A Little Starlight: 1995 NCHA Super Stakes Champion

June 16th, 2020

Super Stakes History Spotlight

Sandy Bonelli on Shakin Flo, one of the mares that brought her six NCHA Super Stakes or Classic championships.

In 1995, for the second consecutive year, and the second time in its 15-year history, the NCHA Super Stakes Open championship was won by a non-pro. And 1995 Super Stakes champion Sandy Bonelli, Petaluma, Calif., was the first woman to ever win the event, as well. Riding A Little Starlight, Bonelli scored 224 points to take the win over Smokin Dually and Winston Hansma, who claimed reserve with 223 points. In addition to Smokin Dually, owned by Dogwood Farms, the Super Stakes Open finalists also included 1994 NCHA Futurity and 1995 NCHA Derby champion CD Olena, also shown by Hansma for Dogwood Farms.

Since Bonelli’s win, only two other women, both professionals, have won the Open Super Stakes – Kathy Daughn in 1999, on Playin Stylish, and Cara Barry Brewer in 2004, on Playin Tag.

And two months after her Super Stakes Open win, Sandy Bonelli was back in Will Rogers coliseum to claim the NCHA Non-Pro Derby on Quixotes Pretty Lady, the Doc Quixote daughter she had shown to place in both the  Open and Non-Pro finals of the NCHA Futurity, and to tie for third in the 1995 NCHA Non-Pro Super Stakes, where A Little Starlight was co-reserve champion.

“I’ve never had two horses this nice at one time,” said Bonelli, following the 1995 Super Stakes finals. “I trained Quixotes Pretty Lady for the big Futurity, and I bought A Little Starlight to show at the little futurities. I had no idea she was this good. She has just gotten better and better.”

Bonelli purchased A Little Starlight in July of the mare’s 3-year-old year, from Charlie Ward, of Doc Bar Ranch fame. Ward had raised and trained the Grays Starlight daughter, out of a Doc’s Sug mare, and Bonelli found her to be a good fit. By the end of 1994, Bonelli and 3-year-old A Little Starlight had won the Gold Coast Non-Pro Futurity, claimed reserve in the Pacific Coast Open Futurity, and placed third in the Pacific Coast Non-Pro Futurity.

A Little Starlight and Bonelli would win four more championships in 1995, including the Reno Open Cutting Stakes. When she retired at six, A Little Starlight, shown strictly by Bonelli,  had earned $205,956, with nine wins and two reserve championships in 21 limited age event finals.

Sandy Bonelli, Petaluma, Calif., had shown reining horses as a teenager, but it was Doc’s Oak’s owner and 1973 NCHA Open Futurity champion Tom Lyons, who introduced her to cutting. Although A Little Starlight was Bonelli’s first major NCHA Open champion, she was not her first major limited event champion. In 1984, when she was 23, Bonelli won the NCHA Non-Pro Super Stakes on the Doc’s Oak daughter Oakalola. “She was the second horse I had shown in major events,” said Bonelli. “When I look back I realize that when I was showing her, I didn’t know anything. But she was a cow horse and took care of me.”

As a member of both the NCHA Open and Non-Pro Halls of Fame, and the earner of over $3.5 million, Sandy Bonelli has won a record 16 NCHA Triple Crown events, including four NCHA Non-Pro Futurity wins; one Open and three Non-Pro NCHA Super Stakes wins; one Open and two Non-Pro NCHA Derby wins; two Non-Pro Super Stakes Classic wins; and one Open and two Non-Pro NCHA Classic Challenge wins. Ranked among cutting’s all-time leading owners of money earners, she has also bred and trained many of her own champions. Her leading earners include 1998 NCHA Open Horse of the Year Shakin Flo $417,909; *Shakin Rondee $283,359; Starlight Gem $231,787; A Little Starlight $205,956; Sues Barn Cat $157,261; *Oakalola $130,205; *Soula Jule Star $121,591; *Midnight Rondeevous $118,698; Lizzys Got Style $103,252; Staraleno $99,708; Quixotes Pretty Lady $91,494; Handle Bar Hallie $88,167; Blue Leboon $84,164; and *Bella Coquette $83,331.

The symbol *in front of a horse’s name in the above list indicates that it was bred by Bonelli. Shakin Rondee and Midnight Rondeevous, for instance, are out of Shakin Flo, and Soula Jule Star is out of Bella Coquette, who is out of Oakalola. While Bonelli purchased Quixotes Pretty Lady from that mare’s breeder, Pat Fitzgerald, it was Bonelli who bred Quixotes Pretty Lady’s daughter Quiolena, by CD Olena, and Quiolena is the dam of Quintan Blue LTE $594,637, an all-time leading dam of 12 earners of $1.2 million.