By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — Just over a week ago, the 2018 edition of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo kicked off with 50 cowgirls seeking a share of the lucrative purse available. Fifteen performances later, the field has been narrowed to 20 as the rodeo enters its stretch run.
One of the huge winter stock show rodeos, San Antonio is a tournament style rodeo. The rodeo is divided into brackets of 10 contestants each and each bracket holds three rounds of preliminary competition. At the end of the third round, the top four money winners from the three rounds (no average money is figured or paid) advance to the Semi-Finals.
San Antonio is one of the highest paying rodeos of the season and has been voted the best Indoor Rodeo in the PRCA for 13 straight years; the total payout is more than $170,000 in the WPRA barrel racing.
Bracket competition wound up over the holiday weekend, setting the stage for the semi-finals beginning on Tuesday night, February 20.
Each of the two, 10-contestant semi-finals is comprised of two more rounds, paying more than the preliminary rounds and contestants again vie for round money to add to their bracket earnings. The five highest money winners from each semi-final will move on to the finals, February 24.
Because money won is critical to continuing advancement through the rounds at San Antonio, a big performance in her bracket can set a competitor up well as the rodeo progresses, making her path to the Finals and eventually, the Championship, that much easier.
Sammi Bessert is well aware of how things run inside AT&T Center. She’s made the trip seven times previously and her great gelding Tommy seems to always shine here. Her 2018 trip will probably rank amongst her favorites, however, as just a few months ago, it look improbable that Tommy would return to the Alamo City.
“He got a hot nail that went really bad and infected his coffin bone,” Bessert says of her now 16-year old son of the legendary stallion Dash ta Fame. “This was his first rodeo back since August.”
Bessert was the only cowgirl in Bracket 4 to win a check in each of the three preliminary rounds. Bessert was fourth on the opening run with a smooth run of 14.11 seconds.
Running twice on Saturday, Bessert was part of a three way split during an extremely competitive second round in the afternoon with a time of 14.17 seconds.
Tommy saved the best for last, blasting a run of 13.84 seconds on Saturday night, the fastest run of the entire bracket. In fact, Bessert is the only cowgirl apart from Hailey Kinsel who ran in the first bracket, to break 14 seconds through the first four sets.
“I’m just so grateful to still have him and am having a hard time believing what he did this week,” Bessert notes. “He feels really good.”
“Dr. Beck at South Valley there in Salt Lake is the bomb.”
Prairie Circuit champion Tracy Nowlin won the first round aboard her good mare Dolly Jo, running a 14.02 to edge out AT&T Center arena record holder Sydni Blanchard.
Ericka Nelson and Friday took first in the round on Saturday, winning the shootout by one one-hundredth of a second over Bessert, Kathy Grimes and Jordan Moore.
Bessert handily advanced to the semi-finals once again, earning $4,162. Bracket 4 was the most competitive bracket thus far with eight of the 10 cowgirls competing earning a check. Nelson finished second after pairing her second round victory with a third place finish in the final round. She won $3,567.
Nowlin earned only the one check but the round win proved enough to move her on to the next round with $2,378 won.
The final spot was a toss-up with three ladies tied up at $1,784: Taylor Langdon, Kathy Grimes, and Jordan Moore. Langdon brought the clutch performance with a second place finish in the final round, running fast enough to earn the semi-finals spot with the single fastest time of the three cowgirls.
“Louie does it! We won second and made it back to the semi-finals,” Langdon wrote on social media after the big win. “Thankful for that little grey rocket.”
Langdon and Bessert were both in the Finals here in 2017, joining Ivy Conrado as the only cowgirls thus far to have a chance to get back to the Finals.
The final bracket of preliminary competition looked amazing on paper with three of the top four cowgirls from the 2017 WPRA World standings set to compete including the reigning San Antonio champion Amberleigh Moore, who won every round here last year.
The competition lived up to the hype as seven different ladies won checks during the first two rounds on Sunday. In the afternoon, a performance in which several cowgirls ran into trouble, last year’s record setting cowgirl Tiany Schuster rose to the top aboard Show Mance.
Schuster stopped the clock at 13.92 seconds for the win, followed by Moore.
Running just a few hours later, Kelly Tovar bounced back from a tipped barrel in the first round for a stunning win at 14.01 with her phenomenal young horse Bakken.
“Bakken winning the round tonight in San Antonio, I can’t even express how thankful I am for this horse!” Tovar posted to Facebook afterwards. “I won this round on Edwin two years ago so this was really exciting for me! It’s been a long dry spell and I’m just thankful to God for this blessing!”
Likewise, reigning Canadian champion Carman Pozzobon jumped back into the fray on Sunday night; she also tipped a barrel in the afternoon, posting a sub-fourteen second time before the penalty, but came back that evening to win second behind Tovar.
