By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — There is little argument that the rookie class of WPRA barrel racers in 2015 was one of the best in recent memory. Two ladies made it all the way to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in Las Vegas in December and five more finished among the top 50 in the WPRA World standings.
That positioning allowed the ladies to make their first trips to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in 2016. One of the most lucrative stops on the regular season rodeo trail, San Antonio accepts just 50 entries in each event, dividing all the competitors into brackets of ten contestants each. Each lady runs three rounds in bracket competition. There are no averages paid, each night is sudden death and a new go round.
At the conclusion of the third round, the top four money winners advance to the semi-finals to be held in two-night sets February 23-26. Each lady in the semi-finals gets two more rounds to try to earn enough to be among the top five in their semi-final group who then goes on to the Finals on February 27. The winner on the final night earns a huge paycheck of $14,476. The highest money winner for the rodeo following the Finals is crowned the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Champ.
The first bracket was held February 11-13 and it was completely dominated by a pair of sophomore WPRA barrel racers.
No cowgirl has been hotter this winter than Hudson, Colorado’s Ivy Conrado. After finishing 36th last year and having a big start to the 2016 season last fall, Conrado has added a Reserve title at the National Western in Denver and a Championship at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, the two biggest rodeos of the season thus far to land atop the WPRA World standings with better than $30,000 won.
Just days after clinching the title in Fort Worth, Conrado and her gritty little mare Tibbie owned the opening night in San Antonio, winning first with a 13.88 second run which was nearly two-tenths better than second place, fellow Coloradoan Kelley Schnaufer.
In round two and three, the reigning WPRA Rookie of the Year, Jackie Ganter, hit the afterburners. Riding Guys French Jet, the horse which carried her to $85,000 in earnings at her first WNFR in December, Ganter won two rounds with times of 13.78 and 13.81, respectively.
Conrado placed third and second on her second two runs, the only cowgirl in the bracket to run three sub-fourteen second times. She earned $5,132 to easily advance to the semi-finals.
Ganter’s total earnings of $4,562 tied her with Schnaufer for second and third in the bracket. Schnaufer, like Conrado, was the only cowgirl to pick up a check in every round.
Megan Mariluch locked up the final qualifying spot for the semi-finals on the strength of her third place finish in round one. She earned $1,141.
While Conrado and Ganter dominated bracket I, bracket II, which began on Saturday night, February 13, was a little wilder and less predictable. Three different cowgirls won go rounds and the eventual money leader was not one of them.
Morgan Breaux was also part of the tough rookie class in 2015. She rides Harley, SS Streakers R Us, the famous horse that carried Lee Ann Rust to the WNFR and also starred in a children’s book written by Rust. Breaux and Harley emerged the winners in bracket II as the only team to place on all three runs. They picked up a fourth, a third and a second to earn $3,422.
Round one went to Taylor Jacob, the two-time WNFR qualifier who is also a former Rookie of the Year in the WPRA. Jacob was riding another lefty but not her famous horse Bo; in San Antonio she chose to ride Sissy B Gold “Madonna,” a seven year old mare owned by Rick and Dawn Ringstaff. The duo stopped the clock in 14.04 seconds for the win. They picked up a fourth in round two to land second on the money winners’ list and advance to the semi-finals with $2,851.
On Sunday, the WPRA winner was Brittany Kelly. Kelly is married to WNFR qualifier Dugan Kelly, who also happened to be competing in San Antonio. The couple celebrated Valentine’s Day with a pair of checks. In addition to Brittany’s 14.09 round winning run, Dugan picked up a check for third in the team roping. Kelly rides the nine-year old mare, The Opossum.
In round three, Arizona cowgirl Jill Welsh took the victory lap. Welsh finished 16th last season and is hoping for a good start to her winter to push her into a first trip to Las Vegas. She rides French First Watch, aka Custer, the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year in 2015. Their time of 14.17 seconds earned their first San Antonio check and it was enough to tie her with Kelly for the final two spots in the semi-finals.
The San Antonio Rodeo continues with Bracket III on Tuesday night. Among the scheduled competitors are two-time World Champ Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, National Western Champ Shelby Herrmann, 2015 WNFR qualifiers Jana Bean and Sarah Rose McDonald, and Alexa Lake, who won the final round here a year ago and finished as Reserve Champ.
1. Ivy Conrado, CFour Tibbie Stinson, 13.88, $2,281
2. Kelley Schnaufer, Jess Undeniable, 14.05, $1,711
3. Megan Mariluch, Mr. JB FireFame, 14.09, $1,141
4. Vickie Carter, Lil Pep of Gold, 14.18, $570
1. Jackie Ganter, Guys French Jet, 13.78, $2,281
2. Schnaufer, 13.93, $1,711
3. Conrado, 13.96, $1,141
4. Sherrylynn Johnson, Leading Tradition, 13.99, $570
1. Ganter, 13.81, $2,281
2. Conrado, 13.95, $1,711
3. Schnaufer, 14.00, $1,141
4. Victoria Williams, Three Jets Olena, 14.09, $570
Total Money Winners (Top 4 Advance)
1. Conrado, $5,132
2/3. Ganter/Schnaufer, $4,562
4. Mariluch, $1,141
5/6/7. Williams/Carter/Johnson, $570
1. Taylor Jacob, Sissy B Gold, 14.04, $2,281
2. Mary Walker, Perculatin, 14.10, $1,711
3. Britany Diaz, CM Bubblin Dynamite, $1,141
4. Morgan Breaux, SS Streakers R Us, $570
1. Brittany Kelly, The Opossum, 14.09, $2,281
2. Christine Laughlin, 14.11, Johnny Raider, $1,711
3. Breaux, 14.15, $1,141
4. Jacob, 14.18, $570
1. Jill Welsh, French First Watch, 14.17, $2,281
2. Breaux, 14.18, $1,711
3. Carley Richardson, Doda Flit, 14.20, $1,141
4. Laughlin/Diaz, 14.24, $285
Total Money Winners
1. Breaux, $3,422
2. Jacob, $2,851
3/4. Kelly/Welsh, $2,281
5. Laughlin, $1,996
6. Walker, $1,711
7. Diaz, $1,426
8. Richardson, $1,141
Courtesy of WPRA