Humble is not a word you would expect to hear from a competitor with three horses qualified for the clean-slate finals of the Open Derby but, that is how NRCHA Professional Justin Wright described his week in Paso Robles, California. The 2017 NRCHA Jack and Phoebe Cooke Memorial Derby Champion returned to the Heart Equestrian Center working towards another opportunity to win the coveted title, and that is exactly what he accomplished.
"It was a very humbling week and it was just fun," Wright said. "Last year we had a great year, but this week has been so much fun, just enjoying doing good and enjoying the ride and the good horses."
All eyes were on the Santa Maria, California, horseman and Shiners Diamond Cat (WR This Cats Smart x Shiners Diamond Lady x Shining Spark) as they maintained a solid lead throughout the preliminary go-rounds with an overall score of 665.5. Come finals time, the team seemed to find a new level of performance, marking an incredible 672 in the Derby Open Finals composite (225 herd / 221.5 rein / 225.5 cow).
"I knew I had to be big. I had to make something happen. My mare was great. She tried her guts out and I was just along for the ride. She handled everything," Wright said.
Mike and James Draper bought the 2014 mare from Roger and Cynthia Bias in her three-year-old year. The Drapers owned horses in the past, but they never made it to the show pen. "They are the greatest owners that you could ever ask for," Wright said. "They are the nicest people."
They say it takes a village, and that could not be more true for Justin Wright Performance Horses. Wright thanked his team back home, his help here at the show, his herd help and his good friend/ mentor, Clayton Edsall. "If it was not for them, I would not be here doing this," he said.
Wright, eager to praise Shiners Diamond Cat said, "That's what means the most to me about this show, is having her win it. It is all about her. She supposed to win those and I'm basically along for the ride."
The Championship paid $39,89.19 and came with prizes including a saddle from Bob's Custom Saddles, a Gist buckle; boots from Lucchese and product from Platinum Performance.