Steven Ford leads Mufasa toward the fairgrounds to place first in the Vale 4th of July Suicide Race. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

VALE - It was the first win for the jockey and the third win for the horse.

At Friday’s Suicide Race, Steven Ford, 29, strode victorious into the fairgrounds with 10-year-old Mufasa. Ford rode down shirtless and with a baseball cap worn backwards.

It was Ford’s second time participating after two years without riding.

He puked right after.

“He takes care of me when I’m up there, and I take care of him,” Ford said of Mufasa, his hands a little shaky a few minutes after the win.

Zane Marchand, Mufasa’s owner, didn’t even watch the race. He couldn’t bear it. A former suicide racer himself, he knows better than anyone what it takes to go down the hill. “I pray for everyone on the hill,” said Marchand.

Ford had only one opponent this year. The two jockeys started at the top of the Rhinehart Butte and made their way down through the cow trails, across the river and into the arena.

Like Ford, Marchand is from the Colville Indian reservation in Washington. They’ve made a name for themselves. Hundreds of people lined up to watch the race Friday night. You’ll hear them whispering to each other – a tinge of awe in their voice – “They win every year.”

“We’re horse people,” said Marchand. “It’s what we do.”

Ford and Mufasa will ride in August’s Omak Stampede next, but the Vale 4th of July Rodeo Suicide Race remains one of the most difficult, says Marchand.

“It’s only one trail, you have to stay ahead the whole time.”

Ford, meanwhile, had started to breathe a little easier a half hour later. Still shirtless, the same way he whizzed down the mountain.

Why no shirt? The answer couldn’t be more simple: “It’s effing hot.”

 Steven Ford, 29, from the Colville Indian reservation in Washington, stands with three-time winner Mufasa. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

Ford holds the champion's buckle. It's his first win and the second time he rides at the race. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

Ford and Mufasa nearing the finish line. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

SUBSCRIBE TO HELP PRODUCE VITAL REPORTING -- For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.