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Junior Division News

Rookie Victoria Williams captures All-American title
By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan

Waco, Texas-It's official: 2013 is definitely the year of the rookie. In a season that saw rookies claiming wins across the country, making short rounds and winning big at the biggest rodeos they could enter, and even qualifying to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the rookies were not showing any signs of intimidation running against the best horses and riders in the nation inside the ranks of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association.

But October is the beginning of finals season in pro rodeo and usually the time that seasoned veterans shine.

Take the All American ProRodeo Series Finals, hosted by the Heart O' Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco. A year ago, hometown cowgirl Mary Walker won the rodeo, besting a field in the finals that included Wrangler NFR cowgirls Fallon Taylor and Kaley Bass.

But 2013 is a different season entirely.

Nine cowgirls qualified for Saturday night's Semi-Finals, advancement based on being amongst the top three money winners in their pool of two rounds of competition. Amongst the field once again were Walker, Taylor and Bass along with 2012 All American finalist Kim Schulze, who finished 16th in the WPRA world standings this season. Top competitors Sammi Bessert, Gretchen Benbenek, Annesa Self and Michele McLeod, who is headed to her first Wrangler NFR ranked third in the standings, had also made the cut for the final night.

One name that was new to the ranks was Victoria Williams. Wiliams is a rookie, in fact, the second best rookie of the 2013 season. The Mississippi cowgirl won nearly $30,000 this year, finishing 36th in the WPRA world standings.

Showing no signs of rookie jitters, Williams won the first round of Pool C aboard her great horse, Three Jets Olena, and would have finished high in round two if not for a downed barrel.

With the no-average format in Waco, Williams advanced to the final night of the All American ProRodeo Series Finals by virtue of the round win.

During the Semi-Finals, Schulze kicked things off with a bang, posting a 16.12 second run. Bass came close at 16.21 but Benbenek bested the Colorado cowgirl with a 16.11.

After Taylor ran longer and Walker took a barrel penalty, it was time for McLeod.

McLeod maxed her All American earnings in pool competition, winning both rounds. Riding Kellies Chick, a five year old mare who is exceeding all expectations for McLeod and owners Jason Martin and Charlie Cole of High Point Performance Horses, McLeod posted the rodeo's fastest time on opening night at 15.90 seconds.

In the Semi-Finals, she nearly beat her own mark, posting 15.93 seconds. After squeaking by Annesa Self and Scrappy-Doo, who had also won both rounds in pool competition, only the rookie remained.

Running last on the ground, Williams posted a lightning fast time of 15.99 seconds, one of just three sub-sixteen second runs during the entire rodeo. Unfortunately, one of the others also came during the Semi-Finals and the Kiln, Miss., cowgirl settled for second.

Benbenek also advanced to the final round after clocking her best run of the rodeo. Benbenek rides Shot of Firewater, aka Maverick. Schulze and Vegaspeed, aka Speedy, qualified to their second consecutive finals in Waco by stopping the clock at 16.12, rounding out the field of four.

With time only to un-cinch for a bit and catch their breath, the field of four returned about half an hour later for the final run, again facing the sudden death format. The fastest time of the final round would be the champion.

Schulze came first and posted a respectable 16.22 second run, ironically, the same time she ran a year ago in the finals.

Next came Benbenek. Just as she did in the Semi-Finals, she slid past Schulze, taking the lead at 16.13 seconds.

Williams was next and she had the seven year old daughter of PESI stallion Blazin Jetolena she calls Jets roaring through the pattern inside the Extraco Events Center. With a malfunction in the scoreboard, it took a moment to get the time but once they did, the crowd went wild. She took the lead at 16.07 seconds.

McLeod finished the rodeo and everyone knew that she had not been beaten at this event in any round. With Skye hunting the turns, McLeod just tipped the final can, coasting home at 16.10 plus the five second penalty for the downed barrel.

And so the rookie won again. Williams, who had already claimed wins at Nashville, Ga.; Jacksonville, Texas, and Ocala and Kenansville, Fla., this season, won the biggest rodeo of her young professional career.

"This is definitely my biggest win by far," laughed the cowgirl who rodeoed all season with her mom, Donna Berdine, along as her hauling partner. "It was so exciting just to qualify."

"I was freaking out," she laughs about her first foray into the world of tournament style rodeo with two back-to-back runs. "She sometimes runs by the first barrel bad, that's the one issue we have. On the first run she was so calm; she just walked up the side alley and turned easy. But on the second, she was super hyper and wanted to run from the side alley. I thought we might end up in the crowd!"

"I was checking her down a lot [into the first turn] and she had to step off to keep from hitting it," she added. "I couldn't believe how fast it was."

