The 2016 World Champion saddle bronc rider rode like a world champion is expected to ride. And when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Big Valley, Alberta’s Zeke Thurston, had just added another $26,000 to his bank account, and just as importantly to his Canadian and PRCA world standings earnings.
The second generation cowboy rolled into Williams Lake for the Finning Pro Tour stop and matched up with Duffy Rodeo’s CFR selected Appaloosa mare, Rip n Zip for 86.5 points and the win. After adding a small cheque at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo, Thurston saved the high drama for Canada Day at the Ponoka Stampede (also a Finning Pro Tour event). Having already won the long go with 89 points on C5 Rodeo’s Showtime, the 24 year old mastered a pair of Calgary Stampede buckers—Timely Delivery for 88.25 to win the short go and clinch the average, then another 89 point-er on Ancient Delivery in the Showdown for the biggest of his six weekend cheques—a $9750 strike.
Coming off “the best winter I ever had”, Thurston has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks and the huge start to his Cowboy Christmas vaulted him to first place in the Canadian standings and helped him close ground on the world leader—Ryder Wright.
On a cold, blustery Canada Day evening, Thurston grinned, “It’s only fitting that a rodeo in Canada takes place in sub-zero temperatures.” But despite the coolness, the gifted central Alberta athlete was blazing hot throughout the weekend. Of the Ponoka win, Thurston added, “This is awesome. Ponoka’s not far from home; the family’s all here to support me and it’s a lot of fun.”
Another big mover on the weekend was Mexican born bull rider, Edgar Durazo who picked up the win at Ponoka including a spectacular 90 point effort on Vold Rodeo’s Whisky Hand in the Showdown round. The July I weekend haul ($17,818 at Ponoka and $1059 at Airdrie) took him closer to the goal he stated was his primary focus for 2019—a first trip to the Canadian Finals Rodeo. Durazo will wake up Tuesday and see his name at or near the top of the CPRA standings leaderboard.
Additional Weekend Highlights:
* The Manning twins from Edson, Alberta grabbed a share of the spotlight – Taylor for her Williams Lake barrel racing win (16.571 seconds, $4291.10) which will keep her placed near the top of the standings and Tristen for earning the Ponoka Stampede Steer Riding title (80.5 points, $1908.96).
* Manitoba bareback rider, Orin Larsen, thrilled the Airdrie Pro Rodeo crowd with a spectacular 91 point ride aboard Outlaw Buckers’ Awkward Todd – good for the win and $1931.89.
* Mike Beers, 23 time NFR qualifier and 1984 World Champion heeler and his partner, Chad Evenson came away from the weekend over $10,000 richer courtesy of their performance at Ponoka that included the Showdown win (8.3 seconds) for over $7500 each.
It’s the question Canadian rodeo Fans have been asking: Is Sage Kimzey eyeing a Canadian Finals Rodeo qualification? The five time World Champion bull rider answered that question right after another successful weekend at Canadian rodeos.
“Definitely,” Kimzey responded. “That is absolutely one of my goals for this year.”
The Strong City, Oklahoma superstar added another $4245 to his Canadian bank account with wins at Rocky Mountain House (85.5 points on Vold Rodeo’s Simple Man, $1460) and Lea Park (87 on Calgary Stampede’s Wounded Warrior for $2030) and a second place finish at Brooks (79.5 for $755).
“The CFR had been in the back of my mind since I was in college with (Canadian cowboys) Layton Green and Jacob Stemo. They were both in the novice events back then and talked a lot about the CFR. This year my schedule worked out so that I could get my fifteen rodeo count so I’m excited about trying to get to Red Deer.”
The productive weekend will put Kimzey in the top three in the Canadian standings and give the Oklahoman eight of the fifteen rodeos he needs to punch his ticket to CFR 46.
“It was all good up here until the cold this weekend,” Kimzey chuckled. “It was 91 degrees (Fahrenheit) when I left home and I was awful cold in Brooks and Rocky. But the people are super nice and super accommodating. It’s been great being up here.”
Kimzey and traveling partner, Tyler Bingham, will next be on this side of the 49th parallel for the Wainwright-Sundre-High River run later this month followed by stops at Ponoka and Williams Lake as part of his July 1st run in Canada and the 4th in the US.
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Blair Smith is another name that keeps popping up on top of the leaderboard. The young tie-down roper from Wimborne, Alberta won two of three CPRA rodeos over the weekend – Brooks Kinsmen Pro Rodeo and Rocky Pro Rodeo.
“I drew some good calves,” the second generation cowboy noted. “My calf in Rocky was an add-on and I didn’t know him. He was faster than I thought he’d be. And in Brooks I knew I had a pretty good calf. I had a good start, was solid on the ground and everything worked out.”
Smith topped the field of 65 ropers with an 8.3 second run at Brooks – good for $1686. And his run in slack at Rocky (9.2 secs) added $1772 for a total of $3458.
As for his horse, “With my regular calf horse out for some maintenance, I rode an older gelding I hadn’t been on yet this year. He’s a pretty trustworthy horse. I actually had him for sale,” he grinned, “but I might have to keep him now.”
With his main goal in 2019 to qualify for his first CFR, and a tradition of roping in his family (Dad, Garnet and cousin, Guy were both CPRA ropers and both brothers compete) Smith is off to a great start.
Additional Weekend Highlights:
– Jake Watson kept his amazing streak going on the weekend, adding two more wins to give him six over the last four rodeo weeks and ten Canadian rodeos in that span. This time up, the number one bronc rider in the Canadian standings won Lea Park with an 87.5 point effort on Calgary Stampede’s Redon Acres for $2156 and added a ½ split (with Layton Green) at Rocky Pro Rodeo, putting up 83 points on Prime Time Rodeo’s Good Vibrations for another $1260.
Justine Elliott, the Lacombe high school student, followed up her Grande Prairie win of a week ago with another strong performance this weekend as she topped the field at Lea Park with a 16.573 second run for $2838.80 and added a fifth place $968 cheque at Rocky to move to within $1000 of season leader (and fellow teenager) Taylor Manning.
Saddle bronc rider Jake Watson is enjoying a change from the way his rodeo seasons have unfolded in the past.
“I’ve never had much luck at the spring rodeos up here,” the Hudson’s Hope cowboy admitted. “So this is definitely a lot better.”
Coupled with a solid run at the winter rodeos south of the 49th parallel, the weekend’s successes at the Stavely Indoor Pro Rodeo and the Kananaskis Pro Rodeo have the 25 year-old solidly in 10th place in the world standings and moving up the season leaderboard in Canada as well.
Watson kicked off his weekend at Stavely on Thursday night and teamed with a Jesse Dutchik bronc, Big Booty Judy, for 84 points and $1400.
“I didn’t know that horse but Nick Patterson showed me a video of her from an amateur rodeo so I kind of had an idea. But to tell the truth she was better than what I expected. She just jumped and kicked and was good.”
Twenty-four hours later, the three-time CFR qualifier was back at it, this time in Coleman on a paint stallion from Kesler Championship Rodeo, Sugar and Spice. The B.C. cowboy put together an 85 point effort for $1313. The dual wins will propel Watson solidly into the top five in the Canadian standings.
The early season successes have fit well with the 2016 WNFR qualifier’s 2019 goals—appearances at the WNFR, the CFR and the recently unveiled Maple Leaf Circuit. It’s a tall order but Watson is used to big-time challenges having had to overcome a fairly serious geographical handicap just to get started on a career as a professional rodeo cowboy. Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia, a couple of hours north of Dawson Creek, is not an area noted for providing a lot of opportunities for a young man wanting to get on bucking horses.
“It didn’t matter,” Watson chuckled. “The first horse I got on threw me off pretty hard and made me question buying that bronc saddle. But after the second horse I was hooked.”
A few years later most observers concede that the former San Antonio Champion has earned the right to be considered among the best in the game. And with his acknowledging that “This is the best I’ve felt in a few years,” Jake Watson might just be a big time handful for the rest of the bronc riding fraternity throughout the 2019 season.
Additional weekend highlights:
– Five time World Champion, Sage Kimzey, capitalized on an early trip north where he won the short go (86.5 points on Outlaw Buckers’ 096 Tennessee Whisky) and average at Innisfail’s Night at the Ranch Bull Riding for more than $3300. The Strong City, Oklahoma cowboy then added a fifth place $395 cheque at the Kananaskis Pro Rodeo.
– Jonny Webb was just 3/10ths of a second off the Canadian record as the Okotoks bulldogger posted a blistering 3.2 second run to take home $1649 at Coleman.
– Connor Hamilton followed up on last weekend’s Drayton Valley success with an 87 point ride on Vold Rodeo’s True Grit for the win and $1412 at Stavely.
– Ponoka barrel racer, Jennifer Massing, surprised the field with a dazzling 12.738 second run at her second pro rodeo ever to take home $1880.24 at Kananaskis.
– The reunited duo of Brett Buss and Klay Whyte split top spot in the team roping at Stavely with Roland McFadden and Devin Wigemyr with both teams turning in 5.4 second runs for $1283 per man.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) and Canadian Western Agribiton (CWA) are excited to announce that Agribition is the home of the inaugural Maple Leaf Circuit Pro Rodeo Finals.
The four day rodeo, featuring the top ten contestants in each event from the 2019 Maple Leaf Circuit standings, runs November 27-30, 2019 at Regina’s Evraz Place. The Rodeo Finals is a key part of Agribition – a long-standing livestock show and agribusiness marketplace that attracts more than 1,200 international guests from over 86 countries.
“Western culture has been a key piece of the foundation of Agribition for almost 50 years,” says CWA President Bruce Holmquist. “Rodeo has been a very important part of that and through the years we have worked hard at growing the profile of the sport for both its fans and competitors. We are confident that the Maple Leaf Circuit Finals will take that profile to the next level.”
With over $12,000 up for grabs in each Agribition rodeo event, contestants are excited to compete for a qualifying spot. An added bonus for rodeo athletes is the opportunity for the Maple Leaf Circuit Finals Champion and the Circuit Season Leader in each event to qualify for the RAM National Circuit Finals in Kissimmee, Florida, starting in April, 2020.
