Jason Vanlandingham and A Vintage Smoke Win Level 4 Open Championship at 2020 NRHA Derby Presented by Markel

Jason Vanlandingham and A Vintage Smoke Jason Vanlandingham and A Vintage Smoke

A Vintage Smoke blew into the Jim Norick Coliseum during the Level 4 Open Finals of the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Derby presented by Markel. At the reins was his trainer, Jason Vanlandingham. The newly crowned NRHA Two Million Dollar Rider and the flashy black stallion had already made their mark on the reining industry by winning two of the three largest reining events: the 2018 NRHA Futurity and the 2019 National Reining Breeders Classic (NRBC). The only accolade missing from A Vintage Smoke’s resume? An NRHA Derby presented by Markel Championship.

That was remedied on Saturday night when the pair wowed the judges with flawless maneuver followed by flawless maneuver. The crowd held its breath as the pair exited the arena, awaiting the results. When the score—a 227.5—was announced, the applause was deafening.
For Vanlandingham, the win came with a feeling of relief. “I was disappointed with myself last year because we had a chance of winning it, but I missed my last stop. There was a lot of pressure to get it done, and this horse came through. He was really awesome,” he said.
Feeling the pressure, he had to take a few moments for himself before competing. “I was pretty nervous, to the point where I had to get with the good Lord and do some praying because my confidence wasn’t there. A big feeling of relief came over me, and I just told myself to put my confidence in the right place,” he shared.
That resolution was what he needed. “We went in there about as hard as he could go, and he stopped huge the first time. We were last in the set so there was no ground left, but he was locked in, and I was very proud of him,” he recalled.
The win came with a big check for $60,000, with 5% going to nominator Karl Hapcic. Vanlandingham and owner Diane Mesmer were also presented a bevy of prizes, including a Kyle Zanetti Trailer; a saddle by Bob’s Custom Saddles; a Montana Silversmiths trophy buckle; Anderson Bean Boots; and product or gift certificates from Classic Equine, Platinum Performance, Bluebonnet Feeds, SmartPak, CINCH, and Shorty’s Caboy Hattery.
This is the second horse that Vanlandingham has ridden to win the three largest NRHA-approved events, which include the NRHA Futurity; the NRHA Derby presented by Markel; and the NRBC, an event for derby-age horses. The first time he accomplished that feat was with Not Ruf At All (A Sparkling Vintage x All Ruffed Up).
“This horse is right there with Not Ruf At All. He goes in there on Saturday night, and he just gets it done. That takes a special horse,” he said. “This is an accomplishment I’ve been hunting for. It’s special to me because with our program being on the smaller side like it is, I’m never going to catch the top guys in earnings. To do something no one else has done is pretty special.”
Vanlandingham shared that Mesmer plays a huge role in the stallion’s success. “She’s been great. She’s one of those owners who lets you do your thing and never puts any pressure on you. She’s been matter of fact about us eventually winning all three of these events, and she’s been right,” he said.
A Vintage Smoke, at only 5 years old, has two years of derby eligibility left. “As long as he continues to show good for us, we’ll continue to show him. Everything from here on out is just gravy; he has nothing left to prove. I love showing him, and Diane loves watching him show, so we’ll just keep rolling,” he said.
Vanlandingham added, “I thank God. He’s the top priority for us. Also, if it wasn’t for my wife, I’d have to find something else to do because she’s the backbone of our operation. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be on the street somewhere.”
Taking the Level 4 Open Reserve Championship were Nathan Piper and Patriot. Piper and the 5-year-old stallion, by NRHA Six Million Dollar Sire Smart Spook out of Dunit A Lil Ruf, won $47,572 for owner Shannon and Hershel Reid. Patriot was nominated by Toyon Ranch.
Piper and Patriot have gone head-to-head with Vanlandingham and A Vintage Smoke since the start of their competitive careers. In fact, the two teams split the Level 4 Open Championship at the 2019 NRBC.

Kole Price Wins Level 3 Open Championship at NRHA Derby Presented by Markel
Competing in the first section of the Open Finals, Kole Price knew he and Gunna Stop would have to catch the judges’ attention quickly. With that in mind, he pushed the 5-year-old stallion into the pen to run down for a big stop. “He stopped big and backed up really pretty, and then just stood there quiet as a church mouse. He was super hooked up, stylish, and quiet,” Price shared. “Coming around the ends, my reins were a little tangled up and I couldn’t steer him quite like I wanted to, but he took care of me. In the last stop, he dragged his butt, and it was just like how we prepared. He was incredible.”