By Jolee Jordan
Fort Worth, Texas — Competition at the World’s Original Indoor Rodeo has been fierce from the first performance and that trend only accelerated as the rodeo wound down over the first weekend of February.
What began as a contest between 210 WPRA barrel racers narrowed to a field of 70 on Tuesday night as the second round began Wednesday afternoon. College champion Loni Lester hit the final two days as the round leader in that go as the final thirty cowgirls chased a spot inside the short go. Only the 12 best on the two prior runs got a third chance to earn the coveted title of champion of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo on the rodeo’s centennial anniversary.
The second go round wrapped up with two performances on Friday as well as a matinee on the final day Saturday. Sissy Win was the fastest on Friday afternoon, putting up a 16.63 second run that was nearly matched by Tillar Murray. The 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) qualifier posted a run of 16.65.
The race for the Championship Round got even tougher on Friday night with five of the ten cowgirls moving into the top 12 with outstanding runs. The best run belonged to Cheyenne Kelly and her mare Bendi. Kelly put up the fastest time of the rodeo to win the second go round at 16.26, edging past Lester.
Texas cowgirls Tammy Fischer and Sadye Simpson both ran into the money as well, stopping the clock at 16.47 and 16.48, respectively. Canadian Champion Carman Pozzobon and WPRA World standings leader Taci Bettis punched their tickets into the finals on Friday night as well.
Thankfully for first go round winner Amberleigh Moore, history did not repeat itself on Saturday afternoon. In 2017, Moore ran in the matinee performance, securing a berth into the finals with a solid run but her latigo came loose on the run home, causing the saddle to slide under the horse’s belly and throwing Moore to the dirt hard where she rolled into the bucking chutes just after crossing the timer line.
After several scary moments on the arena floor and being carried out by the Justin Sports Medicine Team, Moore bounced back to run in the finals that very night, finishing inside the top ten. She then went on a rampage, winning first in every go round in San Antonio and collecting wins in Jackson and Belton.
Fast forward to 2018 and it seems Moore skipped the hardship part and went straight for the torrid winter pace. She and her mare Paige went around Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum safely and quickly, putting a 16.52 on the board to win a check in round two and return to the short round in third place.
Leading the pack into the finals was Oklahoma cowgirl Kylie Weast. She and her mare Reddy took the lead on Saturday afternoon with a smoking run of 16.31 seconds. Weast is part of a WPRA legacy family: her grandmother Florence Youree is one of the pioneers of the Association and the sport of barrel racing and mom Renee Ward and sister Janae Ward-Massey have competed at the WNFR; Ward-Massey is the 2003 WPRA World Champion barrel racer.
Just a few hours after the field was determined for the finals, the 29th and final performance of the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo kicked off. The final group to compete for the title included an eclectic mix of both WNFR cowgirls, fresh from Las Vegas, and relative unknowns, ladies not ranked nationally in the WPRA World standings. Thanks to the high limit of 210 barrel racers accepted as entries in Fort Worth, the deep talent pool of the WPRA was allowed to prove their way into the final run.
The short go runs slowest to fastest as the committee hand rakes the ground around each barrel following every run through the 29 performance run of the rodeo.
With a great line-up of horsepower, the race for the title was likely to land in the hands of the top three cowgirls: Weast, Hailey Kinsel and Moore. Only .17 seconds separated the three from each other but they carried a bigger lead of .22 seconds on the rest of the field.
From a tie at fourth between WNFR cowgirl Kellie Collier and Lester to former WPRA Rookie of the Year Cayla Small in 12th position, the times ranged from 33.09 on two runs to 33.19 seconds, a razor thin margin that meant positions could easily be shuffled around with the final runs.
In the finals, Small continued her comeback tour with horse Gator, putting a 16.72 on top. Pozzobon was next aboard her big fast buckskin mare Rip; running to the left first, the Canadian moved to the lead in both the round and average with a blistering run of 16.33 seconds.
Bettis and Smash were next around the course, running 16.64 seconds. Bettis was followed in the draw by her hauling partner, Fischer, whose mare Zeva took a bad slip on the final turn, costing her big on the clock. Her 17.05 left her on the bottom of the average at that point.
Past Fort Worth champ Sarah Rose McDonald took her shot next, following her own comeback trail in 2018 with a new stick. The horse she calls Dutch was solid on three runs in Cowtown, with a 16.79 on the final night.
Next came the wild card, Kelly, who had won the second go with the fastest time of the rodeo. She and her 13 year old mare were fast again, this time posting 16.44 seconds. That time was good enough for second in both the round and average behind the Canadian cowgirl, just five one hundredths behind.
Sadye Simpson took her shot next, at both the Fort Worth Rodeo championship and also the Jerry Ann Taylor Award for being the Best Dressed Cowgirl. Dazzling in black and silver, Simpson and her horse Toby put a 16.93 second run together.
Kellie Collier and Lolo ran next, continuing the consistency that earned them a spot in Las Vegas last December. Collier’s 16.52 slid her behind Kelly into third, keeping the race close.
Lester ran her mare Champagne next, taking a penalty after cutting it too close on the third turn.
So the heart of the title race came up to bat with Moore, Kinsel and Weast closing out the night. Moore needed just 16.63 seconds for the lead. With Paige the Perfectionist flying down the alleyway, Moore turned three tight cans, easily taking ahold of the lead with a run of 16.45 seconds.
With a one one-hundredth of a second lead over Moore coming into the final run, Kinsel ran next. She and her WNFR arena record holding mare Sister were staring down a 16.45 to take the lead but came up just short at 16.47 seconds.
That time landed her one one-hundredth behind Moore with just Weast yet to run.
Weast won the average title at WPRA World Finals Futurity competition with the young standout Reddy last October and finished third in the Card Holders race as well at the World Finals. That win launched her 2018 season. She missed the championship in Denver last month by just two one-hundredths of a second and found herself in another dogfight in Texas.
Needing a 16.61 to take the win, Weast and Reddy got a little bit of room on the first corner and ended up a bit short at 16.73 seconds.
Moore earned the title by the slimmest of margins over Kinsel with Weast just a tenth behind them. It was the tightest race here since Shelly Anzick won the championship over Shelley Morgan by the same margin in 2014.
Fort Worth icon Pam Minick was on hand to interview the winners and noted Moore’s mishap the year prior, telling the crowd that the victory a year later was “what a cowgirl is made of.”
“I don’t remember that but I can remember this and I always will,” noted Moore, wryly.
“Simply amazing,” Moore told Minick on how it felt to come back and win the event. “Paige never ceases to amaze me.”
When asked how she adjusts from small indoor arenas in the winter to the larger confines of Will Rogers, Moore had a simple answer.
“I just let Paige do her job.”
All the Fort Worth champions received buckles, a custom bottle of TX Whiskey and a $5,000 bonus check from the Stock Show.
On her Facebook page, Moore posted: “Oh wowzers, Paige and I won the Ft Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on their 100th anniversary, what an amazing rodeo to come back and win, after last year’s little mishap. Congrats to all of us in the short go, what an amazing group of horses running tonight.”
Moore earned an event-best $15,100, not counting the bonus check, followed closely by Kinsel with $14,512. Thanks to the huge committee purse—$40,000 added—there were four cowgirls who earned more than $10,000 in Fort Worth while short round winner Pozzobon came close at $9,049.
Bettis will hold her position atop the WPRA World standings with $4,682 earned here while Weast will likely move into second. Kinsel and Moore should slot in behind them in the standings along with Collier.
Simpson earned the Jerry Ann Taylor Award and a $5,000 bonus check.
For more information on the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.fwssr.com and watch for more on the FWSSR and the Jerry Ann Taylor Award in an upcoming issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News.
1. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 16.35, $5,175
2. Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, 16.39, $4,436
3. Shelly Anzick, Scooten ta Fame, 15.51, $3,696
4. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 16.57, $3,204
5. Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 16.58, $2,464
6. Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, 16.60, $1,971
7. Cayla Small, Shameon U, 16.61, $1,479
8. Jodi Colton, BB French Effort, 16.62, $986
9. Kellie Collier, Easy Streakin April, 16.63, $411
9. Carman Pozzobon, Ripn Lady, 16.63, $411
9. Sadye Simpson, Apt to Be Special, 16.63, $411
1. Cheyenne Kelly, Running ta Dash, 16.26, $5,175
2. Loni Lester, A Dash of Champagne, 16.27, $4,436
3. Kinsel, 16.29, $3,696
4. Weast, 16.31, $3,204
5. Collier/Sarah Rose McDonald, Holland By, 16.46, $2,218
7. Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 16.47, $1,479
8. Simpson, 16.48, $986
9. Jill Wilson, Lean Mean Blue Dean, 16.51, $739
10. Moore/Katie Pascoe, JR Naughty Jet, 16.52, $246
1. Pozzobon, 16.33, $3,833
2. Kelly, 16.44, $2,875
3. Moore, 16.45, $1,917
4. Kinsel, 16.47, $958
1. Moore, 49.32, $7,762
2. Kinsel, 49.33, $6,654
3. Weast, 49.43, $5,545
4. Pozzobon, 49.51, $4,805
5. Kelly, 49.56, $3,696
6. Collier, 49.61, $2,957
7. Bettis, 49.81, $2,218
8. Small/McDonald, 49.91, $1,294
10. Simpson, 50.04, $739
Courtesy of WPRA