“The Maple Leaf Finals are a good fit for Agribition,” says CWA CEO Chris Lane. “We have the facilities, the committee, the expertise and 20,000 rodeo fans that want to see the most exciting rodeo possible. We’re excited about putting that all together in November.”
The November Finals will cap the first complete year of the Maple Leaf Circuit – a partnership between the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and the CPRA – which includes the majority of CPRA rodeos outside of the Finning Pro Tour. The Circuit will shine a spotlight on non-Tour rodeos and help maintain solid entries throughout the season.
“It’s excellent that Agribition will be the home of the Maple Leaf Circuit Finals,” notes CPRA President Terry Cooke. “With Agribition’s long-standing history of rodeo success, the Finals should be a great experience for fans and athletes alike. And the opportunity for contestants to qualify for the Ram Circuit Finals is an added incentive.”
Maple Leaf Circuit Facts and Figures:
* Circuit includes CPRA rodeos with less than $7999 added purse that do not have special entry qualifications and that accept permits
* PRCA/CPRA Canadian residents are automatically assigned to the Maple Leaf Circuit
* For 2019, a contestant must be a Canadian resident to compete at the Circuit Final.
* Full cards, semi-pro cards and permits accepted
* Maple Leaf Circuit Finals are part of Canadian Western Agribition, and runs November 27-30, 2019
* Maple Leaf Circuit Champion and Circuit Season Leader in each event qualify for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida. (Circuit season leaders must compete at the Finals to move on.)
* Rodeo count to qualify for the Finals will either be 40% or 15 total rodeos (whichever is less)
* No PRCA card is required for a contestant to qualify for the Maple Leaf Circuit Finals; however, if a CPRA contestant would like to qualify for the RNCF, he/she must purchase a PRCA card before competing for money won to count. (Rodeo count/money won will not be back dated)
* The Maple Leaf Circuit Finals will be available by live stream through Flo Rodeo
Structure of the Finals:
10 contestants in each event per performance
$12,300 minimum added per event
Entry fee $300
Payout – four (4) places in all go-rounds and the aggregate
With calving about to start in the next ten days or so, the family soon expanding – baby three will join brother Pecos and sister Rainey later this year – a busy fall guiding hunters anticipated and his excellent art works still appearing from time to time, the life of the 2013 Canadian Steer Wrestling Champion is “never boring”.
Nevertheless, the Pouce Coupe, British Columbia cowboy found time to travel to Medicine Hat for the first CPRA rodeo of 2019 and bulldogged his steer in 3.5 seconds to come away with the victory.
“It was a nice one to win,” Moore acknowledged, “but I’ve been going long enough to know that winning the first one doesn’t mean a lot in terms of making the CFR. It’s a long season but you get ‘em where you can get ‘em.”
The eight-time CFR qualifier put together a 3.5 second run to collect $1940 as he edged reigning Canadian champion, Scott Guenthner and veteran Craig Weisgerber by 4/10ths of a second for the win. 2017 Champion Jason Thomas (Benton, Arkansas) returned from the injury that kept him out of action throughout most of last year and was 4.2 seconds for fourth place at Medicine Hat’s Broncs and Honky Tonks Indoor Spring Rodeo.
Moore was on his nine year-old mare, Ditto, for the run and credited longtime pal, Stephen Culling with having the mare in tip top shape for the spring kickoff to the season.
“Stephen had her down south for most of the winter. He did a great job and had a lot of success on her; it was great to have her ready to go for 2019.”
One of the challenges Moore has faced throughout his career is the distance he has to travel to compete at CPRA rodeos (most of which are in Alberta) and the fact that he is by himself for most of those grueling miles. He’s excited, however, by the fact that the travel arrangements will be changing soon.
The plan for 2020 is for (2014 Canadian Barrel Racing Champion) wife Steffanie to return to competition with the entire Moore entourage heading down the road together. “That’s going to make those miles a whole lot better.”
But for the present, Moore will concentrate on going hard and doing what it takes to get back to the CFR.
“I’m only rodeoing in Canada this year but I plan to get to everything at least until Armstrong when my guiding gets pretty busy.”
Longview, Alberta barrel racer (and 2018 CFR qualifier), Kylie Whiteside, picked up where she left off in 2018 with a smokin’ 12.782 second run to collect the biggest cheque of the weekend, a $2312 stipend while Blair Smith topped the tie-down roping field with an 8.2 second run to earn $2021. And in the team roping event, Logan Spady and Wyatt Eirikson clocked a speedy 3.6 second run that netted the Alberta ropers $1551.23 each.
Other Medicine Hat winners included Clint Laye in the bareback riding (86.5 points on Kesler Championship Rodeo’s Double Dippin’, $1447) and reigning Canadian Saddle Bronc Champion, Clay Elliott (88 points on Kesler Rodeo’s Gone Country, $1613). The bull riding title was shared by 2018 All-Around Champion Jacob Gardner (87 points, Kesler Championship Rodeo’s All Fired Up) and New Zealand hand, Wade Marshall (87 points, Kesler Rodeo’s Late Nite Host) for $1435 each while Bailey Schellenberg earned the junior steer riding win with a 77 point ride – good for $343.37.
