Austin Shepard had his hands full getting his horses ready for the Classic Open first go-round Sunday.
That's when his 8-year-old son, Cade, stepped into help. The younger Shepard offered to ride Playin Witha Cat.
"He rode him for two, three hours trotting him around," Shepard said. "The guy that works for me said, 'You want me to get on that horse?' He then went back there and said, 'Looks to me Cade's got that handled.' "
Cade's work continued to pay off Tuesday afternoon. Aboard Playin Witha Cat, Austin Shepard marked 215 to add to his earlier 220 and qualify for the finals.
Shepard advanced all three of his horses to the championship round. The top 16 horses with combined scores of 432.5 or better moved onto the Friday evening finals.
Phil Rapp and Dont Look Twice marked the top score of the second go-round with 224. The pair, which won last year's Futurity Open finals, enter the Classic Open finals with the top aggregate score of 444 -- four points ahead of Wesley Galyean and Hookem High.
Rapp failed to advance his other three horses.
"I was just trying to survive," he said. "But it all fit together. We gave it our best shot at it. And the rest of them we kind of had heck with today."
Shepard, who is married and also has a 4-year-old daughter (Caylee), praised his young son for his effort getting Playing Witha Cat, a gelding by High Brow Cat out of Playgiarism, ready.
"He's so excited about getting the horse ready, and now (Playing Witha Cat) has made the finals," Shepard said. "So he'll get him ready for the finals. He's tickled."
Cade is following in the line of his father and his grandfather (trainer Sam Shepard). Austin Shepard said Cade enjoys being around people and horses.
"Everybody here knows him. He's got a lot of buddies that are horse trainers and lopers. So he thinks it's pretty cool to go back there with all the grown-ups and ride around and talk to them," Shepard said.
Austin Shepard is easy to spot on the floor this week. He's sporting a crimson Alabama jacket in celebration of the Crimson Tide football team winning the BCS championship game over Texas earlier this month.
It's not Western wear, but it's not against the rules, he said. And it gives Shepard an opportunity to get in a dig at the Texas-based cutters.
"I just pick at them with it," he said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.