By Jolee Jordan
Houston, Texas — They may have taken different roads to get there but Tracy Nowlin and Sherry Cervi wound up in the same destination as RodeoHouston’s Super Series III came to its conclusion on Wednesday night, March 7.
On paper, the two cowgirls couldn’t be more different. One is a rookie here at RodeoHouston, taking her first run inside the huge NRG Stadium during the first round on Monday night.
The other has won nearly $200,000 at this rodeo alone in nearly two decades of competition inside both the former home of RodeoHouston, the Astrodome, and the new NRG Stadium.
One bought her horse on Facebook a few years ago, hoping the mare would make a tie down roping horse for her son. She calls it the craziest thing she’s ever done.
The other has won four WPRA World titles on three different horses, matching her record for Houston wins. Her family’s breeding program has produced Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) qualifiers in three rodeo timed events and in the barrel racing, a WNFR average winner, a pair of WNFR arena record holders and a WPRA World Champion.
A little tough luck bit both ladies—one started RodeoHouston’s Super Series III with a knocked over barrel, the other finished with a no time—but the cowgirls won more than anyone else in the set to advance to the semi-finals here next week.
RodeoHouston is a tournament style event with the 40 invited competitors divided into brackets or Super Series of eight contestants each. At the conclusion of each Super Series, the top four money winners move on to the semi-finals.
Nowlin rides a bay mare named Dolly Jo while Cervi is aboard the sorrel gelding called Arson. While they have many differences, they share a competitive spirit and the ability to go fast and win on the biggest stages.
Nowlin, the Prairie Circuit Champion, has been flirting with a trip to the WNFR in recent seasons and a good showing here could end the flirtation and land her in Vegas come December.
The semi-finalists will make one more run with the four fastest moving into the Championship Round on March 17; the remaining six will move into the Wild Card Round, held March 16, where the two fastest also advance to the Championship Round.
The final night consists of the ten contestant Championship Round, followed immediately by the Championship Shoot-out, comprised of the top four from the first round. Everything in Houston is sudden death and the final round winner will be crowned the champion and pick up a huge $50,000 purse, which counts towards WPRA World standings.
Cervi is a many-time Turquoise Circuit Champ and she often answers “RodeoHouston” to the query of which of pro rodeo event is her favorite.
It was the veteran who struck first in 2018, running almost two years to the day from the moment she passed $3 million in career earnings while winning Super Series III here in 2016. She remains the only cowgirl to do so.
On the opening night of her set this time around, Cervi piloted the super quick Arson to a second place finish behind Carmel Wright.
The pattern inside NRG Stadium often presents a big challenge to both seasoned horses and jockeys. Competitors race down a partially blind alleyway and the first barrel is very close to the gate. Running across to the second two turns, competitors see nothing but a ton of real estate: the arena is the size of a football field and no fence is in sight of any barrel.
The opening night saw several horses have a little trouble, Dolly Jo being one. The mare got too much speed rolling into the second barrel; displaying the heart and try of a champ, the mare tried hard to recover but cut back a little too hard, brushing the can to the dirt. The time still would have earned a check.
A champion in the circuit system as well, Wright has been in the semi-finals here before but back then she ran a mare called SweetHeart. Her new ride, the outstanding young mare Luna, picked up where her stablemate left off with the round winning 14.74 second effort.
The following night, it was Cervi’s spotlight again. The Arizonan won the round with her turn of 14.85 seconds, giving her a two-night total of $5,000.
Nowlin was right on her heels at 14.89 to win second. That left the Oklahoma cowgirl tied with Tiany Schuster for the third and fourth spots to advance, a precarious position with a round win worth more than the two had won at that point.
On the final night of the Super Series, it was Cervi’s turn for tough luck as her great horse fell down in the hind end on the first barrel, gallantly picked himself up and ran across to the second only to have the same thing happen again. Deciding to save her mount, Cervi pulled Arson to a stop and exited the arena.
With the luck of the draw, Wright and Nowlin ran next and both mares were able to navigate through with no issues. Wright stopped the clock at 15.02 while Nowlin and Dolly Jo wowed the crowd with a 14.68, the fastest time run on this new, bigger pattern.
The time would easily win the round for the mom with the Facebook horse, landing her at $5,000 in Super Series earnings to tie Cervi for the win.
Wright placed on all three runs here, earning $4,500 while Schuster’s trio of third place checks put $3,000 in her Wranglers. All four ladies will run again in the next round.
There are just 16 ladies left to compete in their Super Series before the semi-finals get underway. Super Series IV contests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and a trio of 2017 RodeoHouston Finalists will be there hoping to repeat their success from a year ago: Taylor Langdon, Carley Richardson and Kelly Tovar. Also in the mix are WNFR cowgirls Ivy Conrado, Cassidy Kruse and Christine Laughlin.
Reigning Ram National Circuit Finals Champ Emily Miller is also on the schedule along with RodeoHouston Rookie Sissy Winn, who punched her ticket here as the highest placer at San Angelo who was not already qualified.
The preliminary competition ends with Super Series V on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The final eight are highlighted by reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller, who was among the final four at RodeoHouston in 2017, 2014 WPRA World Champ Fallon Taylor, a former RodeoHouston Champ, and Lisa Lockhart, one of only three cowgirls to earn $2 million in their WPRA careers.
The dynamic mother-daughter duo of Jane Melby and Cayla Small will compete together in Super Series V as will Alex Lang, Sidney Forrest, and Sydni Blanchard, who is also hoping to be in the Championship Round here for a second straight year.
Super Series III
1. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, 14.74, $3,000
2. Sherry Cervi, Dash ta Diamonds, 15.28, $2,000
3. Tiany Schuster, Show Mance, 15.53, $1,000
4. Jaime Hinton, OJS Tex Wood, 15.61, $750
1. Cervi, 14.85, $3,000
2. Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, 14.89, $2,000
3. Schuster, 14.96, $1,000
4. Wright, 15.01, $750
1. Nowlin, 14.68, $3,000
2. Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 14.97, $2,000
3. Schuster, 14.98, $1,000
4. Wright, 15.02, $750
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA