By Jolee Jordan
Houston, Texas — Nearly 2.5 million people are expected to visit NRG Park in the next two and a half weeks for RodeoHouston and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Only 40 will be hauling in with their barrel horses in tow behind them but each lady is offered a chance for a huge payday and big leap up on the standings in the early going of the 2017 season.
Already competitors are breaking earnings records this year with the WPRA’s top cowgirl, Texan Tiany Schuster, having more than $70,000 in the bank and seven others have won more than $20,000 in just the first five months of the season.
Consider that those numbers all come prior to the start of the 2017 edition of RodeoHouston and fans know they are seeing a special year unfolding.
Since 1966, this has been one of the most lucrative stops annually for ladies of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) with the champion often shooting to the top of the year-end standings. Since the rodeo changed to its current tournament style format in 2007, Houston’s impact has been even more pronounced thanks in no small part to the $50,000 paycheck awaiting the Champion at the end of the rodeo’s run.
Each of the 40 contestants are divided into one of five Super Series. A rodeo unto itself, each Super Series is comprised of three rounds of competition. After the Super Series Championship Round (the third round), the top four money winners advance to the Semifinals to be held March 22-23.
The four fastest from each semifinals move on to the Super Series Championship on March 25 while the remaining six are given one more shot during the Wild Card round on March 24. The full field of 10 (four from each Semifinals and two Wild Card) competes in the Championship Round and the four fastest from that round move on to the Shootout held in the same performance.
The fastest run in the Shootout earns $50,000 as the RodeoHouston Champ. The entire rodeo is sudden death with no averages kept and no times carrying forward. The winning strategy is simply run fast, every day.
RodeoHouston kicked off its 2017 run under grey, gloomy skies on March 7 with Super Series I.
While the horse may have changed color, nothing else did for Washington cowgirl Kathy Grimes. After spending all of her winter aboard the black mare KG Justiceweexpected—aka Issy—and sporting purple shirts and glitter on her horse’s hip, Grimes made a horse change for NRG Stadium, going instead with KG Blazin Nine Oh. Ruby is another of Grimes’ success stories with her breeding program, Nine Oh Barrel Horses and is a half sister on the dam side to Issy.
A daughter of Blazin Jetolena, Ruby is coming off a major injury last summer and Houston was her first run back in action.
“Seven long months of rehab from a soft tissue injury & Ruby makes her return to rodeo at Houston & gets the win!” Grimes posted to social media. Making the story even sweeter, just hours after the win in round one of Super Series I, Ruby’s first foal was born via embryo transfer. Little Roo came into the world in time to celebrate her mother’s winning ways.
Still sporting purple and leaving a wake of glitter behind her, Grimes grabbed the opening night win as the first WPRA cowgirl to compete in RodeoHouston in 2017. Her time of 14.28 was two tenths better than her closest competitor, Colorado’s Sammi Bessert.
Bessert is quietly having a good winter, currently ranked 12th in the WPRA World standings. A perennial top competitor, Bessert has finished in the top 25 of the standings five of the last six years. Her 15-year old partner in the arena is the Dash Ta Fame son, Terrible Tommy Twist.
Tommy and Bessert were the model of consistency during Super Series I, winning second in every round. In the second go, she followed Texas barrel racer Taylor Langdon.
Langdon made a savvy horse switch after round one, leaving her main mount Vegas in the barn and bringing the sorrel streaker Cajun to the party instead. With a smooth run of 14.20, Langdon picked up the victory. Her time is the fastest of the rodeo thus far.
Entering the final night of Super Series I, Bessert led the money standings followed by the two round winners. With a pair of checks each, Kellie Collier and Taylor Jacob would likely battle for the final spot.
On the final night on Thursday, Grimes made sure her name was etched into the next round with another win, this time posting 14.38 seconds. Bessert followed closely at 14.41 seconds.
It was a tight round with just about one tenth separating the top four ladies. Langdon picked up a second check with her 14.44 and Collier’s 14.49 was just enough to punch her ticket to the Semifinals.
Grimes and Bessert—after taking different roads—ended up at the same place, $6,000 in earnings for the Super Series. Bessert was named the champion because her average time on three runs was the fastest of the set.
Langdon ended with $4,000 while Collier earned $2,500.
Super Series II begins on Friday night, March 10 with a packed line-up that includes one of only three former champs competing in Houston in 2017 – 2014 WPRA World Champ Fallon Taylor. World leader Schuster, 2012 WPRA World Champion Mary Walker and Wrangler NFR cowgirls Michele McLeod, Cassidy Kruse, and Kimmie Wall will also compete along with Britta Thiel, currently ranked 25th in the World and Kelly Tovar who finished 30th in the standings a year ago.
Super Series I
1. Kathy Grimes, KG Blazin Nine Oh, 14.28, $3,000
2. Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 14.48, $2,000
3. Kellie Collier, Streakin Easy April, 14.52, $1,000
4. Taylor Jacob, This Firewater Rocks, 14.57, $750
1. Taylor Langdon, Cashin on the Bayou, 14.20, $3,000
2. Bessert, 14.35, $2,000
3. Jacob, 14.37, $1,000
4. Collier, 14.50, $750
1. Grimes, 14.38, $3,000
2. Bessert, 14.41, $2,000
3. Langdon, 14.44, $1,000
4. Collier, 14.49, $750
Total Money Won
*Grimes/Bessert, $6,000 each
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA