By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — On the race track, betting on the dark horse can pay off big. At the 2017 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (SASSR), fans watched a pair of dark horses win big during the WPRA barrel racing.
The SASSR is a tournament style event with competitors ultimately making six runs for the championship if they are able to continue to advance through each round. Entering the Finals on Saturday night, February 26, a pair of cowgirls from the Northwest had won more money than any other barrel racer, earning eight victory laps between them.
Oregon’s Amberleigh Moore was the biggest winner with more than $14,000 in preliminary competition earnings; riding her dark brown mare Paige, who is registered CP Dark Moon with the American Quarter Horse Association, Moore won or split every round in which she competed coming into the final night.
Her fellow Columbia River Circuit cowgirl, Washington’s Kathy Grimes had ridden her black mare Issy—KG Justiceweexpected—to a pair of round wins in her bracket as well as a win during one semifinal round to rank second among the finalists with $12,617 won.
The latter cinched up her spot in the finals with the win as well as a second in the second semifinals. Other finalists from that group included last year’s reserve champion in San Antonio, Ivy Conrado, as well as Taylor Langdon, Sherry Cervi and Benette Little.
The final round pays the most for competitors with a huge $14,476 check awaiting the fastest runner. Positions on the ground are drawn and money won in the final round is added to previous winnings to determine the San Antonio Champion.
California cowgirl Nellie Miller led the field on the final night and posted a tough 14.16 aboard Sister to set the pace. Another Northwest cowgirl—who happens to live in Arizona now—Nicole Riggle came next, putting up 14.32 seconds on her horse Shoe.
Miller’s mark was tied two runners later by Texan Taylor Langdon. Langdon and her mare Vegas dominated Bracket 1, winning every round.
The tie was soon broken as Grimes and Issy took their turn around the cans. Once again sporting purple glitter on Issy’s hip—as she has sported since launching up the WPRA standings with a second place finish in Fort Worth just weeks ago—the mare carried Grimes to the lead with a smoking run of 14.11 seconds.
Top circuit champions Sabra O’Quinn and Sammi Bessert took their shots but couldn’t knock the dark horse off the top of the leaderboard nor could Conrado, though she came close with a 14.18 as her great mare Tibbie scampered through the pattern.
Former WNFR qualifier Benette Little ran next but her mare Ms Carrie Lou slipped and went down behind the first barrel, sending Little to the arena dirt. Thankfully, both horse and rider were uninjured and Little even graciously set up the barrel which had broken her fall, albeit not too softly.
That brought the race down to two: Moore, who had been perfect thus far in San Antonio, and the WPRA’s all-time money leader Sherry Cervi, who was also the only former San Antonio champion in the field.
Moore and Paige came flying down the alley, taking the left barrel first. Moore describes her eight year old mare, who is by Darkelly out of SRQH New Highs, as a perfectionist and she laid down yet another perfect run on Saturday. The clock said it all—13.98 seconds to lead by more than a full tenth.
Would she win again? Only Cervi stood in her way. But when Arson stumbled coming into his first corner, the time clicked away on the clock, leaving Cervi will a 14.40.
After five straight victory laps around AT&T Center on horseback, Moore climbed into a truck for the sixth one. She had pocketed $29,229 for six runs and became the first competitor ever to sweep every round under the tournament format. She set a new earnings record as well.
Proving just how dangerous the Columbia River Circuit contingent to the Ram National Circuit Finals (RNCFR) in April will be, its second representative, Grimes finished second, earning $10,857 for the final run and $23,474 for the rodeo.
Already ranked 2-3 in the WPRA World standings, Moore and Grimes both just nearly doubled their season earnings.
“Paige never ceases to amaze me, she gives me her all every time we step into an arena to make a run,” Moore posted to her Facebook. “Tonight Paige was crowned the 2017 San Antonio Stock show & Rodeo Barrel Racing Champion. What a ride!”
Paige was also named one of the Star Animal Athletes of the rodeo, a bonus worth $1,500 to her rider. The SASSR has one of the best prize line-ups in the business, giving each competitor a $5,000 gas card along with other great awards.
Moore made the trip to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2016 after a Cinderella run at the end of the season; in fact, she was never inside the top 15 in the WPRA World standings until the final weekend of the year. After a phenomenal run in February, in which she has won $53,967, she’s nearly won enough already to start making plans to return to Las Vegas come December.
For more information on the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.sarodeo.com. and check out the next issue of the Women’s Pro Rodeo News for a complete story on all the action from San Antonio.
1. Ivy Conrado, CFour Tibbie Stinson, 13.97, $4,277
2. Kathy Grimes, KG Justiceweexpected, 14.02, $3,208
3. Tiany Schuster, JSYK Im Famous, 14.12, $2,139
4. Pam Capper, Sheza Smooth Flight, 14.18, $1,069
1. Grimes, 14.00, $4,277
2. Benette Little, Ms Carrie Lou, 14.06, $3,208
3. Sherry Cervi, Dash ta Diamonds, 14.11, $2,139
4. Cassidy Kruse, Dash to Tim, 14.24, $1,069
Total Money Won
*Kathy Grimes, $12,617 (B4)
*Ivy Conrado, $9,980 (B2)
*Taylor Langdon, $6,843 (B1)
*Sherry Cervi, $5,560 (B4)
*Benette Little, $5,489 (B5)
Tiany Schuster, $5,275 (B5)
Cassidy Kruse, $4,206 (B2)
Pam Capper, $3,350 (B3)
Cally Thomas, $2,851 (B3)
Kellie Collier, $1,711 (B1)
*Advance to Finals
Moore, $14,863 (SF1)
Kathy Grimes, $12,617 (SF2)
Ivy Conrado, $9,980 (SF2)
Riggle, $8,233 (SF1)
O’Quinn, $8,198 (SF1)
Taylor Langdon, $6,843 (SF2)
Bessert, $6,416 (SF1)
Sherry Cervi, $5,560 (SF2)
Benette Little, $5,489 (SF2)
Nellie Miller, $3,422 (SF1)
1. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 13.98, $14,476
2. Grimes, 14.11, $10,857
3. tie Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 14.16, $5,429
4. tie Taylor Langdon, Vegas Firefighter, 14.16, $5,429
5. Conrado, 14.18
6. Nicole Riggle, Shoeless Joe Biankus, 14.32
7. Sabra O’Quinn, 14.39
8. Cervi, 14.40
9. Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 14.44
10. Little, NT
Courtesy of WPRA