NWSS Rodeo Finals provides big-time action and excitement
It used to be you had to pony up for a trip to Las Vegas in December in order to watch the top cowboys and cowgirls battle the best stock in the sport of rodeo.
The National Western Stock Show (NWSS) pulled out all the stops on its way to jump starting the year with one of the best shows in the business on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 27. Wanted top cowboys? It had them. How about top cowgirls? They were there. What about the top bucking stock in the world? You guessed it… it had those, too – much to the delight of NWSS officials.
“I think this National Western finals rodeo is just outstanding. We’ve got the top-notch contestants,” said Pat Grant, NWSS President and CEO. “People love coming here because of the excitement of being in (the Denver Coliseum) arena and because of the high quality stock we have. In my opinion, this is the best stock we’ve ever had,” Grant added, alluding to such names as Grated Coconut and Cool Alley, two of the most recognized and accomplished horses in the game. “I think this is the best rodeo we’ve ever had.”
As if to prove his point, Grated Coconut appeared on the scene in quick fashion during the bareback round of action, piling up 91 points and a championship round title for Dusty LaValley in front of a roaring crowd.
“I think this is probably the greatest set of bareback horses and saddlebronc horses the National Western has ever seen,” remarked Marvin Witt, NWSS V.P. of Operations, during a break between performances at the high-octane event. “You know, when you bring these top guys in like Cervi Championship Rodeo, Brookman, Keslers, and Calgary Stampede, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
The contestants seemed to agree. With a total payout of $270,971 on the line, cowboys and cowgirls alike wanted a share of the purse in order to start the year off right. There were just a few that would be named NWSS overall title winners, and only two out of those few successfully defended their 2007 buckles. One of those happy campers was barrel racer Britanny Pozzi-Pharr, who smoked the arena with a winning time of 15.51 seconds in the final round.
“Honestly, when I left here (after my first run) I wasn’t sure I was going to make the short round,” said Pozzi-Pharr of her surprise to be in first place heading into Sunday’s championship round. “The times were slower this year than last year. I guess I ran the fastest time (in the championship round) too,” she added. “I mean, Stitch just laid down with those runs.”
Asked her opinion of the NWSS rodeo after successfully defending her title, Pozzi-Pharr was understandably enthusiastic.
“I think they have a great format and a great rodeo. No complaints,” stated the Texas cowgirl with a smile, knowing a deposit for $13,439 was heading to her bank account very soon, compliments of the 2008 NWSS.
There weren’t any complaints coming from Luke Branquinho either, since the burly California steer wrestler blew away his compatriots throughout the NWSS. Branquinho left no room for doubt in the final round with a winning time of 3.5 seconds, totaling just 10.6 seconds on three head to take home the title and a hefty paycheck of his own.
“I’ve been here since my rookie year,” said a personable Branquinho after his dominating victory. “In fact, the very first rodeo I came to my rookie year was the National Western and I won the first round,” he recalled with a smile. “I think that was the last time I actually placed. I kept coming back, trying to win a little bit, and it paid off good this year.”
Did it ever. By winning all three rounds in which he participated, he pocketed a cool $15,787 for his wintertime effort in the Mile High state.
“Oh, it was great,” Branquinho described of his feelings about nailing down three impressive times in a row to grab the victory. “I drew good steers and I got good starts. That’s the name of the game, getting good starts.”
Colorado cowboys and cowgirls also know the importance of good starts, with several making the championship round of action at the NWSS. Shali Lord, a barrel racer who put together an impressive 2005 campaign (coming in third for the world title) before missing out on the NFR the past two years, was excited to be headed back in the right direction at the beginning of 2008.
“Oh yeah, it was very exciting,” began the competitor from Lamar, Colorado. “I actually started the year at Odessa on my backup horse and he fell down. I was thinking, wow, this is not a good start for the year. So Denver was very, very good,” added Lord. “I was excited about that, especially because it is such a good paying rodeo.”
Asked her thoughts on holding the lead with a few more contestants to go, she had a humble response.
“I knew it was going be a tough barrel race,” Lord explained of her thoughts behind the scenes. “I was just glad that I made a clean run and that I was winning, but I didn’t expect – since there were four girls after me – that it would hold. But you never know,” she continued in an optimistic tone. “I was happy to have a good run. It was great to win what I did.”
Another Colorado contestant, bareback cowboy and five-time NFR qualifier Royce Ford, was happy to start the year off with a good showing in Denver.
“It’s always a great deal to make the finals in your hometown rodeo,” said Ford, speaking by phone from the Rapid City Stock Show. “Denver’s always been a good rodeo. It’s a good kickoff, since it’s the first one of the year. To do good there kind of gives you a springboard for the rest of the year.
Ford finished the conversation with words every competitor and fan of the sport understands.
“The season has started and we’re just going to keep on rodeoing,” he said with conviction.
These days, with more than a quarter million dollars up for grabs against the best competitors and stock in the business, it sure makes it nice to start it all in Denver. v