By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — Stock Show season is well underway for rodeo competitors, meaning a chance to earn big dollars early in the year, money that can propel them to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and even to world championships.
With the National Western in Denver as well as the Fort Worth Stock Show in the books, eyes turned to south Texas for the next stop, the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, celebrating its 68th year in 2018.
Unlike the others, San Antonio is limited to just 50 contestants in each event and runs in tournament style, beginning with five brackets of preliminary competition, each made up of ten athletes. Following three rounds of sudden death competition, the top four money earners from those three go rounds advance to a two-round semi-finals.
Though no times carry forward, money earned does and advancement to the final round is based on total money won from the brackets and two rounds of semi-finals. The final round is comprised of the top five money winners from each semi-finals for a total of ten competitors.
The final round will be held on February 24 and is the most lucrative go round of the rodeo, paying more than $15,000 to the winner. Following the payoff from the final round, the championship is awarded to the cowgirl who has won the most money throughout the rodeo.
Hailey Kinsel lived out the most amazing Cinderella story in 2017. The Cotulla, Texas cowgirl appeared from relative obscurity to win RFD-TV’s The American almost exactly one year ago, earning $433,000 in a single afternoon.
She and the great palomino mare she calls Sister went on later that summer to claim a college national title and a gold medal at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games en route to her first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). Once there, she ran the two fastest times ever run inside the Thomas & Mack, earning $190,000 in ten runs.
Kinsel’s fairy tale season ended with a WPRA Reserve World title and barrel racing earnings for the year of nearly three quarters of a million dollars between all events.
Now a household name amongst barrel racing and rodeo fans, Kinsel hit the 2018 season at full speed, winning a go round at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and finishing second in Fort Worth by just one one-hundredth of a second.
Already fourth in the WPRA World standings, Kinsel took her shots in San Antonio for the first time in her career as she was not qualified into the major winter rodeos in 2017.
It didn’t take her or Sister long to make themselves at home inside AT&T Center. The pair won the opening night of the rodeo while participating in Bracket 1 on February 8. Their time of 13.86 was more than two tenths ahead of Lisa Lockhart and her mare Rosa.
“I have always wanted to run at San Antonio! It was one of my biggest dreams growing up, and the closest thing to a ‘hometown rodeo’ for me,” Kinsel wrote on Facebook following the first round. “Sister not only made our first run here a great experience, she won the round. Thank you to my family and friends for coming out. Such a tough group of girls in this set. Looking forward to our next two runs. Thank you Sis.”
Kinsel kept the fire burning bright on the following two runs, breaking fourteen seconds on every run to sweep the bracket clean. She earned $7,134 to easily march into the next round.
Lockhart moved on as well, thanks to a pair of second place finishes despite an oops on the second night that left her with a no time. The two-time WPRA Reserve World Champ won $3,567 on her newest speedy buckskin horse.
WPRA World Champ Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi and Jane Melby rounded out the qualifiers to the semi-finals from Bracket 1. Pozzi Tonozzi rode her mare Steeley to a pair of checks worth $2,081, while Melby and Perks Pazazz punched their ticket with a second place finish in round two.
Another first time Wrangler NFR qualifier from 2017 led the way as Bracket 2 got underway on Saturday night, February 10. Tillar Murray rode her own freakishly fast pony, Commander, to the round win with a time of 14.22 seconds.
Ivy Conrado finished second on the opening night of Bracket 2 and she and the palomino mare J-Lo switched positions with Murray in round two on Sunday afternoon. Conrado took the win with a time of 14.04 to leave the cowgirls tied up with one round to run.
As much as Kinsel dominated Bracket 1, Bracket 2 was a shootout with three different ladies taking victory laps. After hitting barrels two straight runs, Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford righted the ship just in time for her final shot as Bracket 2 concluded on Monday night, February 12.
Telford and Cool Whip stopped the clock at 14.11 for the win. Conrado and Murray stayed solid, right on her heels at 14.16 and 14.20, respectively.
With all three rounds completed, Conrado was determined the high money winner from the bracket, easily moving on to the semi-finals as she seeks her third straight appearance in the Finals here in the Alamo City.
“I’m just proud of her!” said Conrado of the nine year old mare whom she pilots for owners Kenny Nichols and Dale Barron. “She has a tendency to get faster with more runs but I’ve been taking it easy on her after Vegas. We were one out of the short round at Denver & Fort Worth so I was just pumped she got back to firing!”
Conrado banked $5,945 with Murray earning $5,351. Telford’s round win was enough to punch her ticket to the semi-finals while Columbia River Circuit Finals Champ Callahan Crossley won out on a tie-breaker for the final position for advancement over Nicole Laurence. Both cowgirls earned $1,784 but Crossley earned the semi-finals spot as she turned in the single fastest run, her 14.27 in round two edging Laurence’s 14.29 from round three.
Bracket 3 will contest in evening performances Tuesday through Thursday with former WPRA Rookie of the Year Jackie Ganter, 2017 Canadian Finals Rodeo Champ Jaime Hinton, four-time WPRA World Champ and former San Antonio winner Sherry Cervi, WNFR qualifiers Nikki Hansen, Carley Richardson, Jana Bean, Cassidy Kruse as well as circuit champions Lacinda Rose and Kim Schulze and standout Shelby Janssen scheduled to compete.
1. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 13.86, $2,378
2. Lisa Lockhart, Rosas Cantina CC, 14.10, $1,784
3. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Steele Magnolias, 14.19, $1,189
4. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, 14.35, $595
1. Kinsel, 13.90, $2,378
2. Jane Melby, Perks Pazazz, 14.15, $1,784
3. Pozzi Tonozzi/Kassie Mowry, Girls Dig Fame, 14.17, $892
1. Kinsel, 13.84, $2,378
2. Lockhart, 14.04, $1,784
3. Wright/Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 14.32, $892
Total Money Won
Pozzi Tonozzi, $2,081*
*Advance to Semi-Finals
1. Tillar Murray, Royal Star Commander, 14.22, $2,378
2. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 14.39, $1,784
3. Nicole Laurence, Bully’s Little Dash, 14.40, $1,189
4. Callahan Crossley, Brownie Bi Bogie, 14.48, $595
1. Conrado, 14.04, $2,378
2. Murray, 14.19, $1,784
3. Crossley, 14.27, $1,189
4. Emily Miller, Namgis D56, 14.37, $595
1. Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip, 14.11, $2,378
2. Conrado, 14.16, $1,784
3. Murray, 14.20, $1,189
4. Laurence, 14.29, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA