By Neal Reid
The Hudson, Colo., cowgirl guided JLo – the 2018 AQHA/WPRA Reserve Barrel Racing Horse of the Year – to the Round 5 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center in 13.49 seconds on Monday night, erasing a bad memory from the fourth performance and adding $26,231 to her season earnings. Conrado and JLo were first out in Round 5, and their time held up by a tenth of a second over WPRA World Standings leader Hailey Kinsel and Wrangler NFR rookie Kelly Bruner.
“It feels good, especially after last night,” said Conrado, who is competing in her third consecutive Wrangler NFR. “I think it’s best to just not let that stuff get in your head and get you down. Every night is a new night here, and you never know what’s going to happen in Vegas.
“If you get the chance to go ahead and go fast, it’s fun.”
Taci Bettis and 10-year-old gelding Smash finished fourth in the round with a 13.65-second run on Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night, while two-time WPRA World Champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi was fifth aboard 7-year-old mare Birdie in 13.81 seconds. Wrangler NFR rookie Jessica Routier of Buffalo, S.D., and her 7-year-old mare Missy have continued to impress, finishing sixth in Round 5 with a time of 13.85 seconds to take over the average lead from Amberleigh Moore, who knocked over the first barrel on Monday night.
Routier leads the average with a five-run time of 68.98 seconds, with reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller next at 69.64. Carman Pozzobon is third at 69.74, while Tammy Fischer is fourth at 69.84.
Kinsel now leads Moore by $78,112 in the world standings, with Kinsel standing sixth and Moore fifth in the average, respectively. Moore still leads the race for the Wrangler NFR’s RAM Top Gun Award, which is given to the contestant who earns the most money in Las Vegas, with a tally of $93,346 through five rounds.
Conrado has been happy with JLo’s performance so far in Las Vegas.
“JLo is feeling good,” she said. “I’m doing some funky stuff with the first barrel that I still need to get figured out, and we could have been a little faster tonight. We’ll figure that out and see if we can get going a little faster.”
It was the second straight year Conrado won the fifth performance, but she won’t have to share the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa stage with Lisa Lockhart this time. In fact, she had specific plans for JLo’s owners – Kenny Nichols and James Barron – at the buckle presentation ceremony.
“I’m just really excited that they let me have her, and this will mean so much to them,” Conrado said. “They don’t know it yet, but I got Montana Silversmiths to make a copy of the go-round buckle from last year and put JLo’s name on it, and I’m going to give it to them tonight. I was hoping I would win this round (again) so I could give it to them.”
Conrado has performed well in her three years at the Thomas & Mack Center, placing in four rounds en route to an eighth-place finish in the 2016 world standings and taking second in the average to earn $154,340 a year ago to finish fifth in the world. Monday night’s victory was Conrado’s third check of the week, as she and JLo took third in the opening round and finished sixth in Round 3.
Despite her experience and success, Conrado admitted she has had to battle nerves again this year.
“I was super nervous the first three rounds, and I think it showed in the way that I rode,” she said. “The nerves really never go away in that alley way, and that alley way gets you jacked up. I hit a barrel last night and was so worried about the average, and now it’s just like I’ve got to go fast and have fun.”
Courtesy of WPRA