Two for the Money: Best friends Taylor Carver and Chloe Gray take top honors at Kinder Cup Barrel Racing Championship.

Article by Jessica Lash | Photos by 555 Photography

A Dream Come True: Taylor Carver and Blings Smooth Girl Top Futurity

When Blings Smooth Girl joined Taylor Carver’s barn in the fall of her 3-year-old year, it didn’t take long for Carver to recognize the filly had undeniable talent. Started under saddle as a 2-year-old and then turned back out, “Skittles” spent 30 days with horse trainer Justin Thigpen before Carver took the reins.

“I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to buck me off or anything silly like that,” Carver remembered with a laugh. “I pretty much believed in her since Day One. When Justin was riding her, he was riding another one for me at the same time. I’d ridden the other horse’s mom, and I was pretty sure that was the one I was going to like better. I asked Justin, ‘Which one do you like?’ He said he liked Skittles better, and I remember thinking, ‘Really?’ Then I watched him ride her, and I could see why. I thought, ‘This one — she’s got it. She’s going to be a big-time winner.’”

Behind due to her time off as a 2-year-old and her late start on the pattern, Carver and Skittles’ owner, Darlene Barlow, chose to hold the mare to futurity as a 5-year-old. Despite some bobbles early in her futurity year, Carver says she’s been pleased with how the daughter of Blings Smooth Guy has come along.

“She hasn’t done anything bad — we just had a few things to smooth out,” Carver explained. “I was missing my first barrel on her, so I had to change her bit and get that figured out. We played around with a different approach to the first and by the time I ran her New Year’s weekend in Ocala, she had it dialed in and was just out of the futurity money there.”

Skittles continued to improve as she gained confidence, placing in the first go and the average of the Equinety Kim Landry Memorial Race in Jacksonville, Florida, before making a solid showing at the Equinety Frostbite Race in Perry, Georgia.

“We were slowly building and getting there,” Carver said. “At Kinder it just all came together perfectly at exactly the right time.”

In Round One of the Futurity, Carver and Skittles turned in a fast 14.991 to land fifth in a talented field, worth $2,047.

“I went to Kinder with a goal of making two solid runs,” Carver shared. “Up until then, we would have one really nice run and then we’d have a run with some bobbles. My focus was on having a smooth first barrel. I wanted to nail our points and get our spots right. After our first run, I didn’t think it could get any better, but she came back the next day and was a little faster.”

Round Two saw Carver and Skittles turn up the heat a bit more, taking a second-place finish with a 14.960, worth $5,154. With an aggregate time of 29.951, it was enough to land the pair the Kinder Cup Futurity championship and an additional $10,232 in earnings.

“I’ve always considered Kinder one of the toughest futurities,” Carver said. “I’ve done OK there in the past, but I’ve never excelled. I knew coming in that Skittles had the talent to win it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to. It was a thrill — honestly, a dream come true.”

Carver says sharing the win with Gray, who won the Derby average, made the experience even more special.

“After I won the Futurity, I was helping Chloe into the arena on her horse,” Carver said. “I was telling someone who works for her, ‘I’m not going to say anything to her, but I really hope she wins the Derby.’ It was an awesome experience for us to both come away with wins.”

Carver thanks her mother Teresa Carver, owner Darlene Barlow, veterinarian Dr. Nate Lea, DVM, farrier Chad Rice, and chiropractors Ronda Butler and Joanna Sherman.

Living With Purpose: Chloe Gray and Heavenly Red Clinch Derby Win

Sometimes to win big, you have to take a chance. That’s what Chloe Gray told herself when a sorrel JL Dash Ta Heaven-bred mare named Heavenly Red joined her barn in the fall of 2021. The quintessential talented red mare “Karma” was hormonal, opinionated, and sometimes downright difficult to deal with.

“She used to tear the horse trailer apart,” Gray recalled. “Nobody really wanted to take a chance on her… I think everyone agreed she was talented, but nobody wanted to deal with everything that came with it.”

Undeterred, Gray spent the year making adjustments and working out the kinks.

“It was a little about helping her develop her talent and a lot of finding what managed her hormones,” Gray explained. “When I first started running her, she was pretty green. She was easily distracted and needed a lot of exhibitions. So, we put a lot of miles on her, and we got her hormones under control. She pretty much lives on Regumate now.”

Slowly, the horse Gray knew was there all along began to reveal herself.

“When you’re on these horses that have a lot of try and talent, some of them just take time to figure out and help come into their own,” Gray shared. “My goal is to make each horse I’m on the best and happiest version of itself that it can be. It takes however long it takes. If I focus on keeping the horse happy, it makes that horse want to show up every day for me — and that’s definitely been true for Karma. She’s transformed into a solid, easy-going mare. She wants to do the job as badly as I do.”

barrel racing
Chloe Gray from Yatesville, Georgia, and 2016 mare Heavenly Red were the picture of consistency in Kinder, topping the Derby with an aggregate time of 29.725 (14.913, 14.812), worth $5,085. A second-place finish in Round One and a win in Round Two added $5,792 to the pair’s earnings. The duo also earned the Breeders Challenge Derby championship after a clean-sweep of both rounds and the aggregate. Photo by 555 Photography

True to form, Karma showed up in Kinder ready to work, placing second in the first go of the Derby with a 14.913, worth $2,518. She was untouchable in the Derby’s second go, topping the field with a 14.812, worth $3,274, and rolling to the Open for an additional win and $3,063 in earnings. An aggregate time of 29.725 clinched the Derby Championship, boosting the pair’s earnings an additional $5,085.

Their success in Kinder didn’t stop there. Together, Gray and the mare who was started on the pattern by Craig Brooks and previously owned by 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Margo Crowther, also made a clean-sweep of the Breeders Challenge Qualifier No. 2 topping both rounds of the Derby and claiming the Derby Aggregate worth an additional $5,967 total from their carryover times. Plus, aboard Late Nite Soiree (Tres Seis x Mightypopularfiesta x Popular Resortfigure) she earned the Breeders Challenge Qualifier No. 2 Futurity Average with a 30.338, worth $3,347.

“It was a record-breaking weekend in earnings for me,” said Gray, whose total earnings topped out at nearly $60,000 across six horses. “All my horses were at the top of their game. It’s a weekend that makes me proud as a trainer, owner and jockey. I’ve had some extremely blessed weekends, but this one topped them by far.”

For Gray, knowing she’s living God’s purpose for her life brings special meaning to every victory.

“If God gives you a talent or a gift and you are willing to work hard at it, do what you are supposed to do and trust his timing, you can use it to shine a light back to Him,” Gray shared. “I have a surreal opportunity to do what I love, and I really believe I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m living my dream.”

Gray thanks God, Godspeed Performance Horses, her family and friends, and sponsors Hangover Haynets, Ortho Equine, Boss Equine Products, Master Saddles, Morgan Dairy Performance Horses, LLC and Triple B Farm and Equine Wellness.


Kailey Sullins is editor of Barrel Horse News, and an avid barrel racer and breakaway roper. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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