By Jolee Jordan
San Antonio, Texas—Just over a week ago, the 2018 edition of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo kicked off with 50 cowgirls seeking a share of the lucrative purse available. Fifteen performances later, the field has been narrowed to 20 as the rodeo enters its stretch run.
One of the huge winter stock show rodeos, San Antonio is a tournament style rodeo. The rodeo is divided into brackets of 10 contestants each and each bracket holds three rounds of preliminary competition. At the end of the third round, the top four money winners from the three rounds (no average money is figured or paid) advance to the Semi-Finals.
San Antonio is one of the highest paying rodeos of the season and has been voted the best Indoor Rodeo in the PRCA for 13 straight years; the total payout is more than $170,000 in the WPRA barrel racing.
Bracket competition wound up over the holiday weekend, setting the stage for the semi-finals beginning on Tuesday night, February 20.
Each of the two, 10-contestant semi-finals is comprised of two more rounds, paying more than the preliminary rounds and contestants again vie for round money to add to their bracket earnings. The five highest money winners from each semi-final will move on to the finals, February 24.
Because money won is critical to continuing advancement through the rounds at San Antonio, a big performance in her bracket can set a competitor up well as the rodeo progresses, making her path to the Finals and eventually, the Championship, that much easier.
Sammi Bessert is well aware of how things run inside AT&T Center. She’s made the trip seven times previously and her great gelding Tommy seems to always shine here. Her 2018 trip will probably rank amongst her favorites, however, as just a few months ago, it look improbable that Tommy would return to the Alamo City.
“He got a hot nail that went really bad and infected his coffin bone,” Bessert says of her now 16-year old son of the legendary stallion Dash ta Fame. “This was his first rodeo back since August.”
Bessert was the only cowgirl in Bracket 4 to win a check in each of the three preliminary rounds. Bessert was fourth on the opening run with a smooth run of 14.11 seconds.
Running twice on Saturday, Bessert was part of a three way split during an extremely competitive second round in the afternoon with a time of 14.17 seconds.
Tommy saved the best for last, blasting a run of 13.84 seconds on Saturday night, the fastest run of the entire bracket. In fact, Bessert is the only cowgirl apart from Hailey Kinsel who ran in the first bracket, to break 14 seconds through the first four sets.
“I’m just so grateful to still have him and am having a hard time believing what he did this week,” Bessert notes. “He feels really good.”
“Dr. Beck at South Valley there in Salt Lake is the bomb.”
Prairie Circuit champion Tracy Nowlin won the first round aboard her good mare Dolly Jo, running a 14.02 to edge out AT&T Center arena record holder Sydni Blanchard.
Ericka Nelson and Friday took first in the round on Saturday, winning the shootout by one one-hundredth of a second over Bessert, Kathy Grimes and Jordan Moore.
Bessert handily advanced to the semi-finals once again, earning $4,162. Bracket 4 was the most competitive bracket thus far with eight of the 10 cowgirls competing earning a check. Nelson finished second after pairing her second round victory with a third place finish in the final round. She won $3,567.
Nowlin earned only the one check but the round win proved enough to move her on to the next round with $2,378 won.
The final spot was a toss-up with three ladies tied up at $1,784: Taylor Langdon, Kathy Grimes, and Jordan Moore. Langdon brought the clutch performance with a second place finish in the final round, running fast enough to earn the semi-finals spot with the single fastest time of the three cowgirls.
“Louie does it! We won second and made it back to the semi-finals,” Langdon wrote on social media after the big win. “Thankful for that little grey rocket.”
Langdon and Bessert were both in the Finals here in 2017, joining Ivy Conrado as the only cowgirls thus far to have a chance to get back to the Finals.
The final bracket of preliminary competition looked amazing on paper with three of the top four cowgirls from the 2017 WPRA World standings set to compete including the reigning San Antonio champion Amberleigh Moore, who won every round here last year.
The competition lived up to the hype as seven different ladies won checks during the first two rounds on Sunday. In the afternoon, a performance in which several cowgirls ran into trouble, last year’s record setting cowgirl Tiany Schuster rose to the top aboard Show Mance.
Schuster stopped the clock at 13.92 seconds for the win, followed by Moore.
Running just a few hours later, Kelly Tovar bounced back from a tipped barrel in the first round for a stunning win at 14.01 with her phenomenal young horse Bakken.
“Bakken winning the round tonight in San Antonio, I can’t even express how thankful I am for this horse!” Tovar posted to Facebook afterwards. “I won this round on Edwin two years ago so this was really exciting for me! It’s been a long dry spell and I’m just thankful to God for this blessing!”
Likewise, reigning Canadian champion Carman Pozzobon jumped back into the fray on Sunday night; she also tipped a barrel in the afternoon, posting a sub-fourteen second time before the penalty, but came back that evening to win second behind Tovar.
With a tie at the top between Schuster and Tovar, and a three way split of third with Pozzobon, Moore and reigning WPRA World Champ Nellie Miller, the only cowgirl to place in both opening rounds, the field was wide open for advancement to the semi-finals as the final round began on Monday night.
The night did not begin well . . . running first on the ground, Tovar tipped the first barrel and then Bakken set up at the second. Trying to keep the gelding going forward, Tovar got tipped over the front end as the lightning quick gelding made the turn, eventually falling off to the right side. In a moment that caught everyone’s breathe in their throats, Tovar’s foot hung in the stirrup and she was drug all the way out of the arena and part way down the alley before her boot finally came off, freeing her from further damage.
“WellI I just want everyone to know that I am ok!” she posted online later with a good bit of self-deprecating humor. “All I wanted was one more step on that second barrel and Bakken decided to turn and well, I didn’t! My foot hung in the stirrup my boot finally came off! Thanks for all the calls and text I’m ok, just bruised. I’ll be taking a deep seat next time! On a positive note we made the semi-finals!”
After such an ominous start, it took a few more barrel racers before things seemed to settle down—then it got tough.
After taking a no time in the first round and a barrel penalty on the next run, former San Antonio champion Kelly Bruner and her gelding Suzy shook off the pressure, posting the rodeo’s fastest time thus far at 13.80 seconds to win the go round.
Moore bounced back from hit barrels to land second with Schuster back in the money at third; both cowgirls ran under fourteen seconds. Pozzobon placed again, winning fourth.
Like Bracket 4, eight cowgirls in Bracket 5 picked up checks but Moore and Schuster landed on top of the heap at $3,568 each. Three cowgirls wound up tied for the final two positions in the semi-finals, the other two round winners Tovar and Bruner as well as Pozzobon who picked up a second and a fourth. All three had $2,378 in their pockets and the tie breaker goes first to round winners, leaving Pozzobon on the outside.
The first Semi-Final begins Tuesday night with the rodeo’s top winner in the barrel racing so far, Hailey Kinsel leading the way. With $7,134 already in the bank, Kinsel has a great chance to move on to the Finals. Also competing in the first semi-finals are Carley Richardson, Ericka Nelson, Schuster, Cassidy Kruse, Jessie Telford, Bruner, Tracy Nowlin, Jane Melby and Callahan Crossley.
Each cowgirl gets two more rounds, this time paying $4,459 a round. Following Wednesday night’s rodeo, the field will be narrowed in half to just five ladies moving into Saturday night’s Finals.
1. Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, 14.02, $2,378
2. Sydni Blanchard, Mr Famous Jess, 14.08, $1,784
3. Sabra O’Quinn, Bring It On Guys, 14.10, $1,189
4. Sammi Bessert, Terrible Tommy Twist, 14.11, $595
1. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 14.16, $2,378
2-3-4. Bessert/Kathy Grimes, KG Justiceweexpected/Jordan Moore, CCR Ring of Fire, 14.17, $1,189
1. Bessert, 13.84, $2,378
2. Taylor Langdon, Dashin Louie, 14.04, $1,784
3. Nelson, 14.06, $1,189
4. Grimes, 14.16, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
1. Tiany Schuster, Show Mance, 13.92, $2,378
2. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 14.14, $1,784
3. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 14.16, $1,189
4. Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 14.20, $595
1. Kelly Tovar, A Dash ta Glamour, 14.01, $2,378
2. Carman Pozzobon, Ripn Lady, 14.12, $1,784
3. Michele McLeod, Slick by Design, 14.24, $1,189
4. Miller, 14.26, $595
1. Kelly Bruner, Suzytresseis, 13.80, $2,378
2. Moore, 13.95, $1,784
3. Schuster, 13.97, $$1,189
4. Pozzobon, 14.11, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Semi-Final #1 (Tues-Wed)
Name, Bracket, Money Won
Hailey Kinsel, B1, $7,134
Carley Richarson, B3, $6,540
Ericka Nelson, B4, $3,567
Tiany Schuster, B5, $3,567
Cassidy Kruse, B3, $2,973
Kelly Bruner, B5, $2,378
Tracy Nowlin, B4, $2,378
Jessie Telford, B2, $2,378
Callahan Crossley, B2, $1,784
Jane Melby, B1, $1,784
Semi-Final #2 (Thurs-Fri)
Name, Bracket, Money Won
Ivy Conrado, B2, $5,945
Tillar Murray, B2, $5,351
Shelby Janssen, B3, $5,054
Sammi Bessert, B4, $4,162
Lisa Lockhart, B1, $3,567
Amberleigh Moore, B5, $3,567
Kelly Tovar, B5, $2,378
Jana Bean, B3, $2,081
Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, B1, $2,081
Taylor Langdon, B4, $1,784
San Antonio, Texas—San Antonio, Texas—Competition continued this week at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and in the WPRA barrel racing, it was Money and love during Bracket 3.
San Antonio is one of the most lucrative events on the WPRA schedule with a purse of $171,500 and is limited to just 50 cowgirls. Positions are determined by both previous and current WPRA World standings as well as the 2017 WPRA Tour standings.
The 50 competitors are divided into five brackets for the tournament style rodeo. Each bracket has three rounds and there are no averages paid. The top four money earners from each bracket advance to the semi-finals, where they get two more rounds to earn as much money as possible.
Following the final round of the semi-finals, the top five from each group advance to the Finals, to be held February 24. With a whopping payout of more than $15,000 to the fastest runner in the final round, that’s where the Championship is decided, based on the top money winner from all six runs.
Bracket 3 ran during the week, February 13-15, encompassing Valentine’s Day during the middle round.
Texas cowgirl Carley Richardson is a veteran of two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos but missed rodeo’s Super Bowl in 2017. She has been back on the rodeo trail with a vengeance in the early going of the big winter run in 2018.
Richardson entered San Antonio already sixth in the WPRA World standings after winning the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo last fall and third in Denver at the National Western Stock Show last month with her tough gelding Flit Money, aka Money.
Money proved to be money once again in San Antonio, taking the win in both the first and second rounds of Bracket 3. Richardson easily clinched the victories with times of 14.08 and 14.06, respectively.
Running right behind Richardson on the first two nights was new mom Shelby Janssen. Janssen welcomed her son, Rankan, to the world in November; now Rankan is watching his mom and dad—PRCA saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell—win at pro rodeos.
“Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone,” Janssen posted to Facebook after the second round. “I am so blessed we got to spend it as a family at San Antonio. Rankan also turned 3 months old today. Time is going way too fast.”
Janssen split second in round one with Wrangler NFR cowgirl Jana Bean while she was third behind Richardson and comeback cowgirl Cassidy Kruse in round two.
Kruse’s money-winning run on Valentine’s Day was extra special as it came aboard her great gelding JJ, who carried her to the Wrangler NFR back in 2015, winning the first go round.
“For everyone that knows JJ, this run means the world to all of us!” Kruse posted on social media, revealing that JJ had been sidelined with injury for most of 2017. “This is his first run back at a rodeo in 7 months! It’s been a roller coaster to get him healed up and ready to roll again, but he’s back! There are so many people that have helped me to get him here and I can’t thank you all enough.”
Richardson and Janssen looked to be shoe-ins to the next rounds as the final night of Bracket 3 kicked off on Thursday night, but who would capture the other two positions in the semi-finals?
Great Lakes Circuit Champ Lacinda Rose had picked up two checks but a downed barrel—which cost her the round win—ended her 2018 San Antonio run as the first to compete on Thursday. Four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi, who also has a pair of San Antonio titles on her impressive resume, put up a fight on the final night, earning a check for fourth in the round.
As it turned out, Richardson and Janssen dominated again, as Janssen won the night. It was extra special as Sundell also claimed the round win in his signature event, his third win of the Bracket, allowing the entire family to advance to the next round.
Janssen’s 14.05 edged past Richardson’s 14.11 in the go round.
Kruse was the clutch performer, sliding into third on the final night to punch her ticket to the next go round.
Richardson topped the bracket at $6,540 while Janssen earned $5,054. Kruse took third with $2,973 and Jana Bean’s check of $1,486 for splitting second in the first round proved enough to move the Texas cowgirl on to the semi-finals.
The final two Brackets of preliminary competition begin with Bracket 4, held on Friday, February 16 and ending with a pair of performances on Saturday, February 17 while Bracket 5 wraps things up with two rounds on Sunday, February 18 and ending on President’s Day, February 19. Among the competitors yet to take their shot are three past San Antonio champs [Amberleigh Moore (2017), Michele McLeod (2016) and Kelly Bruner (2000)] and six of last year’s finalists (Taylor Langdon, Sabra O’Quinn and Sammi Bessert (B4); Moore, Kathy Grimes, Nellie Miller (B5).
Competitors in Bracket 4 also include circuit champion cowgirls Tracy Nowlin, Jordan Moore and Lori Todd along with reigning Canadian champ Carman Pozzobon, and three time Wrangler NFR cowgirl Sydni Blanchard, who happens to be the arena record holder here in San Antonio. They’ll be joined by newcomer Jodi Colton and perennial top competitor Ericka Nelson.
The final bracket includes two WPRA World Champions, Mary Walker and Nellie Miller, the reigning champ from 2017. The reigning San Antonio champ is also on the schedule, Moore, who set a record in 2017, winning every round of competition inside AT&T Center.
McLeod and Bruner are set to appear in Bracket 5 along with last year’s record setting regular season earners, Tiany Schuster and Stevi Hillman. The competition is rounded out by top Canadian competitor Kirsty White and the always tough Kelly Tovar.
1. Carley Richardson, Flit Money, 14.08, $2,378
2/3. Jana Bean, Sign of Frost/Shelby Jannsen, Famous Amous, 14.25, $1,486
4/5. Jaime Hinton, OJS Tex Wood/Lacinda Rose, RR Meradas Real Deal, 14.26, $297
1. Richardson, 14.06, $2,378
2. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 14.09, $1,784
3. Janssen, 14.18, $1,188
4. Rose, 14.23, $594
1. Janssen, 14.05, $2,378
2. Richardson, 14.12, $1,784
3. Kruse, 14.20, $1,189
4. Sherry Cervi, MP Del Rey, 14.31, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
San Antonio, Texas—Stock Show season is well underway for rodeo competitors, meaning a chance to earn big dollars early in the year, money that can propel them to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and even to world championships.
With the National Western in Denver as well as the Fort Worth Stock Show in the books, eyes turned to south Texas for the next stop, the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, celebrating its 68th year in 2018.
Unlike the others, San Antonio is limited to just 50 contestants in each event and runs in tournament style, beginning with five brackets of preliminary competition, each made up of ten athletes. Following three rounds of sudden death competition, the top four money earners from those three go rounds advance to a two-round semi-finals.
Though no times carry forward, money earned does and advancement to the final round is based on total money won from the brackets and two rounds of semi-finals. The final round is comprised of the top five money winners from each semi-finals for a total of ten competitors.
The final round will be held on February 24 and is the most lucrative go round of the rodeo, paying more than $15,000 to the winner. Following the payoff from the final round, the championship is awarded to the cowgirl who has won the most money throughout the rodeo.
Hailey Kinsel lived out the most amazing Cinderella story in 2017. The Cotulla, Texas cowgirl appeared from relative obscurity to win RFD-TV’s The American almost exactly one year ago, earning $433,000 in a single afternoon.
She and the great palomino mare she calls Sister went on later that summer to claim a college national title and a gold medal at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games en route to her first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). Once there, she ran the two fastest times ever run inside the Thomas & Mack, earning $190,000 in ten runs.
Kinsel’s fairy tale season ended with a WPRA Reserve World title and barrel racing earnings for the year of nearly three quarters of a million dollars between all events.
Now a household name amongst barrel racing and rodeo fans, Kinsel hit the 2018 season at full speed, winning a go round at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and finishing second in Fort Worth by just one one-hundredth of a second.
Already fourth in the WPRA World standings, Kinsel took her shots in San Antonio for the first time in her career as she was not qualified into the major winter rodeos in 2017.
It didn’t take her or Sister long to make themselves at home inside AT&T Center. The pair won the opening night of the rodeo while participating in Bracket 1 on February 8. Their time of 13.86 was more than two tenths ahead of Lisa Lockhart and her mare Rosa.
