By Jolee Jordan
Puyallup, Washington — For three rounds, the barrel race at the half million dollar Justin Finale presented by Justin Boots at the Washington State Fair Pro Rodeo in Puyallup was a runaway for past champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi.
The two-time World Champion and winner of more than $2 million in her career dominated the two long rounds of competition, winning the average by two tenths of a second. The 24 cowgirls invited to compete here by virtue of their standing in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour each got two shots to win money and land inside the top eight to compete in the Finale’s Championship Round held Sunday, September 9.
With the biggest chunk of the purse offered here up for grabs on Sunday, Pozzi Tonozzi rode a high into the last day and looked like the domination would only continue after she claimed the victory in the Semi-Final round with a run of 14.33 seconds, nearly three full tenths of a second ahead of second place.
The closest run to her in that round was rookie cowgirl Jimmie Smith, who had already won more than $10,000 in her first appearance in Puyallup. Smith and her tough little palomino mare Lena were running tightest to Pozzi Tonozzi’s own palomino superstar, world champion Duke, through the first rounds.
Both rounds on Sunday in Puyallup are sudden death—nothing done prior to the final day matters in the chase to the title. That makes the stakes high on Sunday for cowgirls like Kellie Collier and Tammy Fischer, who came to Puyallup on the bubble for a trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as the season plows through its final month.
Fischer and her own palomino steed Zeva responded to the pressure with a time of 14.74 seconds to win third behind Pozzi Tonozzi and Smith to advance to the finals.
Andrea Busby slid into fourth place aboard her horse Sunday, running a 14.76, rounding out the competition. Busby has been on a hot streak as the summer closes out, ranked 32nd in the WPRA World standings.
The tournament style format here means that the four-round qualifiers then wait as the other events crown their champions, giving the finalists about an hour to catch their breath and prepare for the finals.
Fischer kicked things off in the final round, scampering through the pattern in 14.63 seconds for the early lead.
Busby ran second this time aboard Dial It Fast, bumping Fischer with her own run of 14.56 seconds, her best run of the rodeo.
All focus then went to Pozzi Tonozzi, looking to put another exclamation point on the comeback tour of Duke, who spent more than four years out to pasture with what was believed to be a career-ending injury before returning to championship form this season. As the big gelding sprinted through the pattern with his one-of-a-kind style, the clock stopped at 14.77, putting Pozzi Tonozzi third.
Running as the last barrel racer in the biggest rodeo of her young career, Smith and Lena responded like veterans, not rookies. Going to the left barrel first, Smith blistered the course, posting a time of 14.41 to easily claim the victory.
The young cowgirl—who is just as handy with a breakaway rope as she is in the barrel saddle—was in tears as she claimed her win, taking a well-deserved victory lap.
While most were watching the bubble chase for the Wrangler NFR here, the rookie race was just as compelling. New Mexico cowgirl Leia Pluemer has led or been near the top of the standings for much of the season and was in the Semi-Finals in Puyallup.
But after winning $11,000 on the final day alone, it was Smith who vaulted from third to first. She won more than $21,000 for her four runs in Puyallup. She’s now won almost $50,000 on the year, jumped into the top 30 of the World standings, and leads the rookie race by more than $15,000.
There are now 21 days left in the 2018 rodeo season and Smith is in a full sprint to the end.
“I’m entered everywhere! I’m entered at Pendleton, Abilene and Albuquerque,” laughs Smith. “But I’m trying to find something to jump ride and leave Lena at Pendleton.”
The Pendleton Round-Up begins Monday, September 9 and is one more in a summer’s worth of new adventures for Smith this season.
“First time out here, period,” she says. “Awesome experience.”
Pozzi Tonozzi moved to third in the WPRA World standings after earning more than $17,000 in Puyallup. After finishing second in the final round, Busby’s earnings jumped to more than $7,000.
The see-saw battle amongst the bubble cowgirls continued for another week. Two weeks ago, Carley Richardson had the big weekend, last week it was Tracy Nowlin.
After slipping to 15th last week, Fischer battled back in a huge way during the first full week of September. She began with a fifth place finish in the mud at Fort Madison, Iowa before the long haul back to the Northwest. Once there, she did major damage, winning second at the Lewiston Round-Up before her biggest win in Puyallup.
With $7,471 in Justin Finale earnings, Fischer’s weekend total of $10,928 was by far the highest of the bubble ladies, jumping her season earnings to more than $90,000. She moved up to 10th in the WPRA World standings, giving herself a little breathing room in the final weeks.
Elsewhere, Tracy Nowlin claimed a win at Spokane (WA) worth $1,242 and Salt Lake City for another $1,062, while Jessi Fish earned $1,856 in a round in Puyallup. Jana Bean picked up a couple of checks in Puyallup and Spokane while Tiany Schuster earned a check in Fort Madison. Nowlin held her position in 13th while Richardson slid to 14th.
Amber Moore should find herself 15th in the standings following the week with earnings of $82,084. That sets another new record for earnings to qualify to the Wrangler NFR with three more weekends to go. It’s also just about $4,000 behind 11th but only about the same amount ahead of 16th ranked Jessie Telford.
Eight of the cowgirls on the bubble are scheduled to compete in Pendleton this week: Richardson, Fischer, Collier, Telford, Schuster, Fish, Bean, and Teri Bangart, who has the best record on the huge pattern and grass that set Pendleton apart from every other rodeo.
Pendleton offers the biggest purse left on the schedule for the year with $37,500 added and 100 barrel racer entered. Following Pendleton, the focus will shift south for rodeos like Albuquerque, Amarillo, Omaha and Stephenville.
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
4. Routier, 14.57, $1,856
5. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, 14.60, $1,193
6. Andrea Busby, Cornitasundayspecial, 14.61, $663
1. Pozzi Tonozzi, 28.77, $5,767
2. Smith, 28.97, $4,773
2. Fischer, 29.21, $3,778
3. Routier, 29.23, $2,784
4. Fox, 29.45, $1,790
5. Pluemer, 29.53, $994
6. Kellie Collier, 29.59
7. Busby, 29.70
1. Pozzi Tonozzi, 14.33, $4,500
2. Smith, 14.60, $3,500
3. Fischer, 14.74, $2,500
4. Busby, Cornitasundayspecial, 14.76, $1,500
1. Smith, 14.41, $7,500
2. Busby, Dial It Fast, 14.56, $5,000
3. Fischer, 14.63
4. Pozzi Tonozzi, 14.77
Total Money Won
Pozzi Tonozzi, $17,957
Courtesy of WPRA