With a tie at the top between Schuster and Tovar, and a three way split of third with Pozzobon, Moore and reigning WPRA World Champ Nellie Miller, the only cowgirl to place in both opening rounds, the field was wide open for advancement to the semi-finals as the final round began on Monday night.
The night did not begin well . . . running first on the ground, Tovar tipped the first barrel and then Bakken set up at the second. Trying to keep the gelding going forward, Tovar got tipped over the front end as the lightning quick gelding made the turn, eventually falling off to the right side. In a moment that caught everyone’s breathe in their throats, Tovar’s foot hung in the stirrup and she was drug all the way out of the arena and part way down the alley before her boot finally came off, freeing her from further damage.
“WellI I just want everyone to know that I am ok!” she posted online later with a good bit of self-deprecating humor. “All I wanted was one more step on that second barrel and Bakken decided to turn and well, I didn’t! My foot hung in the stirrup my boot finally came off! Thanks for all the calls and text I’m ok, just bruised. I’ll be taking a deep seat next time! On a positive note we made the semi-finals!”
After such an ominous start, it took a few more barrel racers before things seemed to settle down—then it got tough.
After taking a no time in the first round and a barrel penalty on the next run, former San Antonio champion Kelly Bruner and her gelding Suzy shook off the pressure, posting the rodeo’s fastest time thus far at 13.80 seconds to win the go round.
Moore bounced back from hit barrels to land second with Schuster back in the money at third; both cowgirls ran under fourteen seconds. Pozzobon placed again, winning fourth.
Like Bracket 4, eight cowgirls in Bracket 5 picked up checks but Moore and Schuster landed on top of the heap at $3,568 each. Three cowgirls wound up tied for the final two positions in the semi-finals, the other two round winners Tovar and Bruner as well as Pozzobon who picked up a second and a fourth. All three had $2,378 in their pockets and the tie breaker goes first to round winners, leaving Pozzobon on the outside.
The first Semi-Final begins Tuesday night with the rodeo’s top winner in the barrel racing so far, Hailey Kinsel leading the way. With $7,134 already in the bank, Kinsel has a great chance to move on to the Finals. Also competing in the first semi-finals are Carley Richardson, Ericka Nelson, Schuster, Cassidy Kruse, Jessie Telford, Bruner, Tracy Nowlin, Jane Melby and Callahan Crossley.
Each cowgirl gets two more rounds, this time paying $4,459 a round. Following Wednesday night’s rodeo, the field will be narrowed in half to just five ladies moving into Saturday night’s Finals.
1. Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, 14.02, $2,378
2. Sydni Blanchard, Mr Famous Jess, 14.08, $1,784
3. Sabra O’Quinn, Bring It On Guys, 14.10, $1,189
4. Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 14.11, $595
1. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 14.16, $2,378
2-3-4. Bessert/Kathy Grimes, KG Justiceweexpected/Jordan Moore, CCR Ring of Fire, 14.17, $1,189
1. Bessert, 13.84, $2,378
2. Taylor Langdon, Dashin Louie, 14.04, $1,784
3. Nelson, 14.06, $1,189
4. Grimes, 14.16, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
1. Tiany Schuster, Show Mance, 13.92, $2,378
2. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 14.14, $1,784
3. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 14.16, $1,189
4. Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 14.20, $595
1. Kelly Tovar, A Dash ta Glamour, 14.01, $2,378
2. Carman Pozzobon, Ripn Lady, 14.12, $1,784
3. Michele McLeod, Slick by Design, 14.24, $1,189
4. Miller, 14.26, $595
1. Kelly Bruner, Suzytresseis, 13.80, $2,378
2. Moore, 13.95, $1,784
3. Schuster, 13.97, $$1,189
4. Pozzobon, 14.11, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Semi-Final #1 (Tues-Wed)
Name, Bracket, Money Won
Hailey Kinsel, B1, $7,134
Carley Richarson, B3, $6,540
Ericka Nelson, B4, $3,567
Tiany Schuster, B5, $3,567
Cassidy Kruse, B3, $2,973
Kelly Bruner, B5, $2,378
Tracy Nowlin, B4, $2,378
Jessie Telford, B2, $2,378
Callahan Crossley, B2, $1,784
Jane Melby, B1, $1,784
Semi-Final #2 (Thurs-Fri)
Name, Bracket, Money Won
Ivy Conrado, B2, $5,945
Tillar Murray, B2, $5,351
Shelby Janssen, B3, $5,054
Sammi Bessert, B4, $4,162
Lisa Lockhart, B1, $3,567
Amberleigh Moore, B5, $3,567
Kelly Tovar, B5, $2,378
Jana Bean, B3, $2,081
Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, B1, $2,081
Taylor Langdon, B4, $1,784
Courtesy of WPRA