By Jolee Jordan
Calgary, Alberta Canada — The rush of Cowboy Christmas—the week surrounding the Independence Day holiday in the U.S., had barely subsided when rodeo fans turned their eyes north of the border for the next big event on the rodeo calendar.
The Calgary Stampede is dubbed the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth by its promoters and for more than 100 years, the Stampede has made good on its mission statement to preserve and celebrate the western heritage, culture and community spirit in Calgary and across the West.
The 2017 edition once again promises a $2 million payout to its competitors, life-changing money for cowboys and cowgirls running up and down rodeo’s roads.
Only 20 WPRA competitors are invited to compete at the Stampede each year, chosen from 2016 WPRA World and WPRA Tour standings, from 2016 Canadian Pro Rodeo standings and 2017 WPRA World standings with two spots saved for the reigning Calgary Stampede champ and Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) champ. The ladies are divided into two pools of 10 each and each pool makes four preliminary round runs.
There are no averages kept, each day is sudden death with five monies paid out. At the conclusion of the fourth go round, the top four money winners advance on to the Semi-Finals to be held July 16, known as Showdown Sunday. The other six cowgirls get one more shot on Wild Card Saturday with the two fastest from that round also advancing to the Semi-Finals.
The final Sunday is one of the most exciting in sports with huge payoffs awaiting the champions. Each of the 10 semi-finalists makes one run before the field is again narrowed down. Only the four fastest advance to the Showdown, held later inside the same performance. Both rounds are sudden death—no previous times carry forward and the fastest runner in the Showdown earns $100,000.
All money won counts towards WPRA World standings, with half of the big $100K prize going to standings, meaning the Stampede can make the difference between ending the season in September or in Vegas in December at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
Pool A kicked off the Stampede on Friday, July 7 with 10 hopefuls in the WPRA barrel racing, looking to etch their names into the history books.
Utah cowgirl Kimmie Wall says she never quite got the first turn down in her first appearance in the Stampede in 2016. That all changed in a big way with her first run in her second trip to Calgary in 2017. Riding her homegrown superstar, Foxy, Wall was flying into the big pattern inside Stampede Park and nailed three superb turns for 17.35 seconds. She earned her first day money bronze as a round winner.
“I just really want to commend the Calgary Stampede,” Wall told the Stampede media team. “They worked really hard on the ground this year, and we really appreciate it. The ground was amazing.”
The times definitely reflected the work put into the ground conditions as Wall’s time was faster than all but one run in the entire 2016 Stampede. In addition, the money holes were paid in just over one tenth spread from first to fifth.
After winning RodeoHouston in March to punch her ticket to Calgary, veteran barrel horse trainer Kassie Mowry expressed some trepidation over the prospect of competing in her first Stampede. Generally, Mowry spends her time in the training pen and at aged event competitions, usually entering less than a dozen pro rodeos a year so taking time away from her colts to travel north of the border was way outside her comfort zone.
But her amazing Cinderella season has opened new doors to the cowgirl and she decided to accept her invite to the Stampede. She brought both Junior, with whom she won Houston, and Rocko as her equine sidekicks. Owned by WPRA member Robin Weaver and trained by Brandon Cullins, Rocko has an impressive resume of his own, adding WPRA money winner to the list since Mowry took the reins about a month ago.
In their first trip through the cloverleaf here, the pair made a slightly too quick move on the second barrel to take a check-costing penalty.
But the champions roared back in round two, posting a blistering time of 17.31 seconds to earn the victory lap and $5,500 as the day’s winner.
RNCFR champion Emily Miller was second for the second time to take the lead in overall money won.
Top of the ground proved to be a great chance to set a high bar for the competition for a second day in Calgary. Twenty-four hours after Mowry won the round as the first runner, Californian Nellie Miller did the same on her mare Sister.
Always consistent, Sister has been on fire since returning to action after a break in early June, winning two straight Gold Tour stops in Reno, Nev., and St. Paul, Ore., before heading north to Calgary as a last minute replacement to reigning WPRA World Champion and reigning Calgary Champion Mary Burger, who opted not to compete without her good horse Mo.
After a pair of checks in the first two rounds with two 17.4 second runs, Miller and Sister found a little extra gear on Sunday, stopping the clock at a rodeo best 17.30 seconds to take the round win.
Emily Miller was second again aboard her great gelding Pipewrench to lead the way into the final round with $13,500 already in the bank; no matter Monday’s outcome, she will compete in Showdown Sunday.
Meanwhile, only Mowry has a chance to oust Nellie Miller, Wall or Canadian cowgirl Kirsty White for the final spot for advancement from Pool A.
Miller leads the Way
Emily Miller took to Facebook to describe the experience of her first Calgary Stampede.
“When people say Calgary is the greatest show on dirt..there’s a reason. Props to the committee, the ground was OUTSTANDING, as reflected in the times,” she posted. “Thanks everyone for the support, y’all are amazing. Proud of my boy, Pipewrench. There are fireworks before barrels, the noise is overwhelming, and he never lost focus.”
The money won here already will make a big impact in the WPRA standings with Emily Miller and Kimmie Wall making the biggest moves. Miller came to Calgary ranked 17th and Wall was 19th but both cowgirls have earned enough to move inside the top 10 this week in the WPRA World standings. Mowry will jump to second with just under $100,000 won in just over a dozen rodeos.
Pool B kicks off on Tuesday, July 11 with a packed line-up that includes former Calgary Champions Lisa Lockhart and Sherry Cervi, reigning Canadian Champ Nancy Csabay, WPRA World leader Tiany Schuster along with four of the top five cowgirls in the WPRA World standings right now.
Pool A Results
1. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 17.35, $5,500
2. Emily Miller, Namgis D 35, 17.39, $4,500
3. Kirsty White, Special Tack, 17.42, $3,500
4. Pam Capper, Lil Pep of Gold, 17.43, $2,500
5. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.48, $1,500
1. Kassie Mowry, VQ Sucker Punch, 17.31, $5,500
2. Emily Miller, 17.41, $4,500
3. Nellie Miller, 17.46, $3,500
4. White, 17.62, $2,500
5. Wall, 17.78, $1,500
1. Nellie Miller, 17.30, $5,500
2. Emily Miller, 17.37, $4,500
3. White, 17.44, $3,500
4. Wall, 17.56, $2,500
5. Jackie Ganter, Cartels Fame, 17.58, $1,500
1. White, 17.33, $5,500
2. Mowry, Firewatermakemehappy, 17.43, $4,500
3. Wall, 17.66, $3,500
4. Emily Miller, 17.68, $2,500
5. Capper, 17.83, $1,500
Total Money Won
1. *Emily Miller, $16,000
2. *White, $15,000
3. *Wall, $13,000
4. *Nellie Miller, $10,500
5. Mowry, $10,000
6. Capper, $4,000
7. Ganter, $1,500
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA