Article by Tanya (Krause) Randall, originally published in the February 1998 issue of BHN.

Dena Kirkpatrick and Willy Nick Bar were presented the Celie Whitcomb-Ray memorial tray, given annually by Danny and Sharon Grigsby of Aubrey, Texas, to the Futurity Champion, by Celie’s daughter, Mary Cecilia Ray, and Celie’s father, Milo Whitcomb. Celie was Dena’s friend and mentor. Photos by Kenneth Springer

They swept the 1997 World Championship Barrel Racing Futurity, held Dec. 8-13 in Oklahoma City, by winning both rounds and the average to earn the $50,000 guaranteed to the champion on top of two first-place go-round checks of $7,144 for total earnings of over $64,000.

The 12th Annual World Barrel Futurity, Derby, Sweepstakes, Youth and Junior races paid out over $600,000. With three 4-Star trailers going to the winners of the Futurity, Derby and Sweepstakes, saddles, buckles, watches, horse sheets and many other numerous awards, the total value of the event was over $700,000, the highest in history.

The Futurity had 489 entries running for a total purse of $357,200, over $30,000 more than last year’s Futurity.

Kirkpatrick, Post, Texas, had to stand in the alleyway last year and watch Ashley York and Sail On Truckles take their victory lap when she fin­ished second on Donna Bailey’s Chicago Moon Express. This year, she would not be denied her vic­tory lap.

She and Willy Nick Bar (Trey) dominated the preliminaries, winning the first round with the fastest time of the Futurity, a 15.471, that carried them to the finals. Almost three-tenths of a second behind with a 15.748 was Susan Clapp, Barnsdall, Okla., and Creons Request (Cruiser).

After the second go, it looked as if Clapp and Cruiser would be the only ones with a chance to catch Dena and Trey. Dena topped the round with a 15.571 with Clapp right behind her at 15.749. Loretta Mauldin and Hemps Fool, with a time of 15.784, and Talmadge Green and Hunkamotion, with a time of 15.803, finished out the top four fastest times going to the finals. Disaster struck for Clapp and Cruiser, who were the first of the top four out in the finals. They took a bad fall coming out of the first barrel and posted a 16.514, dropping to 26th in the average. A fallen barrel knocked Loretta and Hemps Fool to a tie for 44th and 45th in the average.

“I was about to have a cardiac arrest all ‘week,” said Willy Nick Bar’s co-owner, Sissy Novak, Whitesboro, Texas. “I watched the first go and he peeled the first barrel. I haven’t watched since.”

Novak co-owns Willy Nick Bar, a sorrel gelding by Dr Nick Bar out of Mystical Avenger by Staunch Avenger (TB), with Michael and Susie Davidoff, Plano, Texas. The gelding was named after Willy Nelson and Sissy, who isn’t a Willy Nelson fan, called him Trey.

“Dena’s done a fantastic job with Trey,” Novak said. “I believe he is the nicest one we have raised.”

If the owner was that nervous, how about the rider?

“I have been nervous this whole month,” Dena said. “I have been more nervous this week than ever before. This whole year I was not nervous, but for this week I was more nervous than usual, because I knew Trey was a nice horse and I wanted to win on him so bad. You don’t get horses like that very often. He’ll be 5 next year and then it will be over.

“Although he did so well this fall, Trey has just got better and better. I think that’s what got me so nervous because I knew he had a chance to win. When we made that first run, and made it so fast, I was amazed that he could outrun them that much.

“The second day, he was like I thought he would be. He was wilder; he kind of feeds off it. It was reckless. I almost knocked over the second and third barrels and it didn’t feel good, but I still had a fast time. I could feel him getting away from me. You don’t want to take their edge off by riding them, but I came down late last night and just walked and trotted him and piddled with him for an hour and a half to get him settled back down.

“Today, he was as calm as a cucumber and ran like a house afire! He gave me lots of room.”

She said she will derby on him as long as Sissy and Susie own him. They want to keep him through Fort Smith.

Dena’s win was made extra-special when she received the silver tray given in memory of her dear friend and mentor, Celie Whitcomb-Ray, who lost her life to cancer three years ago.

“It means more than I can talk about, almost,” she said. “Her little girl won the go-round last night on her horse, I Got Bugs. Celie and I rodeoed together for a couple of years and spent a lot of time together when she rode Bugsy. I have seen Cece (Mary Cecilia) ride him before, but when they came in, it was like deja vu. I never thought I’d see that horse run like that again. It was like going back in time. My sister, Teri, and I sat and watched Cece run last night. We hollered for her and when it was over, we sat and cried. It just means a lot.

“I have always wanted to win it because Celie and I were good friends. I owe a lot of the things I do to her. She was a super hand with a horse; I’ll never be the hand she was with a horse. Things happen when I’m training these horses, just riding at home, and I’ll think ‘what would Celie do?’ I get on a horse sometimes and it will do just what Celie would have loved for it to do and I will think about her. Or we’d be at these things and I would say ‘You are being a little bit gripey today’ and I know what she felt like, now. She comes to my mind a lot.”

Dena could have been a little bit gripey before the Futurity. Her run was going to give her a headache. It normally wouldn’t have been a problem, except that a horse that she and Donna Bailey bought in the sale that afternoon had bitten her on the head and she had to wear her hat.

“I went over to get her and the people who had sold her had left and no one had told us anything. I opened the door to go in and she ran at me and bit me. I could hard­ly put my hat on! She’ll be all right though. We’ll take her home and pet on her bit.”

Kirkpatrick credits her family for her success.

“I have not won a futurity this big, ever!” she said. “I couldn’t do it without my fami­ly. My husband is a lot of help with my horses. He’s really patient and calm with one.”

She and her husband, Cliff, have two daughters, Sarah, 9, and Hannah, 3.

“My mother had been keeping my youngest, Hannah, but I started taking her with me this year and I started winning,” she said. “Talmadge said he thinks that she is my luck charm. I’m not superstitious, but I think having her keeps my mind off the horses because you have something else to worry about.” 

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