By Jolee Jordan
Puyallup, Washington — As the half million dollar Justin Finale presented by Justin Boots kicked off this weekend at the Washington State Fair Pro Rodeo in Puyallup, most eyes were fixed on the bottom end of the top 15 in the WPRA World standings as the bulk of the competitors here were ladies fighting to make their way to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The cut off is just a few weeks away on September 30.
But folks may have overlooked the second-highest ranked cowgirl competing here, two-time World Champion Barrel Racer Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi. Given the hot streak the winner of more than $2 million in WPRA earnings has been on this summer, that was definitely a mistake.
Pozzi Tonozzi competed in the second of two sets of ladies in Puyallup, all earning their spots from points earned during the season at Wrangler ProRodeo Tour events. Pozzi Tonozzi was the regular season standings leader in those events, gathering 1,640 points at stops like Salinas, Cheyenne, Kennewick and Ellensburg.
Each lady made two runs in preliminary competition; the first group of 12 ran in performances on Thursday and Friday nights, September 6-7 while the second group competed in two performances on Saturday, September 8.
Following the Saturday night perf, the field has been cut to eight ladies based on the two-run average. The eight ladies now vie for the title on Sunday, September 9 in a sudden death, two run format. The eight round will be cut to four based on fastest times; the four will run right back in the same performance, again with no times carried forward, to determine the champion who will walk away with $7,500 in prize money from the final round alone.
The first group was dominated by rookie of the year contender Jimmie Smith, the cowgirl who just graduated from Texas A&M and competed at the College National Finals Rodeo this summer. Smith and her mare Lena won both the Thursday and Friday night perfs to lead the average after the opening set.
“I mean, there’s lots on the line the rest of the month,” says Smith. “But my mare just decided she was ready and we are just gonna go one run at a time!”
Smith is third in a battle with Leia Pluemer, who is also in Puyallup, and KL Spratt for the title of WPRA Rookie of the Year. All three ladies came into the weekend separated by just under $4,000.
But while the newcomer dominated the first two days, Saturday was all about the veteran and the comeback kid—Pozzi Tonozzi’s World Champion barrel horse Yeah Hes Firen. Duke, as he is better known in barrel racing circles carried Pozzi Tonozzi to nearly every title available in ProRodeo before suffering what was believed to be a career ending injury prior to the 2013 Wrangler NFR.
But Duke eventually recovered from the injury and cautiously re-entered ProRodeo life this spring. After a huge win at the California Rodeo Salinas in mid-July—his fourth title there—Duke has been often found back in the winner’s circle. His most recent win was the finals at Ellensburg just four days ago on Labor Day.
Meanwhile, Pozzi Tonozzi, riding Duke as well as other horses Mona and Katniss, has won more than $53,000 since mid-July, jumping from ninth in the standings all the way to fourth.
After her first day in Puyallup, Pozzi Tonozzi may be rising again. Duke carried her to a clean sweep of the preliminary rounds along with the average, wins worth a total of $13,457.
On Sunday, Pozzi Tonozzi is hoping Duke will repeat history again . . . he won this rodeo in 2009.
Smith finished third in the opening round, behind Pozzi Tonozzi and Ivy Conrado, and second in the second round to win second in the average for earnings of $10,474. Though she’s blown to the lead in the rookie race, things are still quite interesting as Pluemer also placed in the second go and average, cinching her place in Sunday’s finals. Pluemer has won $2,187 aboard her mare Sister.
On the bubble chase, Texas cowgirl and six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Tammy Fischer fared best in Puyallup, placing in the first go and third in the average for earnings of $4,971 so far. Her closest chasers in the WPRA World standings—Jessie Telford, Tracy Nowlin, Tiany Schuster, Jessi Fish, Jana Bean and Teri Bangart all failed to advance to the finals though Fish and Bean won checks in the first go round.
Only Kellie Collier will join Fischer on Sunday as one of the group of cowgirls who came to Puyallup ranked from 12th to 22nd in the standings. The 2017 Wrangler NFR contestant has not won a check yet but has exactly the same opportunity as the other seven ladies on Sunday thanks to the sudden death format.
A clean sweep on Sunday would be worth $12,000. That amount would all but assure Fischer or Collier a spot in Las Vegas. For Pluemer or Smith, it could make the difference in winning one of ProRodeo’s toughest titles, WPRA Rookie of the Year.
For Pozzi Tonozzi, it would get her that much closer to world leaders Hailey Kinsel and Nellie Miller and certainly put her name in contention for another WPRA World Championship.
The rest of the field for the finals includes Jessica Routier, the Badlands Circuit Champ who is well on her way to her first Wrangler NFR ranked eighth. Routier and her mare Missy have won $4,861 so far.
Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Darby Fox also made the cut riding Easy French Alibi. Fox is ranked 51st in the World standings but a good showing on Sunday could move her up high enough to allow the cowgirl to enter all the big winter rodeos with limited entries, generally reserved for the top 40 in the final WPRA World standings.
Andrea Busby rounds out the field of eight. The former Mountain States Circuit Finals champion rode a pair of horses on Saturday to punch her ticket to the finals. After riding Dial It Fast in the matinee, Busby switched to Cornitasundayspecial for the evening performance, running fast enough for a go round check and to land eighth in the average. She’ll again be aboard the aptly named Sunday for the finals.
1. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Yeah Hes Firen, 14.34, $3,845
2. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 14.39, $3,182
3. Jimmie Smith, Lena on the Rocks, 14.44, $2,519
4. Jessi Fish, Guys Night in Vegas, 14.45, $1,856
5. Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 14.54, $1,193
6. Brittney Barnett, Frenchmans Pick/Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West/Jana Bean, It’s Complicated, 14.66, $221
1. Pozzi Tonozzi, 14.43, $3,845
2. Smith, 14.53, $3,182
3. Darby Fox, Easy French Alibi, 14.55, $2,519.Routier, 14.57, $1,856
4. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, 14.60, $1,193
5. Andrea Busby, Cornitasundayspecial, 14.61, $663
1. Pozzi Tonozzi, 28.77, $5,767
2. Smith, 28.97, $4,773
3. Fischer, 29.21, $3,778
4. Routier, 29.23, $2,784
5. Fox, 29.45, $1,790
6. Pluemer, 29.53, $994
7. Kellie Collier, 29.59
8. Busby, 29.70
Courtesy of WPRA