By Jolee Jordan
Kissimmee, Florida — One year can seem like a very long time but 12 months on the calendar can also be very short. If time is relative as Einstein theorized, no one can attest to the truth of it more than Texas barrel racer Taci Bettis.
Just one year ago, the Round Top, Texas cowgirl was just getting back in the saddle on her good horse Smash after a very long six month layoff due to surgery necessitated by an injury. Unsure of just how good the gelding would bounce back, Bettis placed at a few Texas rodeos before breaking through with a big win at Corpus Christi the end of April.
That launched the rookie into a season of amazing firsts and the last year has seen her collect the 2017 WPRA Rookie of the Year title and a berth at her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). She finished 10th in the WPRA World standings having won $162,446, the third best rookie season in WPRA history.
As 2018 got underway, Bettis hit another series of firsts as she competed in winter rodeos that she was either not ranked high enough to compete in or had no horse with which to compete last season. Her winter of firsts took her through Denver, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston, as well as the unsanctioned RFD-TV’s The American, which she won.
Bettis and Smash have proven to be one of the most reliable teams on the road and they placed fourth in Denver and seventh in Fort Worth before having a great RodeoHouston, winning their Super Series and Semi-Finals and ultimately finishing fifth.
The 2018 march began on New Year’s weekend with a second place finish at the Ram Texas Circuit Finals, allowing her to end the season second in the year-end standings and earn a spot in her first Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), held annually in Kissimmee, Florida.
The big carrot at the end of the road for pro rodeo’s circuit cowboys and cowgirls, the RNCFR offers not only a chance at a National title for competitors who only rodeo part time, but also a shot at a huge purse, nearly a million dollars, and an awesome prize line that includes a $20,000 voucher from Ram towards the purchase of a new vehicle.
Because every nickel earned in Florida now counts for the WPRA World standings, many of pro rodeo’s top talents now make it a priority to try for a berth into the RNCFR just as Bettis did.
A tournament style rodeo, the RNCFR offered two preliminary rounds to each of the 26 contestants (two each from each of the 12 circuits along with Mexico) before the best eight in the average moved into the Semi-Finals performance on Sunday, April 8.
Bettis and Smash did what they’ve been doing all winter—actually for a year solid—during the preliminary rounds, winning third in the first go and third in the average to easily move on to the final day while earning $6,824.
The final Sunday in Kissimmee is a two-run all-out to the title and both rounds are randomly drawn for position. Bettis was last to run in the opening round of eight.
Badlands Circuit cowgirl Nikki Hansen was first to run; riding her tough gelding Sky, Hansen celebrated her birthday one day late with a fast time of 15.48 seconds, the third best of the week at that point.
Great Lakes cowgirl Alexis Baratka ran next but a downed barrel ended her hopes of becoming just the second barrel racer from her circuit to win a National title.
Montanan Shelly Anzick was the high money winner through the first rounds after winning the first round and the average. She and Scooter tipped a barrel in the Semi-Finals, ending her chance at pairing her first RNCFR title from 2005 with another in 2018.
California representative Kathy Petska rode her horse Jeffrey as the next to run, posting a time of 16.01 seconds to sit second at the halfway point. Columbia River Circuit champion Teri Bangart and her horse Peak tied Petska as the next to run.
Running sixth on the ground was Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, the only other former RNCFR Champion in the field. Riding her good mare Steeley, Pozzi Tonozzi punched her ticket to the Finals with a round of 15.81, good enough for second at the time with two to run.
Next up was the rest of the Badlands Circuit barrel racing contingent, year-end champion Jessica Routier. Routier and her talented palomino mare Missy rounded the pattern in a fast time of 15.68 seconds, moving her to second and ensuring that both cowgirls from the Dakotas would make an appearance in the Finals.
Finally, it was Bettis’ turn inside Silver Spurs Arena. She and Smash galloped through the cloverleaf effortlessly, stopping the clock in 15.60 seconds, good enough for second in the round, bumping Routier to third and Pozzi Tonozzi to fourth.
Hansen won the round, picking up her first check of the rodeo, a big one at $7,581.
The Finalists had less than an hour to prepare for their final runs in central Florida, just time to cool off and take a quick drink of water before the pressure came on again.
As the random draw turned out, Bettis would actually run back-to-back as the last to compete in the Semi-Finals and first in the Finals.
Laying down another pretty run, Bettis definitely turned the heat up on the field as she posted the fastest time of the whole rodeo at 15.34 seconds. She took nearly three tenths off her first run of the day.
Routier took her shot next and made her own personal best in Kissimmee with a time of 15.44 seconds, an outstanding effort with the seven year old Missy.
Seeking her third RNCFR title, Pozzi Tonozzi and her lefty barreled down the alley in the third position. She was able to stop the clock in a fast time of 15.56 seconds in what stacked up to be a very tough round.
Hansen was the final gunner and rode her own palomino superstar in chase of the championship. Though the run was good, it was not enough to knock Bettis from her pedestal on top of the leaderboard. Hansen finished at 15.85 seconds, earning fourth.
For Bettis, the title was another entry in a resume which has filled up with a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments in just over 12 months. She earned more than $20,000 in cash along with the $20,000 Ram vehicle voucher, a Polaris RANGER UTV, a pair of exotic boots from Justin, a trophy saddle from Cactus Saddlery, and a Montana Silversmiths buckle.
She was also part of the winning team from the Texas Circuit.
Bettis took to social media to thank her supporters following the big win.
“Smash rocked all weekend! Making the finals run the best! Fastest time of the weekend for us to win the 2018 RNCFR! Thank you to my village, without you all this isn’t possible! Beyond blessed.”
Routier was the second high money winner after earning $15,352 followed by Anzick. Finalists Pozzi Tonozzi and Hansen earned $12,888 and $9,476 respectively. It was an impressive outing for the Badlands Circuit.
The highest placing Finalists not already seeded also earns a position at the Calgary Stampede in July, a position that will unofficially go to Routier as Bettis previously qualified through other criteria.
Other champions at the 2018 RNCFR are Ryle Smith (all-around), Mason Clements (bareback riding), Chason Floyd (steer wrestling), Logan Olson/Matt Kasner (team roping), Isaac Diaz (saddle bronc riding), Tuf Cooper (tie down roping) and Parker Breding (bull riding).
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
1. Nikki Hansen, Sky High Guy, Badlands, 15.48, $7,581
2. Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, Texas, 15.60, $5,686
3. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, Badlands, 15.68, $3,791
4. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Steele Magnolias, Mountain States, 15.81, $1,895
5/6. Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, Columbia River, 16.01
5/6. Kathy Petska, Dinero Made Me Famous, California, 16.01
7. Shelly Anzick, Scooten ta Fame, Montana, 20.54
8. Alexis Baratka, Queen Red Cash, Great Lakes, 27.93
1. Bettis, 15.34, $7,581
2. Routier, 15.44, $5,686
3. Pozzi Tonozzi, 15.56, $3,791
4. Hansen, 15.85, $1,895
Pozzi Tonozzi, $12,888
Courtesy of WPRA