Defending champion's absence opens up door

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Tag Rice continued to make the Western Horseman Cup his own personal playground in 2006.

In the event's three years, Rice has won the open finals twice and earned $100,000 with those victories. Not bad for two evenings' work.

"I've had nice horses," he said. "I've just been fortunate to have good draws."

Rice will have to wait at least a year for his third Western Horseman Cup title. The one go-round championship will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at James Brown Arena.

Rice will not be in attendance, opening the door for another rider to claim the $50,000 first prize.

The Western Horseman Cup is one of the premier events on the cutting schedule. The top 15 open horses and the top 15 non-pro riders will compete in the for a share of the $250,000 purse. The non-pro champion will earn $30,000.

Riders and horses accumulated points at National Cutting Horse Association shows throughout 2006, which was split into three seasons. Five riders and horses qualified in each of the spring, summer and fall seasons to comprise the final list of competitors.

Last year, Rice and Cat T Masterson, a stallion owned by Jack & Susan Waggoner, won the Western Horseman Cup open finals with a score of 223. They defeated Sean Flynn and Neat Little Cat by one point.

Jim Vangilder and his mare, Quintan Blue, took the non-pro championship with a score of 223. Vangilder, who rode next to last, defeated Beau Galyean and Highlightcat by four points. Galyean rode last among the 15 competitors.

The non-pro competition is wide open since Vangilder failed to qualify for the event. In fact none of the three previous winners (including Kyle Manion and James Langdale) are entered.

Instead, Chad Bushaw, Clay McCullar and Colton Rothwell will be the favorites to become the fourth different non-pro champion. Those riders won the spring, summer and fall seasons, respectively.

In the open, Phil Rapp and Dual Smart Rey, Sister CD and Paul Hansma and DMAC Snoopdog will be the ones to beat. The three riders won the spring, summer and fall seasons, respectively.

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


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