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Russell Dilday wins his first World’s Greatest Horseman title

posted by NRCHA

Russell Dilday wins his first World’s Greatest Horseman title.

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The Western horse industry’s best riders and horses team up at the NRCHA World’s Greatest Horseman for a chance to win one very impressive title. The event tests each team’s skill in the traditional reined cow horse events ? cutting, reining, and cow work ? but also adds one more element, steer stopping, to the mix.

The 2008 edition lived up to its well-established reputation. Four of the NRCHA’s Million Dollar Riders, three of whom are former World’s Greatest Horseman Champions, competed alongside three other World’s Greatest Horseman Reserve Champions. Seven of the contestants were also Snaffle Bit Futurity Champions.

The horses were equally impressive ? NRCHA Limited Age Event Champions littered the draw sheet. The finalist horses have combined lifetime earnings of over $553,740!

$20,000 was paid out in the preliminary rounds, and $118,000 was paid out in the finals.

The adage “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” no longer applies to Porterville, California, trainer Russell Dilday. Dilday, riding the great horse Topsails Rien Maker, finally captured the World’s Greatest Horseman title ? but the road to the Championship wasn’t easy.

Having finished as Reserve World’s Greatest Horseman twice, he knew he needed to lay it all on the line to win ? but it seemed that luck wouldn’t be on his side.

Drawing up first in the herd work finals, he only managed to mark a 211 ? a score that normally wouldn’t be promising. However, tough cattle made it difficult to mark high, and Russell ended up in fourth place. “During the practice this morning, I had Ronnie Ralls settle the herd. They settled terrible, but cut good,” he explained. “So I normally have John Ward settle the cattle, which he did, and they also settled badly.”

But this time, the cattle didn’t come through. “The first two ran over me, and then I got a good cow for the third.” He laughed, adding, “If I had stayed on it too long, it probably would have run over me, too.”

From the beginning of his reining pattern, it was easy to see that Dilday was not planning to take it easy. From super fast spins to flawless lead changes, he was clearly out to mark high. A score of 221 put him a few scant ? but much needed ? points ahead of Robbie Schroeder and another equally talented stallion, Shine By The Bay. “I knew I would have to stay on pattern ? unlike last year ? and push it. He was there for me,” he said. “I just love that horse.”

Going into the steer stopping, strategy was needed, “I played it safe, but I knew it still had to be good, because Robbie was right there with me ? and he’s a much better roper.” Although the steer got out a little far, Topsails Rien Maker’s in-the-dirt stop helped earn a 224.

After the steer stopping, they were tied with Schroeder, and it all came down to the cow work. Dilday drew first, and as he left the arena, it was obvious his hopes of winning his first World’s Greatest Horseman title were slipping away. A difficult cow looked like it had put the leader out of the running after another 211 score.

“We just didn’t have luck. The first cow was bad, and I got another, and it wasn’t very good, either,” he said. “When I thought it would run, he just hung me out there. So I figured we would get beat. But I considered it, and thought ?Another second ? second’s cool ? I’ve been second before.”

But, as luck would have it, Schroeder also had a difficult cow, and marked a lower score than Dilday. With seven horses left, it was possible for another rider to take the lead, but none of the remaining finalists could get close.

“All these horses could have legitimately won it,” noted Schroeder, who finished as Reserve Champion. “But it all came down to luck today. I’m just thrilled to be here in the finals, with this caliber of horses. I’m very happy for Russell to have finally won it.”

Dilday was quick to give all the credit to his horse. Slider (Topsails Rien Maker) is a 7-year-old Topsail Cody stallion out of Jameen Gay. Dilday trained the stallion for Dana Roulet, who had acquired the colt as a three-in-one deal.

When she decided to sell him, Dilday was panicked. “I knew she wanted a really good broodmare, so I went to John Ward who had a really good one, and we went to trading,” he explained. At the time, it looked like Roulet had the better deal, having gotten the broodmare, two babies, and nine breedings, but Dilday is adamant that he now has the best end. Ward and Dilday partnered for a while, and eventually Kevin Cantrelle bought out Ward’s half. “He’s a great partner, pays the bills, and enjoys the horses,” said Dilday.

Unfortunately, Cantrelle wasn’t able to make it to the Celebration of Champions to watch his horse. Laughing, Dilday explained, “He’s getting his butt chewed, because he didn’t make the plane reservations when they were less expensive.”

So how does finally capturing the Championship that eluded him feel? “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m still waiting for a review,” he said. “I can’t even explain how amazing it is. I just figured if we went in and did the best we could ? well, I really thought Robbie was going to win it. The scores don’t tell how close this was, and how hard these horses worked.”