Originally created 01/23/06

Squirrel, Checks among favorites

It had become a recent tradition.

For the past five years, the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity Open champion horse has entered the Augusta Futurity as one of the show's favorites.

That's not the case this year. Reigning NCHA Futurity Open champion Tommy Marvin and Highbrow Supercat, who won the circuit's most prestigious event last month, are not entered in Augusta.

So are there any clear-cut favorites in this year's Futurity Open?

"There's some good horses out here," seven-time Augusta Futurity champion Phil Rapp said. "There's some horses that are maybe going to make their play out here and stand out. You just never know what's going to happen here in Augusta."

Some of the top horses entered this year include: Im Counting Checks, ridden by Matt Gaines; Purdy Boy Flash (Tag Rice); Pet Squirrel and Autumn Acre (Roger Wagner); and Dual Smart Rey (Rapp).

Each of those horses fared well Sunday in the first go-round of the Futurity Open.

Gaines and Im Countin Checks might just be the ones to beat.

They marked 219.5, which led most of the day, but was later tied by Rice and his stud. Later, Rapp and Dual Smart Rey topped them both with a score of 221.5.

Gaines and his stud would've won the NCHA Futurity Open if not for problems with a third cow. They finished third and will be looking for a better showing this week.

"I've got a good horse, but there are a lot of good horses," Gaines said. "Tag's got a good horse. Roger's got some good horses. And Phil.

"I shouldn't even name any names because there are so many people who have good horses this year. The majority of really good horses that were in Fort Worth are here."

Wagner and Pet Squirrel finished second two weeks ago in the Abilene Spectacular and marked 216.5 in the Futurity Open's first go. Wagner also marked 219 on Autumn Acre, a stallion Rapp catch-rode to a fourth-place finish at Fort Worth.

"If they both make it to the final, I think we can pick up a pretty good check," Wagner said.

"It's tough to win here. I haven't won one yet, but I'd sure like to."

Of course, he'll have plenty of competition.

"There's still some good horses here," Wagner said.

"They've all got to have a little bit of luck. You have to get the right cows, get the right draws. There's always some standouts. It's just a matter of whether they make it to the finals."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

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