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Bubble Watch for 2018 Wrangler NFR

Colorado Springs, Colorado — They weren’t huge checks in the moment they were paid out but they could turn out to be a couple of the biggest checks Jessie Telford has ever won.

On the second to last weekend of the regular season, Telford cashed a check worth $374 from a tenth place finish in Amarillo and another for $331 from ending 11th in Texarkana—a weekend haul of $705.

In a season where the Idaho cowgirl has won $15,000 at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, $4,300 for winning Oakley (UT), and more than $3,000 apiece in Sisters (OR), Prescott (AZ) and Hermiston (OR), $705 might not seem like much.

But it could just be the difference between running inside the Thomas & Mack Arena when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) begins on December 6, 2018 or sitting at home and watching on television.

With her $705 in earnings, Telford squeaked into 15th in the WPRA World standings, edging out Carley Richardson by just over $550.

The challenge now? Holding the spot for five more days.

Standings Shuffles

At stake is a qualification to pro rodeo’s season ending championships held annually in Las Vegas. Only the top 15 in money won for the year will advance to the Wrangler NFR and compete for their share of $1,100,000 over ten days.

The fight to be one of those 15 ladies in 2018 has been epic. As the year has begun to skate towards its conclusion on September 30, a handful of cowgirls have locked in a battle with the positions shuffling weekly.

While Telford’s move over the weekend was the most significant as it put her into the target spot in 15th, the biggest week amongst the “bubble cowgirls”—those still with a chance to qualify for the Wrangler NFR—belonged to Teri Bangart. The Washington cowgirl won $2,837 at Texarkana and Amarillo, moving up again to 17th.

Amberleigh Moore continued her rise, winning $1,895 at the same two rodeos.

Moore knows all about the bubble: in 2016, she hit this final week outside the top 15 but broke the bubble with a big push in the waning days of the season, setting a new mark for earnings to qualify to the Wrangler NFR at $79,068 and making her first appearance in Las Vegas.

Moore will likely be back for a third trip this year. Though her qualification looked in doubt just a few weeks ago, a steady stream of wins aboard her mare Paige have moved the cowgirl to 11th in the standings. Though not out of reach, she does enjoy a better than fair chance to stay above the cut-off.

Moore does give up her record, however. Telford has already earned $83,564, establishing a new mark for the amount to qualify to the Wrangler NFR. And it ain’t over yet.

With the newest standings released, the bubble race looks like this. Moore ranks 11th, Kelly Bruner is 12th, Canadian champion Carmen Pozzobon has dropped to 13th, Tracy Nowlin is 14th and Telford is 15th. For all but Moore, this would be a first Wrangler NFR qualification.

If the season was done, those five ladies would be packing for Vegas. But there are still five more long days before the list is finalized.

Richardson is just $550 behind Telford while Telford trails Nowlin by just $2,800. In fact, from eleventh to 15th is just over $4,300, meaning a big win for Richardson could actually move her more up the list several spots . . . if those above her fail to cash in.

The long shots in the race continue to be Bangart, Kellie Collier and Jessi Fish, ranked 17th through 19th, respectively. The drop from 16th to 17th is significant at just over $5,200 but that much money is still out there to be won if any of the three were to have a huge week.

“What a year,” says Bangart, whose goal in the beginning of the season was to venture beyond her home circuit in the Northwest and get an idea of where her horse Peak would do well for a future Wrangler NFR run. “I’ve done it on just one horse so that’s how we’ll finish and if it works out, it does.”

“My goal was just to get my feet wet and learn what my horses likes,” she continues. “I’ve already made my goal. Great things have happened this year. I’m perfectly happy with my year. Just getting to know these girls and be around them and their horses, who are amazing, was such a blessing.”

The Final Battlefields

The bubble chasers and those on the right side of it have made entries at various combinations of ten rodeos left in the 2018 season happening this week.

The biggest payoff is likely to be Stephenville due to the massive entries; 123 ladies are entered to run for their share of the $6,000 added committee purse. A year ago, Stephenville paid $3,290 to the winner and it should be even higher this year.

Omaha did not host a rodeo a year ago but with $10,000 added and 44 entries, first place there should be worth nearly $3,000. Kansas City paid $1,893 a year ago. With 79 entries and $5,000 added, it should pay more in 2018.

Mona (UT) has $4,750 added and 29 entries, setting up a potential payday of $1,400 to the winner while New Braunfels could be worth more than $1,000 as well with 48 entries and $2,000 added. Apache (OK) has $2,500 added and 61 entries and paid out more than $1,200 in 2017.

With entries down on the West Coast, the California run won’t be as lucrative this season. Both San Bernardino and Poway add $5,000 in the barrels and got just over 40 entries. A sweep of both could net nearly $3,000.The two smallest purses will be Kingman (AZ) which adds $1,500 and Bakersfield with $1,250. Both should pay just over $700.

The Battle Plans

Fish really needs a major home run to overcome the gap from 15th to her spot in 19th and she has the most ambitious week planned with entries into seven rodeos. Collier has put her name in the hat at six as has Telford.

“I left Texarkana on Saturday and I’m staying with friends near Kansas City,” notes Telford, who has Connie McCormmach’s mare Shu Fire for her eastern run including the two checks last weekend. Shu Fire has been with Telford most of the season, playing backup to her own gelding, Cool Whip. “She’s so much better than most people’s backup. She really is a great horse.”

Cool Whip has been battling an abscess that finally broke during the Justin Finale in Puyallup and Telford was worried about putting the long miles on the horse to go to rodeos in Missouri, Nebraska and Texas. But he’ll handle the West Coast run of the final week.

“I’ll run in Kansas City slack on Wednesday and head to Omaha. My friend Jackie Gudmundson is flying in on Thursday to help me and take my rig,” Telford says. “I run in Omaha slack on Friday morning and then I’ll hop on a plane for Mona (UT) on Friday night.”

Steer wrestler Blake Knowles, who is also hauling to hold his spot inside the top 15 of the standings in his event, will meet up with Telford, bringing Cool Whip.

“From Mona, we’ll go to California. We’re up at Poway Saturday afternoon and San Bernardino Saturday night,” she says. Knowles’ position is slightly more certain than hers so they may part ways there. Both are scheduled to compete in Stephenville on Sunday afternoon. “I’ll get on a plane back to Dallas where Jackie will meet me with Shu Fire.”

Moore will run in Kansas City slack on Wednesday, Omaha slack on Friday morning and finish up with a morning slack run in New Braunfels followed by the Saturday night perf in Stephenville.

Just over $330 behind Moore, Bruner also begins in Kansas City on Wednesday before running south to Stephenville for the Thursday evening slack. It’s I-35 Northbound again for the first perf on Friday night in Omaha. Bruner will have Saturday off before ending her season in Apache on Sunday afternoon.

Though without the help of her main girl Rip, Pozzobon also begins in Kansas City on Wednesday before heading to Omaha for the Friday morning slack. She’s got a big hustle to make Apache—some 530 miles away—on Friday night and then south to New Braunfels for the Saturday morning slack. She’ll finish up with Stephenville’s Saturday night perf.

“So thankful for the Ganters to help me as much as possible to achieve my goal and thanks to the Dufurs for letting me ride Brookstone this last stretch of rodeos,” Pozzobon posted to her Facebook page.

Nowlin has a more relaxed week planned, beginning with Thursday evening slack in Stephenville. She’ll run Dolly Jo up to Kansas City for the Friday night performance, run again Saturday night in Omaha and wind up near home in Apache on Sunday.

Following Nowlin’s schedule exactly, Richardson looks to make up the $550 she trails Telford and more, hoping to land in Vegas for the third time in her career. She’ll be riding Money.

“Thank you to everyone who is supporting me…I never thought the word “bubble” could hold so much significance!” she posted on social media just a couple of weeks ago. “In the big scheme of things we are all blessed to be doing what we love.”

Staying with her “it’ll be what it’ll be” philosophy, Bangart will make four more runs for 2018. First, she’s in slack at Kansas City and then Omaha for slack on Friday. Then she runs twice on Saturday, New Braunfels morning slack and Stephenville perf.

Like Telford, Collier will split time between the two final week runs. She’s in Stephenville slack on Thursday and Omaha slack on Friday. Kansas City is up on Friday night. Then she heads West where she’ll run at San Bernardino on Saturday morning and Poway Saturday night. She closes out her season in Kingman on Sunday afternoon, the last perf of the 2018 season which holds implications for Wrangler NFR positions in the barrel racing.

Fish will have a busy four days, beginning in New Braunfels on Thursday night. Friday she’s hoping to hit all three California rodeos . . . Poway in the morning slack, San Bernardino in the evening perf and Bakersfield in the slack following the last performance. On Saturday, she heads back to Kansas City for the matinee perf and follows with the night perf in Omaha. Her season will end in Stephenville on Sunday.

Pressure Cooker

With anywhere from four to seven runs left of a hard-fought, year-long battle, the pressure is on for each cowgirl every time they point their horses down the alley. It’s been a phenomenal season and likely more than three cowgirls will break Moore’s 2016 mark of $79,068 to make the Wrangler NFR . . . without actually qualifying. It is a testament to the growing money in pro rodeo as well as the expanding pool of talented horses and jockeys in the running.

While many sleepless nights are sure to come in the days ahead, Telford for one is feeling a calmness.

“For some reason, I am feeling more confident in the last two weeks than I did in the month before,” she notes wryly. “Of course, there is still stress and pressure but I was mentally struggling. Just hoping to not make a great run or not hit a barrel instead of knowing I would.”

“Something just switched a few weeks ago and I’m not having those sleepless nights now,” she continues. “Don’t get me wrong, there is still stress and I want to win but it’s just less of a struggle mentally now.”

When quizzed on what prompted the change, Telford admits she has no idea.

“Wish I knew, I can’t tell you. If I could, I’d sure have the golden ticket though!”

Best of luck to all the cowgirls across the WPRA on this final weekend of the 2018 regular season: may everyone travel safe and make the best runs they can make.

To see how the final week played out, tune back in to www.wpra.com next week.

Courtesy of WPRA