The new class leveling system was a much-needed shot in the arm of the once-ailing Cotton Stakes. That was the overwhelming feedback to come out of the recent cutting show that saw entries up by nearly 150 percent.
The Cotton Stakes in West Monroe, Louisiana, produced by Robert Charles Brown, was the first show to trial the new class leveling system. Ora Diehl and Denise Seiz originally proposed the concept to the NCHA at the 2018 Convention.
Denise described the show as “a family reunion.” They both agreed that they felt like they were at a cutting in the 70’s because of the large turnout, and the positive atmosphere and the return of familiar faces. They said the excitement brought by the people who entered was indescribable.
Prior to the Cotton Stakes, there was concern the added levels would reduce the entries, and not pay enough. But the entries almost tripled (see the statistics below). The show producer’s income also almost trebled, and the two women said everyone felt like they had a level playing field when walking into the show arena.
Denise said this was the Cotton Stake’s last hope because of the money lost in prior years hosting the show. Robert Charles decided to take a chance on their idea. Because of the increase in entries, he was able to make back all the money lost in previous years, as well as make a profit during this year’s show.
Ora said that Robert will now implement the new classes going forward and that he didn’t have one negative thing to say about it. He also told her that other show producers had been in contact with him as they are now interested in trialing the concept.
Both ladies said everyone seemed pleased and happy with the outcome except for some of the open riders. While not completely against the idea because they agree that change is needed, many trainers were concerned about payouts being reduced.
Trainer Jonathan Rogers said, “It didn’t pay well and it was very tough to make the finals. You have to have a good horse no matter what. For example, the same horse won the Intermediate and the Open which shows that it has a lot to do with the horse rather than the rider.”
He said the new system seemed to work great for the amateur and non pro classes, but that the open was a different ball game. He suggested creating levels based on the horse’s earnings and not the riders as a better alternative for the Open class.
“We need a change or there isn’t going to be an NCHA in the next 5 years. This just isn’t the change we need. When I was a loper in this industry cutting was fun and everyone encouraged each other. Now it isn’t like that, now it is all about the money and it isn’t exciting until Futurity time because [it is the one show] no one knows what they’re going to see,” said Jonathan.
On a post-show survey and Denise stated, “I had 86 who all had positive feed-back and a yes vote on the system, and 1 maybe. I didn’t have anyone tell me no on this new system, which made us feel pretty optimistic and speaks for itself.”
Denise and Ora said the only difficulty they encountered with the new levels was entering it into the software. While it wasn’t impossible, they said it did take a few extra steps. They both agreed the software can be re-tuned if more show producers and the NCHA decide to go forward with this format.
Non pro rider James Hooper admitted that he was going into the Cotton Stakes thinking that the new leveling system was too much of a drastic transition. Once he got to the show however, he was blown away by the optimistic atmosphere. He said there were several people that made the finals that he had never seen before.
“The NCHA is in trouble if we don’t do something. A level playing field like this will encourage people to get involved and stay involved. Trainers are running people off because they dominate the finals,” James said.
He agreed that this may dilute the purse, or make the open not pay as much, but that the organization needed to do what benefited the most people.
While there was some difference of opinion in the way the new system was implemented, the need for change was unanimous.
“We’ve lost so many people and the change in atmosphere at West Monroe proved that change is what we need,” said Jonathan.