Danyelle Campbell Overcomes Mental Blocks to Bank Ruby Buckle Derby Win on Return Of The Mac

"I begged them to put somebody else on him."
Danyelle Campebell and Return of the Mac barrel racing
Danyelle Campbell and Return Of The Mac win Ruby Buckle Central Derby 2024 | Lexi Smith Media

When Danyelle Campbell set out for the 2024 Ruby Buckle Central race from her Texas home, the last thing she expected was to leave Guthrie a week later with nearly $30,000 in her pocket and her first Ruby Buckle Derby championship on Return Of The Mac.

But that’s exactly what she did.

Danyelle and Return of the Mac, “Creed,” 2017 gelding by A Smooth Guy and out of Mackilts by DTF, owned by FC Ranch owned the Ruby Buckle Central derby in Guthrie.. They kicked the week off with a 16.895 to finish sixth in Round 1, then returned to top the second round in 16.721 seconds for a combined aggregate time of 33.616 seconds on two runs and an aggregate victory. For full Ruby Buckle Central results, click here.

Thanks to rollovers, Campbell rolled to the Open and cashed in across both rounds and the aggregate for a total of $29,595 for owners FC Ranch, plus $3,700 each for FC Ranch as the breeder and sire A Smooth Guy at the week’s end.

Danyelle Campebell and Return of the Mac
Lexi Smith Media

There’s one word that sums up Campbell’s journey with “Creed,” the 2017 grey gelding by A Smooth Guy and out of Mackilts by Dash Ta Fame.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Campbell said. “I say that because he’s always been special. He’s always been that high caliber horse. And there’s a lot of excitement with that, but there’s also a lot of pressure.”

“(Return Of The Mac) is probably the physically toughest, most gritty horse I’ve ever been.”

Danyelle Campbell

It’s easy for fans to get fixated on the incredible comeback story that was Creed’s 2021 season on the futurity trail.

However, Campbell believes that was just the midpoint of Creed’s story, not his defining moment. Since then, he’s battled multiple injuries and managed to fight his way back to the winner’s circle each time.

For Campbell, the journey back to the winner’s circle wasn’t a lack of faith in Creed’s ability, soundness or heart—it was her own doubts about her ability she had to overcome. Campbell’s mental doubt was so crippling prior to the Ruby Buckle that she begged FC Ranch to put another jockey on Creed.

“I’ve told (FC Ranch, Creed’s owners) to let somebody else ride him,” Campbell said. “Actually, at one point I begged them to put somebody else on him. I feel like I handle pressure very well, but I don’t handle people being disappointed in me very well. It’s crippling. If I think an owner is upset with me, I’m devastated.”

The bright spot of the whole situation is that owner Felicia Taylor refused to pull Creed from Campbell, and her trust in the NFR qualifier and million-dollar trainer paid off. Although Campbell was mentally low, her ground level expectations actually worked to her advantage on game day in Guthrie. She entered the ring without pressure and gave Creed space to shine. After her win, Campbell sat down to share what she’s learned during the experience about her mental game.

Campbell’s tips to master your mind

Trust your own process.

Danyelle Campbell: I’m watching all of these videos on Facebook and seeing people already running the pattern on their 3-year-olds. I have to tell myself ‘Do not watch those. Just don’t.’ You have to trust your own process, and you can’t compare what’s going on in your program to everybody else’s.

Fake it.

DC: It’s really hard to get back into that mindset of ‘Hey, we’re badasses, let’s go win.’ Sometimes I really have to fake it until I make it. This week it worked.

Being a winner is a lot of being a really good loser. You have to understand how to handle the loss and bring yourself out of it. Because when you do it for a living, and your livelihood and your house payment depend on how you perform at a barrel race, and you repeatedly do terrible on great horses, you go into a very deep, dark hole quickly. And it’s not always easy to crawl yourself back out.

I’ve been there more than I care to admit.


Your 2024 Ruby Buckle Central Derby champions are Danyelle Campbell and Return Of The Mac. They won today’s second round out of 311 entries in 16.721 seconds, which clinched their aggregate victory on two runs after placing in Round 1. The ultra-talented 7-year-old gelding, owned by FC Ranch is by A Smooth Guy and out of Mackilts by @Dash Ta Fame . Stay tuned for a full round recap, plus a story on how Campbell overcame her own mental obstacles to emerge victorious inside the @Lazy E Arena. #ASmoothGuy #DanyelleCampbell #BarrelRacer #RubyBuckle

♬ original sound – The Ricky Barrera

Be realistic, but positive.

DC: I think your expectations for a run should always be realistic, but they need to be very positive. I went to dinner with a girl who is going to be competing at Ruby Buckle for the first time (in 2025) and she said some negative things about how her performance would go. You literally can’t think that way.

I’m realistic. I mean, I ran some horses this week that I knew weren’t going to go in and win the round, but I still had high expectations for what they could do. And I expected them to perform their best. That’s all a person can do.

Set a goal that’s attainable, and when you do, keep setting higher ones.

There’s things worse than failure.

DC: This is a huge stage whether you’re new to barrel racing or you train and compete full-time. To be able to win the Ruby Buckle was one of my goals, so I just accomplished that.

I have a fear of failure and I genuinely wish I didn’t, I’ve already mentioned that I can’t stand when I let down an owner. But sometimes we all forget that there’s a really good chance we’re all going to wake up tomorrow. And that you’re still going to have your horse, and your health. Not to get too deep, but there’s a lot of horrible things going on in the world today, and here we are, barrel racing and living our dream.

Enjoy this moment.

DC: Even when I do make a bad run, my horse still gets his cookies. He gets fed. I feed myself. Even if we fail. You just have to sit back and remember to enjoy the opportunity, this moment.

I tell Sissy (Winn) the same thing. If I can tell she’s super nervous before a run, I tell her to just enjoy the moment, because we tend to forget that. But you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. Go in there, do the best you can do. But absolutely only take it for what it is, then remember that tomorrow is another day.

And remember, nobody remembers.

DC: You’re going to wartch the best trainers in the world—you know, those ones you see on social media winning, and you watch their training videos to learn from—you’re going to see them go in and do terrible. And nobody remembers.

So you may as well just go in there and do your thing. Remember why you’re here and have fun. Because nobody’s going to remember how that run went.

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