Contestants bank big bucks during weeklong extravaganza known as Cowboy Christmas
Christmas is still more than five months away, but for a number of PRCA and WPRA contestants, the week of July 1-7 served as an early holiday present. During that stretch, there was roughly $33 million on the line at 31 rodeos across North America, and contestants were running around in a frenzy to hit as many stops as they could in the spectacle that is known affectionately as “Cowboy Christmas.”
While most Americans were enjoying a barbecue, watching fireworks or celebrating the Fourth of July at home with family, ProRodeo contestants were logging miles on the highways, rushing through airports and competing in a whirlwind week that would wear out even the most seasoned traveler and athlete. Some blitzed through as many as nine rodeos during the weeklong extravaganza, with dollar signs in their sights and sleep a distant memory.
The richest week of the regular season for most, Cowboy Christmas was not only a chance for competitors to earn their traveling expenses for the rest of the year, but also an opportunity to – with a monster week – lock up a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth. This year’s season-ending “Super Bowl of Rodeo” is set for Dec. 6-15 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, and a handful of contestants have already mathematically punched their ticket.
Four Cowboy Christmas rodeos had total purses of more than $250,000, and another half dozen boasted payouts of more than $100,000, so there was plenty of money up for grabs.
This year’s biggest winners were a pair of world champion barrel racers. Two-time World Champion Brittany Pozzi topped everyone by pocketing $27,789 at seven rodeos, including $8,000 pay days in Ponoka, Alberta, and St. Paul, Ore.
Lindsay Sears, the 2008 and 2011 world champ, was second with $25,780 after earning checks at five rodeos. She took home $8,588 for her triumph in Cody, Wyo., and earned another $7,939 by winning the Greeley (Colo.) Stampede. Both Pozzi and Sears had more than the $60,589 in 15th-place money required to qualify for last year’s Wrangler NFR before Cowboy Christmas, with Pozzi joining previous world standings leader Carlee Pierce in crossing the $100,000 mark for the season.
“(Winning Cowboy Christmas) is something I haven’t done in my career, and it’s pretty neat to be able to have that title,” said Pozzi, who enlisted the services of three horses during Cowboy Christmas. “It’s definitely hard to keep three horses out on the road and keep them all tuned and ready to run, but my plan worked out and paid off.”
Pozzi, of Victoria, Texas, leads the standings with $121,891, while Pierce, who was sixth in Cowboy Christmas earnings ($19,628) thanks to a $14,544 win in Ponoka, Alberta, is second at $118,100. Sears’ stellar Cowboy Christmas also pushed her past the six-digit mark at $100,774, so the rest of the season should be a shootout among these three talented ladies.
The fact that the trio was among the top six Cowboy Christmas earners is a source of pride for the barrel racers.
“The barrel racers definitely dominated,” Pozzi said.
Bareback rider Steven Dent was the big cowboy winner, banking $22,194 to push his season total to $59,789. That’s just shy of what it took to qualify for last year’s Wrangler NFR in the bareback riding (15th place was $60,880), so the Mullen, Neb., cowboy is well on his way to his fifth trip to Las Vegas.
On the timed-event side, Rhen Richard added another $20,769 to his season total after a five-pay day week that included a $10,380 haul from Cody, Wyo. Tie-down roper Cory Solomon, who competed in his first Wrangler NFR last year, was the fifth-highest Cowboy Christmas winner, cashing $20,106 after four big checks during the week.
In all, a total of 21 cowboys and cowgirls earned at least $15,000 and a whopping 72 contestants earned more than $10,000 during the season-changing week.
When it comes to making moves into the coveted Top 15, a number of contestants did just that thanks to their profitable Cowboy Christmas weeks. Chief among those was tie-down roper Bradley Bynum, who catapulted from 31st to 11th in the world standings via his $15,755 from Cowboy Christmas.
More than half of that, $8,882, came thanks to his win inGreeley,Colo.Bynum, ofSterling City,Texas, gets the “Movin’ On Up Award” for his 20-spot jump and is now in contention to earn his first career Wrangler NFR berth.
“It just feels wonderful,” said Bynum, who earned just more than $7,000 all of last year. “Greeleyis the biggest win of my career, and I would have been happy with just that, but I just kept drawing good calves and making good runs. It really worked out in my favor, and this gives me a lot of confidence.”
Bynum said he plans to hit the road hard for the remainder of the season to try and stay in the Top 15 and book a trip toLas Vegas.
“Usually at this time of year, if I don’t have anything won, I go back and help my family on the ranch,” he said. “But I’d like to try and continue and see if things work out in my favor. (The Wrangler NFR) would be a dream come true for me. That’s what everyone out here is chasing, and I’ve dreamed about it since I was a little kid.”
In addition, bareback rider Dusty LaValley, who jumped from 20th to 10th in the world standings after earning $18,559 during Cowboy Christmas.
You know you’re nine-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile when a $13,000 Cowboy Christmas is considered an “off” year. Brazile set a Cowboy Christmas earnings record in 2011 with $39,993, but earned just a third of that this year with $13,403.
I doubt he’s worried about it too much, considering he leads the all-around world standings by more than $53,000 and is No. 1 in both the steer roping standings and among team roping headers. He no doubt is concerned about not being among the top 20 in the tie-down roping standings midway through the season.
Speaking of the Wrangler NFR, it’s interesting to note that there are already a host of contestants who have earned enough money to mathematically qualify for the event. Based on last year’s 15th-place figures, Will Lowe and Wes Stevenson in the bareback riding, Wade Sundell, Cody Wright, Jesse Wright, Cody Taton and Cody DeMoss in the saddle bronc riding, Justin Maass in the tie-down roping, Pozzi, Pierce and Sears in the barrel racing and Cody Teel in the bull riding would have qualified for the 2011 Wrangler NFR with their current money totals.
That’s a pretty impressive feat considering there is so much of the season before us.
On another note, I’m thrilled to be back working with Las Vegas Events this year doing Wrangler NFR-related articles for www.NFRExperience.com. NFR Insider is back and will be even better than before! Last year was a great debut, and I’m looking forward to providing one-of-a-kind insight into the world’s grandest rodeo for rodeo fans across the globe.
NOTE: This is the first in a series of installments of the NFR Insider’s pre-Wrangler NFR blogs that will appear bimonthly on www.NFRExperience.com. Former ProRodeo Sports News Editor and Wrangler NFR veteran Neal Reid will once again be providing behind-the-scenes coverage of the Wrangler NFR as the NFR Insider in 2012. Stay tuned all summer for Wrangler NFR news and scoops as the NFR Insider profiles the biggest stories affecting the 10-day spectacle in Las Vegas.