Final rodeo at National Western draws large crowd, big entertainment despite Broncos game just across town
A near capacity crowd of more than 7,400 fans filled the Denver Coliseum while hometown Broncos took part in a crucial AFC championship playoff game, showing the enthusiasm Mile High residents have for rodeo Jan. 24 at the final rodeo competition of the National Western Stock Show.
The action inside the arena lived up to their expectations, as arena records were challenged and broken on the way to divvying up a total purse of $466,672.
Hard work and effort in the early rounds paid off at the historic venue, with five of the seven leaders coming into their respective events exiting Denver wearing big buckles and even bigger smiles.
Texas cowboy Jake Brown was the first leader to claim a title, using his comfortable point margin to earn a check for $10,620 after riding Calgary Stampede’s Trail Dust for 78 points in the final round. Steer wrestler Baylor Roche was the next leader to defend his top spot, and he was up for the challenge.
Needing a run of 6.1 seconds or faster to win a prestigious NWSS title, the Utah cowboy had the stands jumping after laying down a blistering time of 4.3 seconds. His efforts throughout the stock show’s run earned him a dominating score that was nearly two seconds faster than runner-up Josh Peek.
“My goal was to come into the winter positive and have some momentum going into the summer, and it feels good to have this win,” Roche said. “It felt good. I drew good steers. I’m riding a really nice horse and got a good hazer. I’m glad it worked out.”
It also worked out for team ropers Clay Smith (header) and Paul Eaves (heeler). Ahead of the field at the start of the final round, the duo turned in a time of 6.4 seconds to win the rodeo. It wasn’t an easy task, however, as quite few steers stopped and ducked once they were released into the arena.
“The steers were a little tricky,” Smith said, “so we knew we had to just catch, pretty much.”
“It didn’t really matter the time,” Eaves agreed. “I was just making sure it got caught.”
While most of the contestants compete in numerous big rodeos every year, winning a venue with the history of the NWSS carries special meaning.
“It’s a rodeo you always talk about going to, so it’s really cool to win it,” Smith said, as he held onto his trophy buckle.
“I’ll probably be wearing this one,” Eaves said with a laugh.
The steers might have been tricky, but the adding machines in the final round proved trickier. Arriving to the round leading the field, barrel racer Shelby Herrmann stopped the timers in 15.46 seconds aboard TC for what appeared to be second place behind former world champion Mary Walker and Latte. Walker was presented the buckle in front of an appreciative crowd, but learned later that an official tabulation showed Herrmann actually won the NWSS title.
“Last year I was second by (a slim margin),” Herrmann said, in good humor after finally receiving her buckle. “They ran back to us and asked, ‘which one of you won?’ We said, you’re supposed to tell us. So, obviously, it is becoming a tradition that they don’t know if it is me or someone else that wins.”
Herrmann added with a laugh that she thinks they just like playing jokes on her.
“It’s awesome. This is one of the most exciting rodeos,” she said.
Although a huge name in the sport, Texas cowboy Trevor Brazile didn’t enter the final round in the lead, but his mere presence in the round excited rodeo fans and made them OK with missing the Broncos game by watching him come from behind to win the tie-down roping event.
“It says a lot for a rodeo and the rodeo fans when they come out like this when their (NFL team’s) title game is playing right next door,” Brazile said. “My hat is off to the rodeo fans here.”
The crowd was treated to even more action when the bull riders showed up to conclude the championship round. The pen of bulls was athletic to the extreme, which led to fast spins, high kicks and some big air during the round. The high point ride of the afternoon was Jeff Askey rocketing to 91 points aboard a furious black bull named Page Break (TZ Bucking Bulls). Those 91 points were not enough to overtake Oregon cowboy Cody Campbell, though, who used his lead coming into the round to win the title with a successful 79-point ride and make the big crowd roar..
“I was tickled with the rodeo, today,” said Leon Vick, NWSS senior director of rodeo and horse show operations. “The crowd had a choice, because there was something else going on in the city of Denver today and we were almost a sell-out crowd. The rodeo was fantastic and the fans ate it up and got the cowboys feeding off the energy they were producing. The show just got better and better as it went on.”
But a successful 2016 slate of rodeos doesn’t mean organizers get to relax.
“Now we have to forget about the 2016 rodeo,” Vick said with a smile. “It’s time for me to think about 2017.”
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