By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — Though the first San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (SASSR) was held in 1950, several smaller fairs and livestock expositions had been held in the Alamo City prior to that date. When Joe Freeman put his vision to work to build a multipurpose coliseum to host a livestock exposition for youth and other events, the SASSR began its meteoric rise as one of the nation’s premier livestock shows and top rodeos of the pro circuit.
The Freeman Coliseum no longer hosts the SASSR—it moved to AT&T Center in 2003—and the impact on the community continues to impress. Over $160 million in scholarships have been awarded to Texas youth and better than one million visitors attend during the show’s 17 day run.
Over $1.6 million in prize money is up for grabs for rodeo competitors in San Antonio, making it a huge stop for those looking to qualify to the season culminating Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and possibly win a gold buckle as the World Champion.
Only 50 contestants in each event get to come to San Antonio each year to compete in its tournament bracket style event. Ten WPRA barrel racers competed in each of five brackets with only the top four money winners from each bracket moving on to the next round, the semifinals.
The final eight spots in the semifinals were decided during action over the weekend of February 20-21.
The top spot in the fourth bracket, which was held during a perf Friday and two on Saturday, went to Carmel Wright. Though the program lists the cowgirl’s hometown as Roy, Mont., Wright is actually a transplant from New Zealand, where she was a champion barrel racer as well. Wright is the reigning champion of the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) and nearly made a trip to Las Vegas for the WNFR in 2015.
Wright and her sweet little mare, SweetHeart Special, were the only team to place in all three rounds of the bracket. The pair won the opening round with a blistering fast 13.83 second run, the best time run since the opening bracket more than a week ago.
With a second and a fourth, Wright claimed a bracket best $4,562 to ensure that she and Tweety will run again inside the AT&T Center.
Another cowgirl who has flirted with a WNFR qualification is Utah’s Kimmie Wall. Finishing 19th & 20th in her first two seasons as a professional, Wall is looking to get inside the top 15 in 2016. She put herself on the right path in San Antonio with a round win for a 13.96 second run and a second for bracket earnings of $3,992.
The final two spots from Bracket IV went to young guns Katelyn McLeod and Cassidy Kruse. McLeod rode Toby, who is registered Apt to Be Special, to the third round win, which combined with her third in round one for total earnings of $3,422. Though Kruse did not win a round, she placed twice aboard JJ, earning $2,566, enough to keep her San Antonio run alive.
The final 10 ladies made their run for a championship in San Antonio during a pair of perfs on Sunday, concluding with the third and final round on Monday night. On paper, the final bracket looked very salty with two WPRA World Champs, the reigning Reserve World Champ and three ladies inside the current top five of the WPRA World standings.
The scouting report proved accurate as the money in the final bracket was spread around more than in any previous bracket. In fact, nine of ten cowgirls won a check during the three go rounds.
Colorado cowgirl Sammi Bessert took the first shot, winning the opening round with a 14.10 second run aboard Terrible Tommy Twist. Bessert is annually one of the WPRA’s 30 best and she came back and collected another check in round two.
Fourth-ranked Kelly Tovar of Rockdale, Texas won the Sunday night show, posting a smoking run of 13.84 that beat the field by nearly two full tenths. Tovar is back on board Edwin this winter, the horse that carried her to big wins in 2015. The flashy palomino runs to the left first and posted a second sub-fourteen run the following night at 13.96 seconds, good enough for second in the round.
Just as her daughter had done not 48 hours prior, Michele McLeod had a huge round win in the third go to ensure her spot alongside daughter Katelyn in the semifinals. On Monday night, McLeod and the speedy stallion Slick by Design took the victory lap with a run of 13.92 seconds.
Tovar finished as the best of the tough bracket, winning $$3,992 with McLeod second at $3,707. Bessert advanced in third with her two checks worth $3,422. Former WNFR average winner Brenda Mays took second in the middle round, winning $1,711, just enough for the fourth and final spot into the semifinals.
The field of 50 is now 20 as the semifinals get underway. Each semifinals consists of two runs. The prize money increases from bracket competition with a round win paying $4,277. At the conclusion of the second semifinal go round, the top five in total won (both bracket and semi-finals) advance to the Finals to be held Saturday night, February 27.
The first semifinals will be held during Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ performances. Colorado cowgirl Ivy Conrado has the inside track as the high money winner, not only of the semifinal set, but of all the barrel racers in 2016 thus far. She and her mare Tibbie won $5,132 in Bracket I. Her closest competitors are Wall and Tovar who have won $3,992 each.
The rest of the field is fairly evenly matched coming into the semifinal rounds, setting up another exciting round of sudden death competition.
Semi-Final 1 Competitors
Alexa Lake/Bessert, $3,442
Taylor Jacob, $2,851
Cassidy Kruse, $2,566
Jill Welsh/Shelby Herrmann, $2,281
Megan Mariluch, $1,141
1. Carmel Wright, SweetHeart Special, 13.83, $2,281
2. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 14.00, $1,711
3. Katelyn McLeod, Apt to Be Special, 14.14, $1,141
4. Laura Kennedy, Hopes Money Boy, 14.25, $570
1. Wall, 13.96, $2,281
2. Wright, 14.01, $1,711
3. Kennedy, 14.17, $855
4. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 14.17, $855
1. McLeod, 13.96, $2,281
2. Kruse, 13.98, $1,711
3. Tillar Murray, Royal Star Commander, 14.05, $1,141
4. Wright, 14.10, $570
Total Money Winners
1. Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 14.10, $2,281
2. Michele McLeod, Slick by Design, 14.15, $1,426
3. Fallon Taylor, Flos Heiress, 14.15, $1,426
4. Kaley Bass, Wonders Cowboy Dan, 14.26, $570
1. Kelly Tovar, BB French Fooledya, 13.84, $2,281
2. Brenda Mays, Judge My Fame, 14.03, $1,711
3. Bessert, 14.12, $1,141
4. Alicia Stockton, Zevi Shot the Moon, 14.19, $570
1. McLeod, 13.92, $2,281
2. Tovar, 13.96, $1,711
3. Shelly Anzick, Scooten ta Fame, 13.99, $1,141
4. Mary Burger, Sadiesfamouslastwords, 14.23, $570
Total Money Winners
Bass, Burger, & Stockton, $570
Courtesy of WPRA