Von Cali is a chill horse with a lot of ability, according to trainer and National Reined Cow Horse Association Million Dollar Rider Clayton Edsall, but his climb to the top of the derby-aged pack hasn’t been without its challenges. It all came together in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the Teton Ridge Stallion Stakes, though, where Edsall rode the K&L Phillips, LLC-owned gelding to a $50,000 payday and the win.
“He’s just a super nice horse to be around, very chill. I can’t say enough nice things about him as a horse in general, he is so kind,” Edsall said.
It was more than the horse’s kind heart that took him to the top with a composite 662 (H: 223/R:218.5/C:220.5). Von Cali (Stevie Rey Von x Hotel Cali x Smart Aristocrat) stayed consistent in three events while continuing to also show his strength in the herd work. Prior to this event, the gelding earned preliminary top honors in the herd work at the 2022 Hackamore Classic, presented by Oswood Stallion, and out of the herd placed second at the 2022 DT Horses Western Derby and fourth at the 2022 Tres Osos Cow Horse Derby.
In Las Vegas, Edsall piloted the roan to the top score in the herd work for the Finals, a 223.
“He’s always had something special to him in the herd work,” said Edsall. “When you watch him, every time the cow wants to flick an ear or thinks about a turn, this horse [senses that] and lowers or waits on that cow. He is incredibly smart. It’s a neat feeling because you can cut the scariest cows in the bunch, and he can slow them down a little bit with his response to them.”
The Glade Knight-bred gelding’s cow savvy comes through down the fence, too. But the reining is one element Edsall has worked to put together. The pair’s fifth place finish at the 2023 Tres Osos Cow Horse Derby started an upward trajectory.
“He has always been outstanding on a cow; he stops so hard,” Edsall said. “He hasn’t wanted to break loose on his front end, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to figure out how to make that more presentable. We work at that a lot. It started to get better, and it was better in Fort Worth [at the Tres Osos Cow Horse Derby]. It’s been like we survive the rein work, he’s always in the top end of the herd work, then we get to the fence work. We are finally getting a handle on the rein work and that is helping us stay competitive all the way through.”
Adding to the double registered Quarter Horse and Paint gelding’s more than $28,000 in NRCHA earnings is the $50,000 derby purse and the Open Chrome Cash high score check for $1,555 from the preliminary rounds. Edsall says that while Von Cali is not near finished showing, his future is set.
“When we bought him, he is obviously very attractive, and he is going to be Kathryn Phillips forever horse,” he said. “She has some of those horses I’ve shown, like Maliblu Barbie and Metallic Playmate, at her place in Carmel [California]. She enjoys horses and the plan all along is for him to be her horse in the end of it. I’ll show through the derbies, and I wouldn’t be surprised to put him in the two-rein and the bridle, depending on what Kathryn wants to do. As hard as that horse stops, he’d be pretty spectacular in the steer stopping so maybe one day we will see him in the World’s Greatest.”
Reserve Champion Metallic Daisy Dukes (Metallic Cat x Scooters Daisy Dukes x Dual Smart Rey) and Todd Bergen earned $40,0000 for owner Bit of Heaven Ranch. The 2018 mare bred by Aaron Cook and Bergen rode to a 660 composite (H:221/R:218/C:221).
Horses sired by a stallion that is in the NRCHA’s Subscribed Stallion Program are eligible to compete in the Derby, both Non Pro and Open divisions, at the Stallion Stakes. The eligibility isn’t a limitation, though, according to Edsall, and doesn’t dampen the talent brough to compete.
“It’s mind-blowing how good the horses are and how good everybody’s training is,” he says. “It is pretty incredible to watch these finals, horse after horse, where everybody is doing their homework, and everybody has really good horses. It is fortunate when it all comes together.”
By Kate Bradley Byars
Courtesy of National Reined Cow Horse Association