By Jolee Jordan
Pendleton, Oregon — There is no question that it takes a special horse to excel at the Pendleton Round-Up in the WPRA barrel racing. The Round-Up is held each September on its unique grass field, a tradition of 107 years.
To safely accommodate the ladies, the pattern here is huge—nearly twice that of a WPRA standard sized pattern—allowing the barrels to be set on the dirt track which circles the infield.
The size is challenging but so too are the conditions, racing from grass to dirt and back again. The track banks upward on the ends, putting the third and final turn on the far east end of the arena slightly uphill before shooting racers back downhill for the long run home.
It truly takes a special horse to conquer the Green Mile, a rockstar with speed and stamina and a big dose of heart.
Roosevelt, Utah cowgirl Kimmie Wall is a past champion, winning in 2015 aboard her own rockstar, the pretty mare Foxy. She ran second in 2016, putting together an impressive three year total here of more than $24,000.
But Wall and Foxy have had a rough summer after making their inaugural trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in Las Vegas last December. The duo were well on their way back until Foxy came down with a liver infection following the Calgary Stampede in July.
After missing a big chunk of the most lucrative rodeo run in late July and early August, Wall and Foxy regained their form in time to win Hermiston but again hit speed bumps as Foxy continued to be running at less than 100 percent.
With the season winding to a close and her name slipping in the standings, Wall took a gamble, skipping big rodeos like Puyallup to rest her mare, going all in on the Round-Up.
With just 14 days left in the regular season for 2017, every run is critical for those competitors battling for the WNFR. A handful of ladies are still on the bubble, close to the top 15 but on the wrong side at the moment, and all of them came to Pendleton to try to catch a piece of the $35,000 committee purse to which nearly 100 competitors’ entry fees were added.
The Round-Up is the last huge payout on the schedule before the regular season ends on September 30 and is set-up for one long go for all competitors with a Saturday afternoon finals for the 12 fastest in that opening round.
Running in the Monday slack, Wall and Foxy looked refreshed and ready, running with the confidence born of past success on the Green Mile. They took the lead with a run of 28.54 seconds. The time would hold up throughout the week and win the round for $4,850, essentially half of the distance between Wall and the 15th ranked barrel racer this week.
The field for the final Saturday contained all the pieces for a great showdown — bubble cowgirls Wall, Ari-Anna Flynn and Jackie Ganter all made the cut. The trio came to town ranked 18th, 19th and 20th, respectively.
Columbia River cowgirl Teri Bangart won second in the first round, taking the lead in her circuit standings from reigning champ Amberleigh Moore, who did not compete in Pendleton. And the field included two cowgirls who have won the finals here previously, Sydni Blanchard and Cheyenne Allen.
Positions are drawn in the final rounds at all WPRA sanctioned events; Bangart drew fourth while Wall was sixth. Flynn would run seventh while Ganter would end the round at twelfth.
Running third on the ground was Tobi Richardson, a dialysis nurse who put in an eight hour shift before coming back to the Round-Up on Saturday. After cheering on her husband Gabe—who competed on Saturday in the steer roping—Richardson and her horse Perky stopped the clock in 29.02 seconds to lead the round in the early going.
Bangart was next, riding her horse Good One. The pair have had a phenomenal season in the Northwest and it got even better on Saturday. The first to break 29 seconds in the finals, Bangart rode to a 28.80 second run.
Finally, it was Wall’s turn to chase around the big Pendleton pattern. She and Foxy were smooth and fluid around the first two cans but a costly slip on the third put her title hopes in jeopardy. As she raced home, fans wondered if she had done enough to surpass the big challenge from Bangart.
When the big scoreboard flashed the final time—28.78—Wall could rest easy, taking the lead in the round as well as the average and knowing she had set a high mark for the six remaining ladies.
Flynn swapped horses for the final round but costly barrel penalties took her out of the money.
At last, it was time for Ganter, the final obstacle to Wall’s magnificent sweep. The two-time National Finalist and her horse Cartel were fast at 28.93, good enough for third in both the round and the average.
As it did two years ago, the day belonged to Wall and Foxy. The nine year old mare was named the Barrel Racing Horse of the Round-Up as Wall collected her second title here. Along with a huge prize line that includes a saddle, buckle, cologne, Yeti cooler, jewelry and more, Wall pocketed a hugely important $11,753, rocketing from 18th over the bubble into the top 15.
“I can hardly believe it,” said Wall after making the famous Pendleton victory lap. “Foxy is a rockstar.”
As the race for the WNFR now shifts south and east for the final two weeks, Wall is in a battle with Ivy Conrado, Emily Miller, Jana Bean, Sherry Cervi, Flynn and Ganter for the final positions at this season’s WNFR. The regular season ends September 30 after the ladies have fought through Amarillo, Stephenville, Kansas City, San Bernardino and Industry on the West Coast and finally, the Wrangler Champions Challenge events in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Behind Wall, Ganter did the most damage in Pendleton, picking up $7,262. While not enough to surpass 15th, she gained valuable ground and is in a much closer position than she was a week ago.
For more information on the Pendleton Round-Up, visit them on-line at www.pendletonroundup.com.
Stay tuned to www.wpra.com to follow the chase for the 2017 WNFR.
1. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 28.54, $4,850
2. Teri Bangart, Streakin Honor Kid, 28.68, $4,157
3. Sydni Blanchard, Mr. Famous Jess, 28.81, $3,464
4. Jackie Ganter, Cartels Fame, 28.91,$3,002
5. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 28.95, $2,079
6. Italy Sheehan, Woody Pine Cone, 28.95, $2,079
7. Courtney Frazier, Shall I Be First, 28.96, $1,386
8. Jody Tucker, Streakin for Mama, 28.97, $924
9. Nicole Laurence, Bullys Little Dash, 29.08, $577
10. Ari-Anna Flynn, Tobys Pococ Misterio, 29.08, $577
1. Wall, 28.78, $2,053
2. Bangart, 28.70, $1,540
3. Ganter, 28.93, $1,026
4. Tobi Richardson, SumBunnysPerky, 29.02, $513
1. Wall, 57.32, $4,850
2. Bangart, 57.48, $4,157
3. Ganter, 57.84, $3,233
4. Blanchard, 57.48, $3,233
5. Nelson, 58.05, $2,310
6. Richardson, 58.11, $1,848
7. Sheehan, 58.18, $1,386
8. Laurence, 58.25, $924
9. Cheyenne Allan, RS Mollys Honor, 58.51, $693
10. Tucker, 63.25, $462
Total Money Won
Courtesy of WPRA