When Elizabeth Queen saw her draw for the Classic Non-Pro second go-round, she immediately thought the worst.
"Deep and deeper," she said. "Deep here in Augusta can be challenging. But Skip told me to keep a positive attitude."
All Skip Queen had to do was remind his wife of last year, when Elizabeth and Bubble Gum won the Futurity Non-Pro finals out of the final spot.
"Same kind of deal," she said.
Despite running last in a 13-horse bunch Wednesday, Queen and Bubble Gum came through strong again. The pair marked 217.5 to qualify for the finals with a score of 433.
The top 16 horses with scores of 427.5 or better advanced to the championship round, which begins at 7 tonight at James Brown Arena.
Brad Wilson and Redneck Style enter the finals as the top pair with a combined total of 437 after runs of 218-219.
Wilson and his horse competed in Augusta for the first time last year. Despite losing a cow in the Western Horseman Cup Non-Pro finals, Wilson said he remembered the support the Augusta fans gave him and Redneck Style.
"I wanted to come back," Wilson said. "She wants to show them she can be a winner, evidently."
Wilson and his wife, Connie, bought Red-neck Style, a mare by Peptos Stylish Oak out of Frontpage Peppy, as a yearling. Brad wasn't sold on the horse at first.
"I didn't like her at all," he said. "My wife said we needed to buy her because she'd be a winner. I said she was too plain.
"She just blossomed one day and became a beautiful horse."
The same can be said for Bubble Gum, a gelding by Tachitas Jewels out of an unknown mare by Tanquery Gin. The Queens purchased the horse through the court system in September 2007 when the previous owner didn't pay the trainer bill.
Elizabeth Queen and her horse found success in Augusta, but six months later Bubble Gum suffered a sore suspensory ligament. Elizabeth gave her horse the rest of the year off.
Three weeks ago, Skip Queen started working the horse again. This week, Bubble Gum is competing for the first time since July.
"He's come back strong," Elizabeth said. "He's always been real good for me."
Queen and her mount will try to pull off an Augusta Futurity first. No rider and horse have ever won the Futurity Non-Pro finals and Classic Non-Pro finals in consecutive years.
"I'm really happy to make the finals on him here, because everybody remembers him," she said. "It'd certainly be neat to win on him again."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.