My friend and fellow rodeo journalist Kendra Santos and I will be compiling NFR Insider Insights into the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to tell fans the rest of the story here at Rodeo’s Super Bowl.
I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work closely with Kendra. I’m equally excited for you rodeo fans and our readers. Together, we have over 60 years of experience covering rodeos that spans generations. We may offer opinions, but those opinions will be based on that experience. Kendra is focusing on the timed-event end of the arena, and I will concentrate on the roughstock events. We have a strong belief that the stories in the Thomas & Mack Center go far beyond the victory laps around that arena and are very grateful for the opportunity to share them with you.
Roping, Wrestling and Running – By Kendra Santos
Excuses don’t fly in the cowboy sport. Just ask Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, who cashed their first checks of the week when they split Round 5 in the team roping with Erich Rogers and Cory Petska.
While Rogers and Petska have so far sailed through their seventh and 14th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, respectively, now having won or placed in four of the five first rounds, Tryan and Corkill had struggled in the early going—penniless at the pay window until now.
Clay missed a couple steers in Rounds 2 and 3, and Jade uncharacteristically roped a leg in Round 4. But both refused to point a finger at each other or anyone else for their shortcomings in the first four rounds. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why they each own a collection of three gold buckles.
“You can excuse yourself into not being any good at anything,” Clay said. “There’s always a way to catch, I don’t care which steer you have. The more accountable you are, the better you’ll be. I’ve missed a couple here this week, and it wasn’t the steer, my horse or anything else. It was all me. You have to figure out a way to overcome the curveballs. That’s the only way to cut it in any professional sport.”
“Excuses don’t exist,” added Jade, who set the 3.3-second world record roping with Chad Masters here in 2009. “Excuses are lies and false hope. You have to base your actions on the facts to have a shot. You can fix the truth. They say the truth hurts, but sometimes it needs to hurt. Roping a leg last night about snapped me. I was so mad at myself.”
Mad enough to walk all the way back to his hotel room, as a matter of fact.
The luck of the draw is another huge factor cowboys face every time they throw their name in the hat, and Lady Luck was not in Clay and Jade’s corner when the steers were drawn for Round 5.
“The steer we had tonight was the one we wanted the least,” Clay said. “He looked almost impossible to heel when Billie Jack Saebens missed him in the second round. So we made a game plan to try to get around him.”
The other 3.9-second team at the top in Round 5 was Erich Rogers and Cory Petska, who took the world lead from Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira for the first time since we all landed in Las Vegas. Erich and Cory were happy to step up on stage at the South Point and lay their hands on those go-round buckles, but they’re wiser than to start seeing gold-buckle stars just yet.
“On paper it’s a good thing to take the lead,” said Rogers, who’s roping at his seventh straight NFR here this week. “We just have to keep doing our job and knocking them down. We’ve been placing along, and now we finally got a big check. But I don’t want to think about the world championship race until it’s all said and done.”
His partner concurs.
“Taking the world lead means nothing tonight,” said Petska, a 14-time NFR team roper. “It really doesn’t matter until the 10th round is over. There’s never been a Round 5 world champion.”
Texas tie-down roper Marty Yates made the fastest run of the rodeo, a 7.0-second doozer, to win Round 5. It’s typically considered an advantage to go last in every timed event but the barrel race, but Yates was first gunner on Monday night. Lady luck did smile on young Yates, 23, when he drew the same calf 23-time World Champion Cowboy Trevor Brazile ran to win the second round. Though a cowboy can’t use tougher draws as an excuse, he does have to capitalize on the good ones.
“Part of it’s drawing right and part of it’s taking advantage of whatever you do draw,” Marty said. “Everybody entered at this rodeo ropes so good that even if you do draw the best calf, you still need to make the most of it.”
There’s a risk-and-reward factor that’s particular to tie-down ropers. You’ll notice some cowboys on certain nights taking just one wrap with their piggin’ string before grabbing their hooey to finish the tie. It’s a little faster, but the risk comes in when the flagger starts the six-second clock at run’s end. If the calf doesn’t stay tied, you’re toast.
Marty made the fastest run of the rodeo while taking two wraps for insurance purposes. He’d have been 6-something with just one, but if the calf had come untied he’d have felt like a fool.
“I had a great go at a really good calf, and as the run was unfolding I knew I was going to be plenty fast,” Marty said of that spur-of-the-moment decision all tie-down ropers must make, estimating with his expert opinion that it only takes about two-tenths of a second to take that second wrap. “So I decided to stay down and make sure I got at least some of the money.”
Wise move, and 14 ropers later he took the victory lap.
They saved the best for last in the bulldogging in Round 5, with Canadian Tanner Milan returning to the winner’s circle for the second time this week. Tanner won Round 2 in 3.5 seconds, and Round 5 in 3.8. Tanner’s take on excuses makes it unanimous.
“Excuses are for losers,” Milan laughed. “They don’t fix anything. No matter which steer you draw, you have to dig deep, break it down and find a way to figure it out. I don’t think a person can use excuses and be successful. We’re all responsible for our actions, bottom line.”
South Dakota’s Lisa Lockhart and Colorado’s Ivy Conrado tied at the top of the Round 5 barrel race in 13.59 seconds. Lockhart is second only to Cory Petska’s wife and four-time World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association all-time earnings list. Cervi’s won $3,331,945 in her storied career, and Lisa’s cashed checks worth $2,147,871, mostly aboard the back of her beloved buckskin horse Louis.
Conrado is running barrels at her second-consecutive NFR, and is a very strong believer in Girl Power. Her horse herd is exclusively comprised of mares, including her Round 5 mount, Kenny Nichols and Dale Barron’s 8-year-old palomino JLo, and her sorrel 2016 American Quarter Horse Association/WPRA Barrel Horse of the Year Tibbie. JLo and Tibbie are only 8, and her third horse, a 6-year-old chestnut model by the name of Famey, helped her earn about $30,000 of the money it took to make this year’s Top-15 NFR cut.
“I feel like mares have more personality and more try than geldings,” Ivy said. “That’s why that’s all I have in my trailer.”
Bulls, Bares and Saddle Broncs – by Susan Kanode
It took Sterling Crawley 35 horses to get his make his first victory lap in the Thomas and Mack Center. Mason Clements did it on five. Sage Kimzey claimed his second go-round buckle this year bringing his total up to seven in the four years he has been here.
There is nothing ordinary in a win at the Thomas and Mack Center for anyone. Each win is special and with that comes memories that will last a lifetime.
Sage rode a young bull from Beutler and Son Rodeo named Record Rack Shootin’ Stars. Sage’s bullfighting/barrelman father, Ted has worked many rodeos for the Beutlers through his career and along the way, they watched Sage grow up.
Having both families on the stage at the South Point was a moment that would make the Sooner State of Oklahoma proud. The 89-point ride added $27,077 to Sage’s 2017 earnings and put him over $300,000. He is the first contestant in a single event to do that this year.
After five rounds, Sage has only bucked off once this year and after Trey Benton came off on Monday night, the average race is wide open. There are three guys that have ridden four out of five including Sage and Trey. The trio is rounded out by Joe Frost.
The Beutlers have an extensive breeding program for horses and bulls. In fact, that breeding program produced this year’s Saddle Bronc or the Year, Wound Up. Shootin’ Stars joined the bucking bulls by a different route.
Rhett Beutler, the son in the company had seen the bull competing at futurities and derbys. He was impressed enough that he made the owner and offer that was accepted.
“He came home one day last August and said, ‘Dad, I just bought us a bull,’ ” Bennie Beutler told me. “I said, ‘Why the hell did you do that? We have about 300 in the pasture.’”
“Don’t worry about it,” Rhett replied. “I think it will work out.”
Work out it did. This was the first time that Sage has earned a buckle on a bull from the Beutlers whose ranch is at Elk City, just about a half hour from the place Sage grew up. Sage’s Monday at the NFR started out spending time with special needs kids at the Exceptional Rodeo.
“That was awesome,” he said. “It’s a good reminder to count your blessings and never take anything in life for granted.”
While Sage’s rodeo roots run as deep as Lake Mead, Mason Clements is the first member of his family to compete in rodeo and last night, they really got a taste of what has driven him since he was a toddler.
“When he was two years old, he would tell everyone he wanted to be a towboy,” his mom, Tracy Pledger said. “When he got a little older, it would be 100 degrees outside and all he would wear was long sleeved shirts and jeans. It’s all he ever wanted to do.”
Mason’s mom lives in Las Vegas and that is where he was born. He moved to Utah when he was five years old and his journey to becoming a cowboy began. Mason joined his neighbors in their cowboy quests every chance he got when he was growing up. He started roping and chute dogging but really wanted to get on a bull.
He borrowed some gear and tried his hand at bull riding. He also started getting on bucking horses. After high school, he moved to Twin Falls, Idaho to go to school. It was there that his talent for riding bareback horses was both recognized and developed. His rodeo coach, Cody Demers, told him that he was a lot better than he thought he was.
The mental game was really enhanced when he started traveling with world champion Kaycee Feild. Kaycee predicted that Mason would make the finals two years ago.
Mason rode a horse from Korkow Rodeos named Onion Ring. The seven-year-old gelding helped reigning world champion Tim O’Connell to a 92-point ride last spring in Garden City, Kansas. He tied for third in the Bareback Horse of the Year race this year and Mason was excited after he saw how the random draw turned out.
They had a history that lead to an 80-point effort in Nampa, Idaho last July. Monday night’s results were much better. Mason scored 88.5 points and won his first buckle at his first NFR. T.J. Korkow was also excited about Mason getting on the talented animal athlete. Korkow’s received the 2017 PRCA Remuda Award for having the most consistent and best herd of bucking horses.
They have raised most of their horses and patriarch, Jim Korkow, drove the semi from their ranch near Pierre, South Dakota, to bring the animals here. That’s a trip he’s been making since the first NFR was held in Dallas in 1959. Jim was 17 at the time. He will be 76 the day after Christmas.
“Mason got on one of our horses on Sunday night, Feather Fluffer.” T.J. said. “He rode really well and was 83.5 points. Then when I saw he was getting on Onion Ring I was really excited.”
No one was more excited for the win than Mason was. He has worked so hard and sacrificed so much to be the “towboy” that he dreamed of as a child. As soon as he was presented the Montana Silversmith’s trophy buckle, it promptly came out of the box and went on his belt.
Sterling Crawley has made several appearances on the stage at the South Point for buckle presentations, but they have all been to watch his older brother Jacobs. Round 5 was all about Sterling who rode the award-winning Medicine Woman from Frontier Rodeo for 89 points.
Sterling is having the most successful NFR of his four qualifications. He is third in the average and has won $61,192. He is one of four men that has ridden all five of their horses here. Heath Stewart, livestock manager from Frontier Rodeo thought it was going to be a good matchup.
“Sterling bucked off that mare last August in Dodge City, Kansas,” Heath said. “I figured he’d want a little revenge and that he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”
“It definitely was revenge time,” Sterling added. “Jacobs won the same round on Medicine Woman last year. We talked about it and for me, it was just basic bronc riding. I knew what I needed to do. Sometimes you can make it too complicated. That won’t ever work on that horse.”
Keeping things simple, sticking to the basics and doing what they’ve done all year is working for these contestants.