By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — To make things just a little easier on pro rodeo announcers, from this point on Hailey Kinsel’s name is changing to Hailey New Arena Record.
The Cotulla, Texas cowgirl has been making headlines for a year now with huge performances in the most pressure packed moments, whether it’s with $1 million or a National Championship or Gold Medal on the line, or under the bright lights of Las Vegas at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) on rodeo’s biggest stage. She ran the two fastest times ever seen inside the Thomas & Mack Arena last December, and the momentum gathered there carried her into the new season with a bang.
Already ranked fourth when she competed in San Antonio during the first of five preliminary brackets, Kinsel quickly added to that total, winning each of the three rounds of Bracket 1 to easily advance to the semi-finals.
The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is a tournament style event; 50 contestants began the journey, competing in one of five brackets. Only four from each bracket are still in contention as the first of two semi-final sets began on Tuesday night, February 20.
The pressure mounts with each round—only those with the most money will keep playing while the rest will go home. After each semi-final set, the top five money winners, which includes bracket money and semi-final money, advance to the Finals, setting up a 10 player final night for the Championship. All rounds are sudden death, no averages are paid and the only thing that matters is going as fast as possible each and every time down the alley.
In the nine days between her bracket and the first semi-finals, Kinsel went to the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, earning almost $10,000 in West Texas after finishing third.
Back in San Antonio, Kinsel entered the first of two semi-finals as the highest earner in the WPRA barrel racing, a key factor as advancement from one round to another here is determined by the amount of money accumulated.
The only cowgirl to break fourteen seconds on every one of her runs, Kinsel opened the two night semi-finals with a third place finish in what was the fastest overall round of the 2018 edition of the $1.5 million rodeo that has been voted the PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year for 13 consecutive years.
All four money earners on Tuesday broke into the thirteens with Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford leading the way.
“Sure was a fun ride tonight!” Telford posted on Facebook after putting a smoking fast 13.76 on the board. “Won the round and the fastest time of the San Antonio rodeo, so far! Love it when this horse make me feel fast.”
Telford and her horse Cool Whip got off to a slow start in her bracket, taking down barrels on the first two runs but have found their groove since, winning the third round in Bracket 2 along with the first round of semi-finals 1.
Much like Telford, Kelly Bruner struggled early in her bracket, Bracket 5, before picking up a huge round win on the final night to advance to the semi-finals. Also like Telford, she appears to be peaking at the right time, winning second behind the Idaho cowgirl with 13.83 seconds on her gelding Suzy. Kinsel followed with 13.88 and Tiany Schuster rounded out the money winners at 13.91.
Twenty-four hours later, Kinsel moved back to the spot the crowd has become used to seeing her in here in San Antonio . . . taking the victory lap for the fourth time in five runs.
Riding her lightning fast mare Sister, Kinsel stopped the clock at 13.60 seconds, breaking the previous arena record of 13.68 set back in 2013 by Sydni Blanchard.
“I grew up coming to this rodeo,” Kinsel said in a press interview following the performance. “We always bought tickets and it was a dream to just compete here. I felt like we had a pretty snappy run, but to set an arena record here, that’s pretty special.”
Bruner—the only former San Antonio champ competing in this semi-final set—finished second with a run of 13.95 seconds while Carley Richardson made it a three Texas cowgirl sweep of the top spots. Telford picked up another check in fourth on a night where five cowgirls took barrel penalties.
Kinsel has now earned better than $13,000 in San Antonio, easily moving on to the Finals. Bruner finished second in the group with $9,067 won in her last three runs while Richardson continued to be one of the most consistent runners this year; all five of her runs thus far have been within a range of six one-hundredths of a second.
Telford and Schuster also advance to the Finals to be held on Saturday night, February 24. Telford has earned close to $8,000, while Schuster’s total sits at $4,682.
The second semi-finals set begins on Thursday night, February 22 and is led by Ivy Conrado, who has been in the Finals here each of the last two seasons. Conrado won $5,945 in bracket competition en route to the semi-finals. The money earned in this group is closely stacked together with just over $4,000 separating all 10 contestants, less than the amount paid to the winner of each round during the semi-finals.
The group also includes the reigning San Antonio champion and current WPRA World standings leader Amberleigh Moore and 2017 WNFR competitors Tillar Murray and Lisa Lockhart along with two-time WPRA World Champ Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi. Three-time WNFR qualifier Jana Bean is on the schedule as well.
Go round winners within their brackets Sammi Bessert, Shelby Janssen and Kelly Tovar will be among the field as well as Taylor Langdon, who recently won the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, Texas.
The Final round will be just one more run with the winner taking home a huge check worth $15,092. Once the payout from the final round is figured in, the San Antonio Championship will be awarded to the cowgirl with the most money won throughout the six runs. The winner earns bragging rights, a gorgeous buckle and an impressive line of prizes. The top Animal Athletes are also named.
1. Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip. 13.76, $4,459
2. Kelly Bruner, Suzytresseis, 13.83, $3,344
3. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 13.88, $2,230
4. Tiany Schuster, Show Mance, 13.91, $1,115
1. Kinsel, 13.60, $4,459
2. Bruner, 13.95, $3,344
3. Carley Richardson, Flit Money, 14.08, $2,230
4. Telford, 14.13, $1,115
Total Money Won (Inc. Semi-Finals)
Ericka Nelson, $3,567
Cassidy Kruse, $2,73
Tracy Nowlin, $2,378
Callahan Crossley, $1,784
Jane Melby, $1,784
*Advance to Finals
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