanced to Thursday's second go-round of this class, Blount may be in Augusta on Super Bowl eve for the finals of this class.
"I don't know how much better of a rider I am since I was here last time, but I know I have a much better horse," Blount said of Doc Pers Dodger.
The stallion, trained by Tracy Barton of Rocky Mountain, Va., carried Blount to a fourth place finish in the sport's top event, the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship last month in Fort Worth, Texas. Rapp won the event on Cats Full Measure.
"He's as good as the cow in front of him," Blount said of Doc Pers Dodger. "He's a real pleasure to ride. I'm tickled to death."
Blount, who lives in Claysville, Pa., drove a motorhome to Augusta, arriving Tuesday with little time to practice.
"He cut one cow in practice for about 30 seconds and that was the first cow he cut since the Futurity in Fort Worth (which ended Dec. 12)," said Barton. "He just goes in there and shows."
The 30-year-old Rapp, who won his record fifth Augusta title last year in the Classic Non-Pro division, is riding a horse with a long list of health problems.
"It's been one thing right after another," said Rapp, who has had Cats Full Measure for 11 months.
First, the horse was diagnosed as being asthmatic. Rapp knew something was wrong because Cats Full Measure had a chronic cough that would usually kick in near the end of a ride. That was controlled by a bronchodilater, a mask that goes over the mouth and nose and works like a medi-haler.
Then, about three months ago, Cats Full Measure came down with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis. EPM happens when a bacteria gets in the spinal cord and eats away at the membrane between the nerve endings. The result is that messages won't go from one spinal nerve to another. Medication has helped keep this problem in check.
After Rapp and Cats Full Measure won the Non-Pro title in the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship in Fort Worth, the horse came down with a stifle (knee joint) problem.
"If she didn't have a breathing problem, EPM and stifle, there's no telling how good she could be," Rapp said.
Through all the health problems, Cats Full Measure has shown "she wants to be a good horse," Rapp said. "She wants to overcome this stuff. She's a nice horse to be around. She puts up with it and takes it in stride.
"We have never put this much effort into keeping a horse sound," Rapp added. "But the mare showed us she had a lot of talent. We were not going to give up on her, but it's been a lot of work."
The recent stifle problem kept Cats Full Measure out of the Ailbene Spectacular cutting horse show earlier this month.
"Everytime you think you're doing something with her, she comes down with another problem," Rapp said.
Rapp normally rides horses that have been bred on his ranch, but Cats Full Measure is the exception. When Smart Little Fred, one of Rapp's 2000 Futurity horses, came down with a hock problem, Rapp had to look elsewhere.
Owner/rider Jack Waggoner of Bridgeport, Texas, suggested Cats Full Measure. After keeping Cats Full Measure on his ranch for a spell, Rapp bought the mare.
"I liked her and wanted to keep her, but I knew Phil would do well on her," said Waggoner, a non-pro. "I knew he'd do a lot better with her than I would. That mare will go gather up a cow, and Phil never gets her in the wrong places."
Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center
(All events start at 8 a.m.)
Second go-round of Futurity Open, followed by second go-round of Classic Non-Pro; finals of $50,000 Amateur 4-year-old; finals of $50,000 Amateur 5-6 year-old.
Thursday, Jan. 27:
Second go-round of Futurity Non-Pro, followed by second go-round of Classic Open, followed by semifinals of Futurity Open.
Friday, Jan. 28:
First go-round of $50,000 Amateur Any Age, followed by finals of $50,000 Amateur Any Age, followed by finals of Classic Non-Pro, followed by finals of Classic Open.
Saturday, Jan. 29:
Futurity horse sale at 9 a.m. Finals of Futurity Non-Pro start at 6:30, followed by finals of Futurity Open.
General admission daytime pass: $6 for adults, $2 for children under 13. Reserved seating through Jan. 28: $13.50 for adults, $5 for children. Reserved seating for Jan. 29: $15.50 for adults, $5 for children. Gold ticket: $40 for admission to all events, except nights of Jan. 28 and 29
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.