Originally created 01/23/04

A million reasons to defend



When the dust settled, Lindy Burch surely was about to be crowned the 2003 Augusta Futurity Open champion.

She and her mare, Play Peek A Boon, had put together a spectacular arena record-tying run of 227 inside the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. There were three horses left to run. As it turned out, one too many.

Chiquita Pistol and Tag Rice upended Burch and her horse with a historic ride. Rice rode the mare to a jaw-dropping score of 230.5, lifting the raucous Augusta crowd to its feet.

"It felt good from the start," Rice said after the winning run. "It's one of those runs that just kept building. She never weakened. The closer I got to the buzzer, the more excited I got.

"I thought I probably won it when the buzzer went off."

It'll be hard to upstage the 2003 show's dramatic finish. In the silver anniversary of the Augusta Futurity, though, futurity officials are looking to trump last year's excitement .

In celebration of the show's 25th year, the futurity is awarding $25,000 to the highest-scoring cutter in the 10-day event. The one-time-only offering will be eligible to any of the more than 600 cutters competing in eight classes.

In addition to extra money, the futurity has added a new championship. Thirty-two cutters and horses, including Chiquita Pistol and Rice and Play Peek A Boon and Burch, will compete the Western Horseman Cup finals, a one go-round feature on Thursday, Jan. 29. The event adds a purse of $250,000 to the show and will push the total prize money above the $1 million mark for the first time in its 25-year history.

The Western Horseman Cup finals are expected to be a high-stakes affair. The open champion will receive $50,000, and the non-pro winner will be paid $30,000. The two champions will also have their names engraved on a permanent trophy.

"It's going to add ceremony, pageantry," Augusta Futurity show manager Pete May said.

It's also adding an extra day to the show. The futurity now runs 10 days this year, giving show officials extra time to make room not only for the Western Horseman Cup finals, but for tonight's World Championship Bull Riding Competition.

The bull riding event, a non-official event of the Augusta Futurity, begins at 8 p.m. About 50 of the country's best cowboys are expected to attend the competition, which nearly packed the civic center in its inaugural 2003 showing.

"The bull riding was a great event last year," said USC Aiken baseball coach and event organizer Kenny Thomas. "As good as it was last year, it's going to be substantially better this year."

Another addition to this year's show is the Western Culture & Food Festival, which runs today through Sunday, in front of the civic center. Also, locals can look forward to the annual Horse & Carriage Parade at 2 p.m., Sunday in downtown Augusta.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, ext. 114.