“I have always wanted to run at San Antonio! It was one of my biggest dreams growing up, and the closest thing to a 'hometown rodeo' for me,” Kinsel wrote on Facebook following the first round. “Sister not only made our first run here a great experience, she won the round. Thank you to my family and friends for coming out. Such a tough group of girls in this set. Looking forward to our next two runs. Thank you Sis.”
Kinsel kept the fire burning bright on the following two runs, breaking fourteen seconds on every run to sweep the bracket clean. She earned $7,134 to easily march into the next round.
Lockhart moved on as well, thanks to a pair of second place finishes despite an oops on the second night that left her with a no time. The two-time WPRA Reserve World Champ won $3,567 on her newest speedy buckskin horse.
WPRA World Champ Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi and Jane Melby rounded out the qualifiers to the semi-finals from Bracket 1. Pozzi Tonozzi rode her mare Steeley to a pair of checks worth $2,081, while Melby and Perks Pazazz punched their ticket with a second place finish in round two.
Another first time Wrangler NFR qualifier from 2017 led the way as Bracket 2 got underway on Saturday night, February 10. Tillar Murray rode her own freakishly fast pony, Commander, to the round win with a time of 14.22 seconds.
Ivy Conrado finished second on the opening night of Bracket 2 and she and the palomino mare J-Lo switched positions with Murray in round two on Sunday afternoon. Conrado took the win with a time of 14.04 to leave the cowgirls tied up with one round to run.
As much as Kinsel dominated Bracket 1, Bracket 2 was a shootout with three different ladies taking victory laps. After hitting barrels two straight runs, Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford righted the ship just in time for her final shot as Bracket 2 concluded on Monday night, February 12.
Telford and Cool Whip stopped the clock at 14.11 for the win. Conrado and Murray stayed solid, right on her heels at 14.16 and 14.20, respectively.
With all three rounds completed, Conrado was determined the high money winner from the bracket, easily moving on to the semi-finals as she seeks her third straight appearance in the Finals here in the Alamo City.
“I'm just proud of her!” said Conrado of the nine year old mare whom she pilots for owners Kenny Nichols and Dale Barron. “She has a tendency to get faster with more runs but I've been taking it easy on her after Vegas. We were one out of the short round at Denver & Fort Worth so I was just pumped she got back to firing!”
Conrado banked $5,945 with Murray earning $5,351. Telford’s round win was enough to punch her ticket to the semi-finals while Columbia River Circuit Finals Champ Callahan Crossley won out on a tie-breaker for the final position for advancement over Nicole Laurence. Both cowgirls earned $1,784 but Crossley earned the semi-finals spot as she turned in the single fastest run, her 14.27 in round two edging Laurence’s 14.29 from round three.
Bracket 3 will contest in evening performances Tuesday through Thursday with former WPRA Rookie of the Year Jackie Ganter, 2017 Canadian Finals Rodeo Champ Jaime Hinton, four-time WPRA World Champ and former San Antonio winner Sherry Cervi, WNFR qualifiers Nikki Hansen, Carley Richardson, Jana Bean, Cassidy Kruse as well as circuit champions Lacinda Rose and Kim Schulze and standout Shelby Janssen scheduled to compete.
1. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 13.86, $2,378
2. Lisa Lockhart, Rosas Cantina CC, 14.10, $1,784
3. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Steele Magnolias, 14.19, $1,189
4. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, 14.35, $595
1. Kinsel, 13.90, $2,378
2. Jane Melby, Perks Pazazz, 14.15, $1,784
3. Pozzi Tonozzi/Kassie Mowry, Girls Dig Fame, 14.17, $892
1. Kinsel, 13.84, $2,378
2. Lockhart, 14.04, $1,784
3. Wright/Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 14.32, $892
Total Money Won
Pozzi Tonozzi, $2,081*
*Advance to Semi-Finals
1. Tillar Murray, Royal Star Commander, 14.22, $2,378
2. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 14.39, $1,784
3. Nicole Laurence, Bully's Little Dash, 14.40, $1,189
4. Callahan Crossley, Brownie Bi Bogie, 14.48, $595
1. Conrado, 14.04, $2,378
2. Murray, 14.19, $1,784
3. Crossley, 14.27, $1,189
4. Emily Miller, Namgis D56, 14.37, $595
1. Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip, 14.11, $2,378
2. Conrado, 14.16, $1,784
3. Murray, 14.20, $1,189
4. Laurence, 14.29, $595
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals