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Richmond Champion certainly lived up to his last time during the Canadian portion of the Cowboy Christmas run.
The Texas bareback rider cashed in by claiming the two biggest rodeos of the July first long weekend. Champion won the Showdown round at the 82nd annual Ponoka Stampede for the biggest single cheque, at $12,949, but he was also top man at Williams Lake Stampede for $3768, rounding out the run with another $1242 for placing third at Airdrie, for nearly $18,000 from the three Canadian rodeo stops.
At Ponoka, Champion drew the World Bareback Horse of the Year, C5’s Virgil. It was the same matchup that gave him the $100,000 bonus cheque at last year’s Calgary Stampede.
“It’s like he ate every other cool bucking horse and stole all their powers, and just put it all into one. There is no other horse like him. You can’t describe it,” he beamed, after marking 91.25 points on the ride.
Champion has been on the road with Caleb Bennett and Jake Vold and they nabbed three of the four Showdown spots at Ponoka, along with Manitoba’s Orin Larsen who was 90.5 on Stevie Nicks to win the short round. Vold actually won the most money of the Midas truck, because he was the aggregate winner, and runner-up in both the Finals and the Showdown, for a $14,098 bonus. Bennett collected $9190 altogether, after coming out on top from the Airdrie Pro Rodeo.
“Christmas is good! So far, we’ve only been to Airdrie and Williams Lake and Ponoka,” Champion said Monday night in Ponoka after receiving the Ponoka buckle and jacket. “We’re headed south of the border for six rodeos in three days. So hopefully we’ll throw a lot more into the bank account before Calgary.”
The way their schedule was set up after entries gave the talented trio in the truck a slower paced start to the run, but that suited them all fine.
“I learned this last year. I think we entered ten and I went to four of them, and I had the best fourth (of July run) I’ve ever had.”
“This is what we live for. It’s fun. At this point in our careers, the easier we can do it, the better. This time of the year a guy can burn themselves out and we try to be a little smarter than that and just take advantage of the opportunities.”
Larsen added $8640 from his Ponoka effort, plus a small cheque from Airdrie.
Ponoka had not been a top spot on Scott Guenthner’s rodeo calendar in the past, but he changed all that this year as he rode away with the Stampede honors.
“I usually don’t do well on my first one here, usually break the barrier or take a hard knocker,” admitted the Provost steer wrestler. “I was just trying to make a solid statement on the barrier this year. I’ve been quick here before but I’ve never put two together.”
Guenthner split the second round win, took the Finals with a 4.2 and then was fastest in the Showdown with a 5.4 second run, for a $16,513 paycheque, plus a small bonus from Airdrie ($282) and a little out of one round in Greeley ($681). The cash will go a long way towards Guenthner’s goal of returning to the NFR this year.
“It’s a big, big boost right now. I was 13th, just kind of playing with the 15th spot every week, back and forth. This will definitely help bump it up. But it’s still a long summer. We’re just starting right now. I have more than I had last year won going into this weekend, but it’s a long summer.”
The 2016 Ponoka Stampede steer wrestling champ was runner-up this year. Stephen Culling was just three tenths behind Guenthner in the Ponoka Showdown, and he takes home $14, 583 from the weekend work, which included a cheque from Williams Lake. Ponoka’s own Craig Weisgerber experienced heartbreak when he discovered he’d broken the barrier in his first Showdown appearance, on a 3.6 second run. But the $7881 cheque he still earned there was good comfort.
Donalda’s Cody Cassidy won Airdrie and picked up some Ponoka change, for $5273, while another Ponoka hand, Chance Butterfield, placed at both Williams Lake and Airdrie for a $4260 haul.
The hottest combo in team roping in Canada showed no signs of slowing down, as Tristin Woolsey and Denver Johnson won both the aggregate and the Showdown at Ponoka, for $8485 injection into their rodeo account and add to their buckle collection.
But header Johnson, of Strathmore, says there’s no magic to their success.
“We’ve been working really hard at it at home, trying to practice lots and stay sharp,” he stated. “We get along pretty good, we’re good buddies, so it makes it that much better.”
Given their dominant position in the standings already, the two are well on their way to assuring a spot at the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
“We’re just going to keep on going, not let off the gas pedal, and see how far we get.”
Other Canadian teams who posted some good numbers on the July first run included Roland McFadden and Devin Wigemyr, who won Williams Lake despite an adventure getting there which included a 2am tire blowout in the mountains. Together with their Ponoka placing, they earned $4303 each. Wainwright duo Dawson and Dillon Graham split first at Airdrie and second in B.C. ($3632 total each) while Steele DePaoli and Chase Simpson got to the Showdown round at Ponoka and placed at Airdrie ($4394). Clint Buhler and Tyrel Flewellling also picked up some decent money from Ponoka and Williams Lake ($3737).
B.C. barrel racer Carman Pozzobon kept up her winning pace, winning her home province Williams Lake Stampede ($4291) AND the Airdrie Pro Rodeo ($2500), plus some go-round money at Ponoka ($4472). It all keeps her way out in front for the Canadian standings. Hometown cowgirl Shayna Weir gave the fans plenty to cheer about in Ponoka, making it all the way to the Showdown round, where a tipped barrel proved costly. But she still pockets $7066 from there, plus another $2146 from Williams Lake. Amazing Race star Nancy Csabay dipped into the Ponoka jackpot for $5150, while Texan Stevi Hillman was thrilled to have her big horse Truck excel in the Ponoka arena in their first appearance there. She won the championship and $19,341.
Rookie Dawson Hay rode his way to the Williams Lake saddle bronc title and $4072, adding in another $858 from Airdrie. Jake Watson split Airdrie and got some B.C. bucks ($2350). Jim Berry put some money in the bank from Airdrie and Williams Lake ($3767), while Zeke Thurston snuck out of Ponoka with $2394. Taking home the lion’s share of the Ponoka pot for bronc riding was Texan Sterling Crawley, who won $18,028 with his Showdown victory on Wild Cherry.
Rodeo legend Trevor Brazile made sure Ponoka was a priority stop on his busy Cowboy Christmas run, and it paid off for the Texan who added a second Ponoka Stampede tie-down roping buckle to his massive hardware collection. He was fast man in the Showdown, with a smooth 7.3 second run, to give his world standings a $13,040 Canadian boost. In addition, he and partner Patrick Smith were in the crying hole to make the team roping Showdown, for $2345 for his team roping world tally. Louisiana’s Shane Hanchey won the tie-down event at Williams Lake ($4112), and placed at both Ponoka ($3669) and Airdrie ($1094). Clayton Smith of Eckville gave himself a big jump in the Canadian standings from Ponoka ($3360) and Williams Lake ($2398), while Logan Hofer split first at Airdrie ($2169) and Curtis Cassidy was second at Williams Lake ($3769).
He’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t pretty, but Joe Frost kept his hand in the bull rope from a side-saddle position for eight full seconds at Ponoka. As the only one of a star-studded Showdown line-up to do so, he swept up a $15,000 bonus for a total take of $21,228, the biggest single Ponoka cheque.
“That’ll help with the rest of the year,” declared the Utah cowboy. “To win that buckle and the $20,000, it doesn’t matter how you did it. You can leave here with a little bit of a pip in your step, and be craving the next one a little more.”
“Shoot, I had a really rough winter and a slow spring, and the summer’s even been slow. I’ve rode a lot of bulls, but hadn’t really drawn good enough to win any good cheques. Hopefully things are turning around now.”
It was a tough finish to an otherwise great weekend for Cadogan talent Lonnie West. He cashed in at the Airdrie Bull Riding Bonanza, winning a round and the average for a $2648 payout, and then rolled into Ponoka to ride two more, for $1580. However a bad dismount on his last one, White Tie, saw West taken away by ambulance to have a potential neck injury checked out. Wacey Finkbeiner gave his hometown fans plenty to cheer about when he won the long round with an 88 on Blow Me Away ($4938) and he got a bit from Williams Lake ($342), where Brock Radford was the champ, for 89.5 on a bull called Pig ($4106), followed by Garrett Green ($3251) and they shared some Airdrie money ($256). Jared Parsonage went to the paywindow at Ponoka for $4148 and at Airdrie for $2481.
Run for the Border
As Cowboy Christmas wraps up later this week, there have been a few presents for Canadians competing stateside. In the just completed Greeley Stampede, bareback rider Ty Taypotat put together a big $5163 on his way to taking second in the average. Clint Laye was right behind him, for $3886. Steer wrestler Harley Cole finished fourth in the average ($3934) while Tanner Milan won the second round ($2724) and Curtis Cassidy placed in the opening round ($1294). Kolton Schmidt and his partner Cole Davison got some go-round money ($1916 apiece)
Meantime, Simpson and Buhler finished fourth in the team roping average at Prineville, OR, for $1946 apiece. Bronc rider Koby Wanchuk won Dickinson, ND, and also set an arena record with an 87 on Bad Onion ($2312). Fellow young guns Connor Hamilton and Dawson Hay turned in 84’s in their respective riding event at Red Lodge, to look in good shape for some money there.
As Curtis Cassidy points out, this is the time of year when the world standings can get turned upside down, because of the amount of money being handed out. But as it sits this week, there are seven Canadians inside the world’s top 15: Orin Larsen (9th), Luke Creasy (15th), Curtis Cassidy (3rd), Scott Guenthner (14th), Zeke Thurston (5th), Clay Elliott (10th) and Carman Pozzobon (14th).
On the Canadian pro rodeo calendar, there are two performances of the Coronation Pro Rodeo on July 6 and 7; while there are three performances July 6-8 of the 101st anniversary of the 101st Benalto Fair & Stampede.
And the eyes of the world will be on the Calgary Stampede, which kicks off July 6th and they’ll be handing out the big cheques July 15th.
College superstar Zack Jongbloed will be known for more than a challenging name to pronounce after his debut at the Ponoka Stampede. He was the only contestant who made the Showdown round in two events, after doing well in both the steer wrestling and tie-down roping. The Louisiana talent, who’s leading the Resistol World Rookie steer wrestling standings, took home $14,007 from Ponoka, plus the High Point buckle. Montana’s Luke Gee was the All-Around champion, competing in both steer wrestling, where he won the opening round and made it to the short go ($3691), and bull riding.
There was a strong Canadian team at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Huron, South Dakota. But it was the team ropers who really set the rodeo world on its ear. The duo of Denim Ross from Botha and Levi Schmidt of Barrhead won the team roping average, claiming the world championship with a total time of 24.35 seconds. The reserve champs were also from Canada. Clay McNichol of Okotoks and Coy Skocdopole of Big Valley got their steers caught in 31.41 seconds.