In his first three years at the WNFR, Big Valley, Alberta’s Zeke Thurston, despite winning the 2016 world title, had made only one victory lap at the Thomas and Mack Arena here in Las Vegas. In round nine of the 2018 Finals, Thurston won his second go-round of the week, this one with a spectacular 90 point mastering of Andrews Rodeo’s Brutus. The seldom-ridden gelding with one buckoff to his credit already at this Finals threw everything at the cowboy on his back but Thurston withstood all of it and was still there at the horn.
“They don’t call this the eliminator pen for no reason,” Thurston acknowledged. “That little horse bucks off a lot more guys than actually ride him but you just throw caution to the wind with a horse like that and go after him.”
Thurston has placed in eight of nine rounds, the only blemish on his 2018 resume a buckoff in round 4. Sitting third in the aggregate and sixth overall, it will come down to round number ten exactly as it should be. Heading to tomorrow’s final round, reigning champion, Ryder Wright clings to the lead with CoBurn Bradshaw leading the aggregate and sitting 9th overall. There are at least half a dozen men with a shot at the title moving to the final round and one of those guys is Zeke Thurston.
The second Canadian in the field, Nanton, Alberta’s, Clay Elliott, did not fare as well as his free hand came in contact with his mount, Cowboy Casino from D and H Cattle, at a heart-breaking 7.97 seconds.
In the bareback riding, the Canadian cowboy from Manitoba, Orin Larsen, placed for the third time in three nights. He was 86.5 on a Bridwell Pro Rodeo bucker called Ted to split 4/5 in the round and collect $8884 to climb back into 3rd place in the world standings. The Friday night cheque gives the long, tall four-time WNFR qualifier $75,727 with placings in five rounds in total, a remarkable performance by a man just three weeks removed from meniscus surgery on his left knee.
“To be honest, I’m totally ecstatic with the way the week has gone,” Larsen smiled after the ride. “I wouldn’t have believed this was possible when I was in the hospital and the doctor was telling me we’d have to re-think Las Vegas. I have to give so much of the credit to Sport Medicine. They’ve really done a number on me.
Reigning World Champion, Tim O’Connell won the round with a 90 score leaving the two-time titleist from Iowa very much in the driver’s seat as he sits first in the world and in the aggregate with one round remaining.
Recently crowned Canadian Champion steer wrestler Scott Guenthner kept his solid WNFR going as he matched Larsen’s performance with a 4/5 split of his own. After an opening round no-time, Guenthner has placed in six of eight rounds and sits 8th in the aggregate and 4th in the world. Teammate Curtis Cassidy checked in with a 4.7 second run and wound up 7th in the round just one spot out of the money. Cassidy sits second in the world but is well back in the critical aggregate standings. 2016 World Champion Tyler Waguespack inched closer to a second title. While his 5.1 time wasn’t fast enough to get a cheque in the round, the Louisiana man they call “Wags” is first in both the aggregate and the overall standings heading to Saturday night.
Round 9 in the barrel racing event saw some rapid runs from start to finish, with World leader, Hailey Kinsel, proving once again why she’s been in command through much of the 2018 season. The Cotulla, Texas cowgirl ran her fastest time to date – a 13.40 – from the bottom of the ground to move from eighth to seventh in the average and garner her third go-round win of the Finals. With nearly $340,000 in earnings, Kinsel continues to enjoy a commanding and likely insurmountable World lead. Canadian, Carman Pozzobon, ran clean once again (14.17) to maintain her first place ranking in the aggregate.
Stephenville, Texas roper, Sterling Smith, was the ninth go-round winner on Friday night with a 7.4 second run, a nice turnaround for a cowboy who has struggled at this Finals with four no-times to date. Three-time Champion Tuf Cooper is still atop the standings but is a distant 8th in the aggregate standings which means that, like the saddle bronc riding, the tie-down race is far from decided. 2015 Champion, Caleb Smidt, is well-placed heading to Saturday as he holds the head in the lucrative aggregate standings and sits 6th overall. What makes this race so intriguing is the fact that the top five men in the world standings are all at the bottom end or out of the aggregate standings with one round remaining.
In the bull riding Eli Vastbinder of Union Grove, North Carolina turned in the highest marked ride of the week, a spectacular 91.5 on D and H Cattle’s Sweet Pro’s Bruiser. Canby, Oregon’s Chase Dougherty kept his fine Finals going with a second place 87 score and moved to second place in the world standings as well but won’t be able to catch Texan Sage Kimzey who, on Saturday night, will be crowned champion for the fifth time in his remarkable five-year career.
Derrick Begay and Cory Petska earned their third team roping go-round win of the week with a 3.8 second run – their fastest of the Finals so far. The Arizona ropers moved from seventh to fifth in the average as a result and sit fourth and third respectively in the World Standings. The top two rankings in those standings remained unchanged heading into tomorrow’s final round with both teams – Clay Smith and partner Paul Eaves along with Kaleb Driggers and his heeler Junior Nogueira sharing the 2/3 spot in the round with identical 4.1 second runs. The two teams stay in first and second overall heading to the final round while in the all-important aggregate race, Aaron Tsinigine and Trey Yates are first but are well down in the World standings while Driggers and Nogueira are in second place with Smith and Eaves in 4th place. And all of that means it’s a one-head run for a world title come Saturday night.
Every year on Canada Night (Round 8 of the WNFR), Canadian flags are an even bigger part of the action than they are during the other nine performances.
And, with all six Canadian competitors getting to the pay window, Canadian fans were on top of the rodeo world.
In the bareback riding, Canada’s Orin Larsen followed up his 7th go-round win with an 87 point ride on Hi Lo ProRodeo’s Pretty Woman, good for third in round 8 and a $15,653 injection into the Larsen bank account. That ride moved the Manitoba product to 8th place in the aggregate (average) and third in the world standings with only Caleb Bennett and defending world champion Tim O’Connell ahead of him on the season leaderboard. Shane O’Connell of Rapid City, South Dakota won the round with an 89.
Both Canadian steer wrestlers got to the pay window on Thursday night with Provost bulldogger, Scott Guenthner checking in with a 4.0 for third place while Donalda, Alberta’s Curtis Cassidy added a $4230 6th place cheque to his WNFR earnings. After eight rounds 2016 World Champion Tyler Waguespack has gone to the lead in the world standings, dropping Cassidy, (who at the moment is out of the aggregate) to second place. But first time finalist Will Lummus, from West Point, Mississippi, has placed in seven of eight rounds, leads the average and sits in 3rd place overall, just $14,000 behind Waguespack. Guenthner, coming off his first Canadian championship just a month ago, moved up one spot to fourth overall but sits well back in 8th place in the average.
The Canadian successes continued in the saddle bronc riding as two-time and reigning Canadian Champion Clay Elliott of Nanton enjoyed his best moment of the Finals so far with a sparkling 87.5 point ride on C5 Rodeo’s Black Hills, good for 4th place and $11,000. 2016 World Champion, Zeke Thurston, was right behind his teammate with an 86.5 point effort on Bailey Pro Rodeo’s James Bond. Elliott’s $6769 payday keeps him 4th in the aggregate and 6th in the world standings. Rusty Wright and Chase Brooks spilt the round with a pair of 90 point rides, which has become almost the commonplace winning score in the bronc riding this year. While Ryder Wright continues to sit atop the season leaderboard, there are several cowboys in hot pursuit including Thurston, the Water Valley, Alberta hand, who sits 6th overall but a strong 4th in the aggregate. Elliott is also in the aggregate at present, in sixth spot, and sits 10th overall.
But on Canada night, the Canadian contingent saved the best for the last. With the pressure mounting in the barrel racing event as contestants have struggled to keep the barrels up, Texan, Taci Bettis, earned her first round win of 2018 with a 13.57 second run. But Canada’s Carman Pozzobon took full advantage of her number one position on the ground as she ran her best time of the Finals so far – 13.70 and turned in her eighth clean run. With Jessica Routier hitting a barrel, the British Columbia cowgirl and her tremendous mare, Ripp (Ripn Lady), moved to number one in the very lucrative ($67,000 for first) aggregate. Texan Hailey Kinsel remains first overall.
Team ropers Bubba Buckaloo and Chase Tryan enjoyed the Round 8 win with a smoking 3.6 second run – the fastest time so far. And Clay Smith and Paul Eaves maintained their first place world standings ranking – a position they’ve held for the last three rounds – courtesy in part of a share of 2/3/4 tonight with a 4.1 second time – which paid $15,794 per man. And they sit fourth in the aggregate. 2015 World Champion header, Aaron Tsinigine, and heeling partner, Trey Yates, are still first in the aggregate (59.40/8) and hold down ninth and sixth respectively overall. Among the strongest contenders for a world title with only two rounds remaining appear to be the teams of Smith and Eaves and Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira (who despite not placing in round 8) are still second in in the average and second in the world.
In the tie-down roping, Ryan Jarrett, the 2004 World Champion, got off to a slow start at this Finals but has been lights out in the last three rounds including winning round 8 with a 7.3 second time giving him $55,000 over the last three performances. Three-time champion Tuf Cooper continues to lead the world and benefited from an inadvertent quick flag from the officials that gave him a 7.4 second split of 2nd and 3rd in the round. As well, the Texas superstar has closed to within $1000 of brother-in-law Trevor Brazile in the All-Around race.
The bull riding event was considered a lock before the WNFR began with the twenty-four year-old four-time champion, Sage Kimzey, having won over $300,000 before the week got underway. After round eight that saw Kimzey buck off for the fifth time in eight trips, the talented Texan is still in the driver’s seat but credit Chase Dougherty and Joe Frost with making it interesting. Dougherty, the Oregon bull rider, at his first WNFR, sits first in the average and 3rd overall with Frost, from Randlett, Utah, now sitting first in the average and 4th overall.
Those were the words of the surgeon who operated on Orin Larsen’s knee just three weeks ago and a week after the Canadian Finals Rodeo. The Manitoba bareback rider had torn his meniscus halfway through his final ride of the CFR. “And to emphasize his concern the surgeon added, “And if you do, there’s a risk of tearing that surgery apart again.”
And while the medical professional’s caution was understandable, so far Larsen has stared down the adversity and tonight put the exclamation point on his improbable comeback. Larsen, who is at the Thomas and Mack Arena for the fourth time, won round seven of the WNFR with a sensational 89 points on a cool Frontier Rodeo bucker named Tip Off.
“I was pretty cautious early in the week but I’m feeling more and more confident with it now,” Larsen noted. “I’ve been seeing the Sport Medicine team every day and they have been amazing. I owe them a lot for keeping me together.
“And that is such a good horse. Clayton Biglow had him earlier in the week and he made a great ride so I knew I had a chance. That horse is really up and down out there. Every time he hit me I just tried to hit him twice as hard.”
Larsen now sits 9th in the aggregate and 5th in the world. He did admit the knee injury has impacted one part of his Las Vegas experience. “I’ve had to cut back on Cowboy Christmas (western lifestyle market/trade show),” he grinned. “I can’t really handle that thirteen miles of walking.”
In the steer wrestling, neither of the Canadian bulldoggers hit the pay window in round seven. On a night when two world champions, Tyler Pearson and Hunter Cure, shared the victory lap in the go-round, newly-crowned Canadian Champion, Scott Guenthner, managed a 4.3 to finish 7th in the round, one spot out of the money. The good news is he moved up one notch in the aggregate and now holds the eighth and final payoff place there and is fifth in the world. Meanwhile Curtis Cassidy continues to lead the world despite a 6.1 in round seven. The difficulty facing the two Canadians in their quest for the world title is that Will Lummus sits second in the world just $15,000 back of Cassidy but Lummus is in the driver’s seat in the all-important aggregate that pays a whopping $67,000 to win it.
90 point rides were the order of the day in the saddle bronc riding as Wade Sundell and Chase Brooks split the round with identical nineties. Zeke Thurston, the 2016 World Champion from Big Valley, Alberta collected a fifth place cheque ($6769) for his ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Miss Ellie. Thurston has placed in six of seven rounds including a 1/2 split of round six. The 24 year-old sits third in the aggregate and fifth in the world, but trails world leader, Ryder Wright, by a very makeable $58,000. Nanton’s Clay Elliott did not make the horn in round seven and remains in 11th place in the world standings.
Round 7 in the team roping saw a tie for the win with 3.9 second runs for Luke Brown/Jake Long and Derrick Begay/Cory Petska. While Clay Smith and Paul Eaves remain in top spot in the World Standings, the pair experienced a set-back tonight by virtue of a no time in the round – dropping from second to fifth in the average. Kaleb Driggers and 2016 All-Around champ Junior Nogueira added a fourth place cheque to their WNFR tally and moved one notch up in the average to second spot. 2015 titleist Aaron Tsinigine and heeling partner Trey Yates remain contenders as well – picking up sixth place with a 4.9 to hang onto their number one average/aggregate position.
Fans enjoyed another speedy round of barrel racing with a number of thirteen second runs down on the ground. But it was the Cotulla, Texas cowgirl, Hailey Kinsel, who garnered top money for the third time at this WNFR with a 13.61 time in her bid for a first world title. Kinsel leads the world standings and sits third in the average. Savona, British Columbia’s Carman Pozzobon, clocked 14.01 from third position on the ground. While the run didn’t earn her a cheque, the 2017 Canadian Champion continued her climb in the lucrative average standings – moving up two notches from fourth to second spot.
2016 World Champion and a three-time Canadian title-holder, Tyson Durfey of Weatherford, Texas won round seven in the tie-down roping. Three-time champion of the world and reigning All Around Champion, Tuf Cooper, continues to lead the very tight tie-down race in an event that will almost certainly go down to the last few throws of the lariat on Saturday night.
Riding three of seven in the bull riding would be considered a solid winning percentage for most cowboys. But when that cowboy is the four-time world champion, Sage Kimzey, that’s as close to a slump as you’re likely to see for the Strong City, Texas superstar. Kimzey hit the ground prematurely in round seven, a go-round that saw Chase Dougherty taking home the big cheque courtesy of an 87.5 ride. Tennessee bull rider, Jeff Askey, has the hottest hand of all as he made his fifth ride in a row on Wednesday night, this one a fifth place effort with 84 points on the Wayne Vold bull, Mish Mash. C5 Rodeo’s Double Vision carried Roscoe Jarboe to 4th place in the round with an 84.5 point ride. Kimzey still holds a more than comfortable lead over the rest of the field with three rounds to go although a few guys, notably Dougherty and Askey are doing all they can to mount a late charge at the leader.
It was another solid night for Canada in the saddle bronc riding as 2016 World Champion Zeke Thurston split the round with Nebraska’s Cort Scheer, both men recording 89.5 scores to tuck $23,480 into their Wranglers. Thurston’s ride came on the outstanding mare from Powder River Rodeo—Miss Chestnut.
“I’d never been on her but they’ve won lots of go-rounds here and lots of rodeos on her and I was really excited to have her,” Thurston commented. “She’d not very big but she’s got a big heart and she’s the kind we love to get on.”
When asked about how he’s feeling about things heading into the latter rounds of the Finals, Thurston was definite. “It’s too early to be thinking about anything but doing my job every night. You can only do what you’ve got control of. I used to get really mad if I bucked off or didn’t ride good. But since the birth of my little girl, Lucy, I know she’d gonna be my biggest fan no matter what I do at the rodeo. And (recently-injured bareback rider) JR Vezain is my good friend and I know how lucky I am to get up every morning and be able to stand up on my own. Those are the things that really matter.”
Thurston, who has placed in five of the six rounds, is splitting 2/3 in the aggregate and sits fifth in the world, very definitely within striking distance of the leader—reigning World Champion, Ryder Wright. Nanton’s Clay Elliott, two-time and reigning Canadian Champion, recorded an 85 score and was just one spot out of the money. Elliott sits sixth in the aggregate and 10th in the world standing after six rounds.
It’s been chicken or feathers for steer wrestler Curtis Cassidy at this WNFR. The 12-time Canadian Champion came to Las Vegas as the number one ranked bulldogger in the world. Round six saw Cassidy turn in his second 3.6 second run, both of those times resulting in go round wins for the Donalda, Alberta cowboy who is once again on top of the season standings. The down side (the feathers part of the equation) is the two no times in his results package, one in the opening round at the Thomas and Mack arena and the other in round five, sandwiched between the go round wins.
“Steer wrestling is probably the most humbling event in this sport, maybe any sport,” Cassidy acknowledged with a grin. “One day you’re on top of the mountain and the next day you’re at the very bottom. I remember Barry Burk telling me a long time ago that you try to win as much as you can every day because you don’t know what’s going to happen the next day. Although I have to say that the cheer I got from the women in the crowd last night when that steer ripped my shirt off might have been bigger than
the one I got for winning the round tonight.”
Cassidy laughingly referenced the friendly rivalry he has with fellow Canadian, Scott Guenthner who also rides Cassidy’s outstanding horse, Tyson. “I was probably more nervous with that steer tonight than any so far. Scott had him and won the round the other night so I didn’t want to screw up tonight for sure.” There was definitely no worry in that regard for the second generation cowboy as he extended his lead at the top of the world standings. Cassidy has $184,000 in the bank and a $28,000 cushion over Will Lummus who sits in second spot but is leading the average.
“I know I’m not in the average but my goal is to have $60,000 more won than the next-placed guy going into round ten because I’m not in the average.” (The average/aggregate pays a whopping $67,000 to win it.)
Guenthner, the recently crowned Canadian Champion turned in a 4.5 run in the round to split 6th place with Lummus. The Provost, Alberta cowboy fell to 4th in the world standing and sits 9th in the aggregate.
For the second night in a row a Canadian bucking horse was in the spotlight in the bareback riding. This time around it was the Calgary Stampede’s Tootsie Roll carrying the North Dakotan, Ty Breuer, to 88 points and the first place cheque of $26,230. 2018 Canadian Champion – Richmond Champion – rode another Canadian four-legged legend, Kesler Rodeo’s Street Dance, a nine-time WNFR qualifier, to a 2/3/4 split with 87.5 points. The payoff for the Texan was $15,794 and he shared the honours and the cash with Tilden Hooper and Steven Dent. Two-time and reigning champion, Tim O’Connell, continues to lead the world with Caleb Bennett and Clayton Biglow not far behind. The lone Canadian in the bareback riding, Orin Larsen, checked in with an 82.5 point ride and was out of the money. Larsen now sits 7th in the world standings.
A pair of Texans – header Tyler Wade and his partner Cole Davison – earned their first 2018 WNFR cheque and they did it with a vengeance – roping in 3.9 seconds for the round 6 win. But overall, the team roping event remains a tight race. Aaron Tsinigine and Trey Yates were long but managed a time of 19.5 to stay number one in the average with 48.4 seconds on six head. The pair sit sixth in the World – about $65,000 behind Clay Smith and Paul Eaves who are still in the driver’s seat as they remain first overall and second in the average after six rounds. A no-time for Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira dropped the team two spots – to third in the average but they still sit second in the World – just $30,000 behind Smith and Eaves.
Two time WNFR barrel racer, Hailey Kinsel, earned her second round win of the week with a solid 13.63 second run. Kinsel remains in her customary spot on top of the World standings and tonight’s win will help the Cotulla, TX cowgirl and her talented palomino ‘Sister’ as they slowly climb back up in the average after a tipped barrel earlier in the week. Jessica Routier picked up the second place cheque with a 13.72 and held on to the average lead for the second night in a row. The South Dakota barrel racer is one of only four contestants with six clean runs. Canada’s Carman Pozzobon – who has only one cheque to her credit so far is another cowgirl with all penalty-free runs. The Savona, BC talent kept the barrels up once again – clocking 14.10 tonight. Though not in the money, the first time WNFR qualifier is fourth in the average.
There were significant changes afoot in the tie-down roping. While Kansas cowboy Cooper Martin won his first round at this Finals, it was a miss by Texan Marty Yates that denoted the biggest change on leaderboard. While Yates sits second behind regular season leader (and Canadian Champion) Shane Hanchey, he plummeted all the way from top spot in the aggregate going into round six to 10th after the Tuesday miss.
And in the bull riding, Louisiana bull rider Dustin Boquet was a sparkling 91 points to win the round as world leader Sage Kimzey continues to hold a massive lead atop the standings despite bucking off his 3rd bull in six nights. The Canadian bull, Whiskey Hand, from Wayne Vold Rodeo carried Chase Dougherty to 88.5 points and second in the round, following up on the first round win recorded on the big brindle.
Virgil, the amazing 10 year-old gelding from the C5 Rodeo firm now holds the CFR and WNFR Arena records. A month ago, the two-time and reigning Canadian and World Champion Bareback horse was 90.25 with Jake Vold aboard to set the all-time CFR record. And tonight, with the California talent, Clayton Biglow’s hand in the riggin, the score was 93 spectacular points as the accolades and records continue to accumulate for one of the greatest Canadian bucking horses of all time. In a round when 86.5 points did not place, Manitoba’s Orin Larsen collected his second cheque of the Finals with his second 87 point ride. But where 87 earned the long lean Canadian a second place payoff in the third go round, this 87 score was good only for sixth in the round and a $4230 stipend. Tim O’Connell continues to lead the world standings as he vies for his third title in succession with the Utah cowboy, Caleb Bennett in second place and four-time World Champion, Kaycee Field in third spot.
And Virgil wasn’t the only Canadian in the nineties. In the saddle bronc riding, three-time World Champion, Zeke Thurston was a spectacular 90 points on Sankey Pro Rodeo and Robinson Bulls’ Marquee while the two-time and reigning Canadian titleist, Clay Elliott, was just a half point back at 89.5 on the Calgary Stampede’s outstanding Stampede Warrior. Amazingly, there were three guys with even higher scores—go-round winner Wade Sundell at 92, then Ryder Wright and Rusty Wright at 91 and 90.5 respectively. For Thurston the $11,000 cheque keeps him 4th in the aggregate and 7th in the world standings while the $6769 payday for Elliott represented just his second placing to date as he sits 10th overall.
Thurston was philosophical about the night. “That was a real good bronc riding,” he acknowledged. “The horses were amazing and everybody rode so good.” At the halfway point, Thurston’s happy with his Finals to date. “Yeah, shoot I’ve placed in every round so far except for last night when they threw me off right at the whistle. But I’m feeling great and I’m having a blast. Can’t wait for the next one.”
It was a little tougher night for the two Canadians in the steer wrestling. After Canadian Champion, Scott Guenthner won go-round number three and fellow Canuck, Curtis Cassidy followed up with a go-round win of his own on night number four at the Thomas and Mack Arena, the fifth round was not kind to the teammates. Guenthner managed only a 5.1 second time to finish 9th in the round and out of the money. And for Cassidy, the holder of twelve Canadian championship buckles, the news was even worse as the second generation Donalda, Alberta cowboy took his second no time of the week. While Cassidy continues to lead the world standings, he has fallen to 13th in the aggregate while Guenthner, the Provost, Alberta dogger dropped to 3rd in the world behind Will Lummus who won the round with a 3.3 run. Guenthner is in 10th place in the aggregate.
Header Clay Smith and his partner, former Canadian Champion Paul Eaves, bested the team roping field with a 3.8 second run and are now leading the world standings. But Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira who dropped to second place overall, lead the average while Smith and Eaves are in fifth in the all-important and very lucrative average standings (where the win pays over $67,000).
Carman Pozzobon who carries the Canadian colours in the barrel race was a 14.06 in the fifth round, good only for a 10/11 split but more importantly for the Savona, BC cowgirl, she is sitting third in the aggregate at the halfway point of the rodeo. Hudson, Colorado’s Ivy Conrado posted a 13.49 to win the round but Hailey Kinsel, the Cotulla, Texas barrel racer continues to lead the world standings as she moved past the $200,000 mark in season earnings.
Trevor Brazile, Ryan Jarrett and Reese Reimer all checked in at the 7.5 second mark to split first in the tie-down roping event for $20,871.79 each. For Jarrett, the 2005 World All-Around Champion, it was his first cheque of the finals. Shane Hanchey and Marty Yates remain 1-2 in the World standings, though neither man earned cheques in round 5. Yates was long – 14.6; Hanchey took a no-time. The result was a drop in average for both… Hanchey from 8th to 12th, Yates from 1st to 4th. Ryle Smith sits atop the average standings with 40.20 seconds on 5 head; 2015 World Champion, Caleb Smidt is just 3/100ths behind. This might be the closest race of the Finals with at least eight men, several of them former champions, with a shot at the gold buckle. And for Brazile, who is vying for his twenty-fourth—and maybe last world title, as he has announced he’ll be cutting back on his rodeo schedule and commitments when this season is completed—the “King of the Cowboys” extended his lead to $28,000 in the All Around race over his brother-in-law and last year’s Champion, Tuf Cooper.
The parade of 90 point rides didn’t end in the bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Eli Vastbinder of Union Grove, North Carolina made his first ride of the 2018 WNFR a memorable one as he captured the round and the $26,230 with a 91 point effort on Beutler and Son Rodeo’s Record Rack’s Shootin’ Stars. Sage Kimzey inched closer to his fifth successive bull riding title at just 24 years old. The Texan was fifth in the round with a 78 point ride but maintained his massive cushion over the rest of the field with his $358,000 in season earnings, $140,000 ahead of the second place Montana bull rider, Parker Breding.