By Jolee Jordan
Reno, Nevada — Sister is special.
Everyone in ProRodeo already knew that Nellie Miller’s blue roan mare Rafter W Minnie Reba (aka Sister) was pretty unique, even before the mare carried Miller to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) average win and the WPRA World title last December.
On Saturday night, June 23, 2018, Sister simply added to her legend, joining rare air occupied only by names like WPRA World Champions Bozo (Kristie Peterson), Scamper (Charmayne James), and Bandit (Jan Hansen) along with Gail Tyson’s Havadouble as the only horses to win back-to-back championships at the Reno Rodeo.
2018 ProRodeo Hall of Fame team Kristie Peterson and Bozo were the last to accomplish the task when they won their third set of Reno spurs in a row nineteen years ago in 1999.
Ninety-six ladies began the odyssey for the Reno Championship Silver Spurs and each got two chances not only at the $37,500 committee added purse and points on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, but also to set their two-run average time inside the top 12 of the standings in hope of making it back to the short round on Saturday night.
The back-to-back format here in Reno allowed that a full set of cowgirls competing on Friday had a chance to qualify for the Championship Finals. After seven sets had competed, Katie Pascoe and Miller, both of California, had not been challenged in the average after competing on the first day of the 2018 Reno Rodeo last Friday, June 15. In fact, the closest challenger was Cassidy Kruse, two tenths behind the leaders.
That changed in a big way on the second Friday of the rodeo as the leaders finally were forced to give up their top position. WPRA legacy cowgirl Kylie Weast has been hot all season, already ranked inside the top 15, and she added to that after winning the first round with the fastest time of the rodeo at 17.00 seconds. She paired it up Friday night with a 17.50 to squeak ahead of Pascoe by one one-hundredth of a second.
Also moving into the Championships from the final set of competitors was standout Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford, 2002 Reno Rodeo Champ Tammy Fischer and former Ram National Circuit Finals champ Carmel Wright. Not only did Telford advance, she was breathing down the necks of the leaders in fourth with just eight one-hundredths separating the top four.
The finals presented a big opportunity for many of the cowgirls qualified, as just three came to Reno ranked inside the top 20 (Weast, Miller and Telford) while five were ranked lower than 133rd. Four came in lurking in range of the top 15: Pascoe (46th), Fischer (34th), Kruse (45th), and Wright (30th). Pascoe and Kruse are the only ladies to win checks in both opening rounds.
As per WPRA rules, the Finals order of competition is drawn and Miller drew last of the 12 ladies to compete this year. Interestingly, Miller trailed a year ago coming into the Finals as well and the cowgirl she was chasing, Sydni Blanchard, ran last. This time around, it was Miller who watched as Weast and Pascoe, the two ladies ahead of her, ran early in the round.
With the Reno committee generously hand-raking the pattern following each lady, Wright kicked the short go round off with Weast running second and both cowgirls had a bit of trouble negotiating the pattern inside the huge arena in Reno. Wright posted a run of 17.61 which Weast bested by just one one-hundredth of a second. As the leader coming into the short go, Weast went to the top of the leaderboard but left room for others to move ahead of her.
Rebecca Kenner was third to compete, stopping the clock at 17.57 seconds for the lead at that point. She was followed by Pascoe but she and Naughty took down two barrels on a run of 17.49 that would have gone to the lead. Danyelle Williams, next in the draw, likewise found trouble keeping the barrels standing, ending her hopes of a Reno title.
Cassidy Kruse ran next aboard the comeback kid, JJ. Unfortunately, a stumble at the first pushed their time longer than the Wyoming cowgirl would have liked at 17.94. It is good enough for fourth at the time.
Megan McLeod-Sprague had been in Reno for Championship Saturday last year, the only repeat qualifiers along with Miller. In 2017, she finished third in the Final round and fourth in the average. This year, the Idaho mother of two took the lead in the Finals with a smooth run of 17.40 seconds, landing second behind Weast in the average.
Then things started to get really interesting. Tammy Fischer, the only other former Reno champ in the field, ran next on her mare Zeva. Though they didn’t move McLeod-Sprague in the go round with their 17.43, they pushed Weast to the brink, moving to second in the average by just one one-hundredth of a second.
South Dakota talent Amanda Harris kept the ball rolling with a third straight 17.4, this one at 17.46 before Tanya Jones opened up the round with her fast time of 17.25 seconds.
Jones rode her gelding Slick, who just started his pro rodeo career this spring, sprinting to the lead at one of the summer’s most lucrative and prestigious events. She laid the gauntlet for the tough veterans to follow, Telford and Miller, both in the running for a berth in Las Vegas at the WNFR this December.
Telford and Cool Whip were the last with a chance to put pressure on the reigning WPRA World and Reno Rodeo Champ but the pair suffered an uncharacteristic mistake on the first that snowballed with a wide third turn that put their time at 18.42 seconds.
Which left the door open for Miller, much wider than she needed as Sister could slip through the smallest crack for the win. Rounding the pattern with ease, the reigning champions made it a clean sweep on Saturday night, winning both the short go and the average after finishing their run in 17.21 seconds.
Miller’s three-run time of 51.74 earned the cowgirl her spot in the history books and a second set of silver spurs.
“Reno Rodeo was good to us again this year. Took home another set of spurs and won the California SixPac Rodeos award,” the always humble Miller posted on social media.
The California Six Pac is comprised of Oakdale, Red Bluff, Clovis, Redding, Hayward, Livermore and Reno; a $4,000 bonus and buckle is given to the high point winner who competes in all six rodeos. Miller carried a 7.5 lead over steer wrestler Nick Guy into Reno and handily held the lead after winning the final rodeo in the series. She and Sister won three of the rodeos (Hayward, Livermore and Reno) as well as second in Red Bluff.
Last year, Miller noted that winning in Reno was particularly sweet given that she grew up going there to watch her dad compete in the roping. The first set of Reno spurs she won went to Sam Williams last year and Sister made sure that Miller had a pair to match this time around.
“The best part was sharing it with my whole family who made the trip to cheer us on,” Miller continued on Facebook.
Miller earned an event best $9,757 while Jones was close behind in money won at $9,056. The money moves Miller closer to WPRA World standings leader Hailey Kinsel as the two are virtually knotted up as summer gets underway.
Miller also sits second, behind Telford, in the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour standings, seeking a berth in the lucrative Tour Finale event in Puyallup in September.
1. Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, 17.00, $3,356
2. Lori Todd, Dashin Red Warrior, 17.17, $2,877
3. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.19, $2,237
4. Jimmie Smith, CR Dee Plays Forcash, 17.19, $2,237
5. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 17.22, $1,598
6. Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip, 17.26, $1,278
7. Katie Pascoe, JR Naughty Jet, 17.35, $959
8. Megan McLeod-Sprague, Fast Feet N Freedom, 17.38, $639
9. Teressa Peck, Heavens Sakes, 17.42, $479
10. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 17.47, $320
1. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 17.07, $3,356
2. Tanya Jones, Rockin A Lil, 17.09, $2,877
3. Pascoe, 17.16, $2,379
4. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, 17.19, $2,078
5. Jody Hale, 17.20, $1,438
6. Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 17.20, $1,438
7. Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.22, $799
8. Danyelle Williams, Sonny (grade), 17.22, $799
9. Kruse, 17.24, $479
10. Christine Laughlin, Jess Undeniable, 17.26, $160
11. Amanda Harris, Frenchman Fire Fly, 17.26, $160
Short Go Qualifiers
1. Weast, 34.50
2. Pascoe, 34.51
3. Miller, 34.53
4. Telford, 34.58
5. Fischer, 34.68
6. Kruse, 34.71
7. Jones, 34.73
8. Wright, 34.79
9. McLeod-Sprague, 34.81
10. Williams, 34.90
11. Harris, 35.03
12. Rebecca Kenner, Dfmcowboychip, 35.05
1. Miller, 17.21, $2,486
2. Jones, 17.25, $1,864
3. McLeod-Sprague, 17.40, $1,243
4. Fischer, 17.43, $621
1. Miller, 51.74, $5,034
2. Jones, 51.98, $4,315
3. Weast, 52.10, $3,596
4. Fischer, 52.11, $3,116
5. McLeod-Sprague, 52.21, $2,397
6. Wright, 52.40, $1,918
7. Harris, 52.49, 1,438
8. Kenner, 52.62, $959
9. Kruse, 52.65, $719
10. Telford, 53.00, $479
Pozzi Tonozzi and Harris, $1,598
Barrett and Williams, $799
Courtesy of WPRA