By Jolee Jordan
Reno, Nevada — While a lot of attention has been focused on team roping this week in Reno thanks to Wrangler Bob Feist Invitational (BFI) Week, the action outside the indoor arena has been plenty exciting as the 97th annual Reno Rodeo marches towards its Championship Saturday night performance.
One of the largest rodeos on the pro schedule every year, Reno is considered by most to be the unofficial kick-off of summer thanks to its spot on the calendar right before the big Fourth of July run. Ninety-six WPRA barrel racers will compete here before it’s over, each getting two runs in a day to try to make their way into the final round on Saturday. Only the 12 fastest on two runs will advance and each cowgirl runs in the morning slack and again in the evening performance, with 12 cowgirls a day trying to navigate the huge Reno Livestock Events Center arena.
Twenty-four ladies competed on Wednesday and Thursday with several good performances turned in as WPRA barrel racers put themselves in contention for the silver spurs given to the Reno Champ. No one caught New Mexico’s Sydni Blanchard for the lead but one barrel racer came very close.
6th Set, Wednesday, June 21
It’s been seven years since Nellie (Williams) Miller last appeared in Las Vegas at the Wrangler NFR; a lot has happened in the California cowgirl’s life since then: she got married, had two daughters and (mostly) retired her faithful gelding Blue Duck.
But now Miller seems poised to make another trip to Vegas, this one on the back of Blue Duck’s little sister who is actually known as Sister. Miller is ranked sixth in the current standings on the strength of just 23 rodeos and came into Reno after giving Sister a few weeks break from the rigors of the rodeo trail.
After busting Blue Duck back out for the Livermore (CA) rodeo last week—and earning a check—Sister took over again in the morning slack at Reno on Wednesday in a big way. Looking refreshed, the pretty roan mare scampered through the pattern in a rodeo-best time of 17.10 seconds to lead the opening round.
“Sister is happy to be back on the road,” Miller noted on her Facebook page. “Her little vacation did her good!”
As the last runner in the evening perf, Miller brought down the house with a rousing 17.26 to shoot all the way to second in the two-head average. Her 34.36 is just three one-hundredths behind leader Blanchard.
The only other cowgirl to run into the dough during the Wednesday set was Amberleigh Moore. Her 17.30 second run in the performance put her in contention for a check in the second round.
7th Set, Thursday, June 22
On Thursday morning, two cowgirls tied up at the top of the day’s leaderboard with a pair of 17.37 second runs. Idaho’s Megan McLeod Sprague and her horse Bucky ran an identical time to Texas cowgirl Kelly Tovar’s run on her young phenom, Bakken.
Tovar took top honors on Thursday night with her run of 17.27 seconds. The five year old gelding has the former Texas Circuit Champ fifth in the average with one set still to run here.
McLeod Sprague also jumped into the short go field but will have to sweat out the next set as she is ranked 11th.
Only twelve cowgirls remain left in preliminary competition here. Friday’s group includes a tough set with 2012 WPRA World Champion Mary Walker, California Circuit Champ Kris Gadbois, Prairie Circuit Champ Tracy Nowlin, Wrangler NFR competitors Jana Bean and Carley Richardson and past Reno Champ Timi Lickley. Lickley is the only former champion here who still has a shot at another title.
Each performance of the Reno Rodeo can be watched live on The Wrangler Network. For more information on the Reno Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.renorodeo.com.
1. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.10
2. Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.16 seconds
3. Kathy Grimes, KG Blazin Nine Oh, 17.19
4. Taylor Jacob, Honor Thy Frenchman, 17.23
5. Tiany Schuster, Version Six, 17.30
6. Ivy Conrado, CFour Tibbie Stinson, 17.31
7. Sydni Blanchard, Famous Heartbreaker, 17.34
8. Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 17.37
9. Megan McLeod-Sprague, Fast Feet N Freedom, 17.27
10. Kelly Tovar, A Dash Ta Glamour, 17.37
1. Blanchard, 16.99 seconds
2. Cayla Small, Perks Pazazz, 17.09
3. Jane Melby, Perks Pazazz, 17.16
4. Miller, 17.26
5. Tovar, 17.27
6. Grimes, 17.28
7. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 17.30
8. Rachel Dice, Tivitosatthegogobar, 17.37
9. Katie Pascoe, JR Naughty Jet, 17.36
10. Bettis, 17.44
1. Blanchard, 34.33 seconds on two head
2. Miller, 34.36
3. Grimes, 34.47
4. Small, 34.47
5. Tovar, 34.64
6. Melby, 34.66
7. Jacob, 34.72
8. Bettis, 34.81
9. Pascoe, 34.82
10. Dice, 34.82
11. McLeod Sprague, 34.83
12. Schuster, 34.92
Courtesy of WPRA