Williams banked $12,079, which doesn't count for official world standings but will be added to her total for qualification purposes to the 2014 winter rodeos.

"We are so ready to hit the road," Williams said, noting that she took a year off from college this year to rodeo and will go again in 2014. "We are going back to Canada and will try to make the CFR too."

Benbenek finished second, earning a total of $8,284.

Final money won totals: Williams ($12,079); Benbenek ($8,284); McLeod ($7,957); Self ($5,557); Schulze ($3,031); Bessert and Bass ($3,473); Taylor and Jessi Eagleberger ($2,779); Walker ($2,084); Kelley Carrington ($1,737); Emily Miller, Emily Efurd, and Brittany Pozzi ($1,389); and Christy Loflin, C.J. Vondette, Natalie Bland and Dolli Lautaret ($695).

Bessert bests the field in Pool C at All-American Finals
10/12/13 Waco, Texas--Sammi Bessert is enjoying the ride . . . now. But when she first started out with her super tough gelding, Terrible Tommy Twist, the Colorado cowgirl could not foresee the big professional rodeo wins that would come her way on his back.

Bessert bought the son of Dash ta Fame out of the Hempen/Bugs Alive in 75 mare Dance of Royalty as a three year old just a week after his last race on the track. For the first few years of their partnership, Tommy lived up to his registered name.

"We had quite a couple of years together, trying not to kill each other," Bessert says of the early days of training Tommy. "He was a challenge, kinda hard to make but we just fought through it and I learned a lot."

"In the end, I think he taught me more than I taught him but it's just been so fun," adds Bessert, who together with Tommy has finished inside the top 25 for the past four years, including a ranking of 21st in the final 2013 WPRA world standings.

Standing 15.3h, Tommy has excelled both indoors and out over the years, winning in such diverse rodeo conditions as Rapid City, a tiny 12 second run, and the big outdoor arena in Reno, Nev.

"He's so unique that way and that's one of the reasons that I feel so blessed by him," Bessert says of the now 11 year old gelding. "I think he just loves running the barrels. That makes it really, really fun for us.

"You never estimate a horse's ability based on their size . . . the size of their body anyway. I think it has more to do with the size of their heart."

Bessert qualified for her first trip to the All American ProRodeo Series Finals in 2013 and drew up in the final pool of preliminary contestants. Only the top 30 contestants who have competed at 30 All American rodeos qualify for the finals hosted by the Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco.

Once in Waco, the contestants are divided into three pools of 10 competitors and given two runs. The three highest money winners from the two rounds qualify to the Semi-Finals to be held Saturday, October 12. The nine semi-finalists compete in another round with the four fastest advancing to the final, sudden death round immediately following the semi-finals.

Bessert struck early in the first round Thursday night, stopping the clock at 16.35 seconds to take third. She and Tommy got even faster on Friday night, winning second with her 16.18 second effort.

"It was his kind of pen so I was just excited about getting to run him here," Bessert said. "This is a great event; it was a lot of fun."

Bessert earned $3,473, the best of any barrel racer in Pool C to punch her ticket to the Semi-Finals.

Joining Bessert in the Semi-Finals are the two Pool C round winners, rookie Victoria Williams and Fallon Taylor. Williams topped round one aboard Three Jets Olena, aka Jets, with a 16.03 seconds. Taylor won round two with Babyflo, Flos Heiress, the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year for 2013. Each earned $2,779.

Other money winners in Pool C were Jessi Eagleberger ($2,779), Brittany Pozzi ($1,389) and C.J. Vondette ($695).

Semi-Finalists for Saturday night:

Kim Schulze (B)
Sammi Bessert (C)
Kaley Bass (A)
Gretchen Benbenek (A)
Fallon Taylor (C)
Mary Walker (B)
Michele McLeod (A)
Annesa Self (B)
Victoria Williams (C)

Final round action will be broadcast live on at 7 p.m. Central time.

Self and Scrappy-Doo dominates Pool B at All American Finals
10/10/13 Waco, Texas-No doubt there is no ride inside Annesa Self's family's amusement park that the cowgirl enjoys riding as much as Scrappy-Doo. That's because the nine year old gelding registered as Tall Glass of Fame has carried Self back into the winner's circle in 2013 at rodeo after rodeo.

Scrappy-Doo took Self on another fun ride during the second pool at the 2013 All American ProRodeo Series Finals. Self entered the Finals ranked second in the All American standings; points are earned at rodeos with less than $30,000 total purse during the season with the top 30 contestants, who have competed in at least 30 rodeos, advancing to the finals held at the Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco.

With one pool of ten contestants in the books, Pool B got underway on Tuesday, October 8 with a stacked field that included reigning WPRA World Champion, and reigning All American Finals Champion, Mary Walker and 2013 WNFR cowgirls Christy Loflin and Jane Melby.

Running last on the first night, Self was staring down a smoking 16.16 second run by Walker and the 2012 AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year Perculatin, aka Latte.

Blasting down the lane inside the Extraco Event Center, Self and the son of Dash ta Fame out of Crystal Dish by the Thoroughbred Raise Your Glass raised the roof when the clock stopped at 16.05 seconds.

Laughing and saying that Scrappy was taking "his Mom for a ride," Self was predictably humble about her role as jockey. The truth is she is one of the top trainers in the game and has been a force in pro rodeo since she was just a teenager. Always riding a great horse, Self chooses to stay closer to home these days, enjoying time with her husband Tom, a former WNFR calf roper, and son T.J.

In fact, Self rodeoed around her son's baseball games all year and still finished out the season 19th in the WPRA World standings, just about $10,000 away from a berth at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo where Self last competed in 2008.

Coming back during the second round of Pool B, Self had top of the ground. Staying remarkably consistent, she posted a 16.04 second run to grab the lead. She would never relinquish it.

Just as Michele McCleod did in Pool A, Self maxed out her possible earnings, collecting $5,557.

Advancement to the Semi-Finals on Saturday, October 12 is based on total earnings from the two go rounds of pool competition; times never carry forward throughout the finals. Three competitors advance from each pool for a total of nine into the final night. Once there, contestants make one run to determine the fastest four who will then compete in the sudden death Championship Round.

Kim Schulze was one of three cowgirls to place in both rounds. Riding Vegaspeed, she split fourth in the first go with Southeastern Circuit stand-out Kelley Carrington with matching 16.37 runs. In round two, she kicked into another gear, taking second behind Self with a 16.20. She earned $2,431 to advance to the Semi-Finals.

Carrington meanwhile won third in the second go with her 16.23. Unfortunately, her earnings of $1,737 fell short of Walker's $2,084 earned for winning second in the opening round.

With Walker returning to the Semi-Finals, the reigning Champ has a shot to defend her title from a year ago at the rodeo she considers her hometown rodeo.

Other competitors earning money in Pool B are Emily Miller ($1,389) and Christy Loflin ($695).

All American ProRodeo Finals
Waco, Texas, Oct. 6-12
First round: Group A: 1. Michele McLeod, 15.90 seconds, $2,779; 2. Kaley Bass, 16.11, $2,084; 3. Tammy Fischer, 16.13, $1,389; 4. Emily Efurd, 16.28, $695. Second round: Group A: 1. Michele McLeod, 16.07 seconds, $2,779; 2. Gretchen Benbenek, 16.18, $2,084; 3. Kaley Bass, 16.50, $1,389; 4. Dolli Lautaret, 16.58, $695. First round: Group B: 1. Annesa Self, 16.05 seconds, $2,779; 2. Mary Walker, 16.16, $2,084; 3. Emily Miller, 16.22, $1,389; 4. (tie) Kim Schulze and Kelley Carrington, 16.37, $347 each. Second round: Group B: 1. Annesa Self, 16.04 seconds, $2,779; 2. Kim Schulze, 16.20, $2,084; 3. Kelley Carrington, 16.23, $1,389; 4. Christy Loflin, 16.50, $695.

McLeod sweeps Pool A at All American ProRodeo Series Finals 10/9/13 Waco, Texas-It's hard to imagine that Michele McLeod could be any more excited about her 2013 rodeo season than she already was, but after the past two weeks, the Texas cowgirl can barely contain herself.

Just over a week after she won the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb., to close out her 2013 regular season, McLeod swept both opening rounds of the All American ProRodeo Series Finals in Waco, Texas during the first pool of competition.

"I'm excited to be here," McLeod said after taking the second round on Monday night, October 7 with her run of 16.07 seconds. The previous night she wowed the crowd with a 15.90 inside the Extraco Event Center; to put the run in perspective, there were just three fifteen second runs during the entire 2012 event.

Hosted by the Heart O' Texas Fair, the All American ProRodeo Series Finals is the culmination of the All American Series. All rodeos with less than $30,000 in total added purse are included in the series and contestants earn points for competing and winning at those rodeos. At the end of the year, the top 30 in each event who have competed in at least 30 rodeos advance to the Finals.

Once in Waco, contestants are grouped into three pools of 10 competitors. Each pool makes a pair of runs. At the conclusion of the second round, the top three money winners from the two rounds (no averages are kept) advance to the Semi-Finals on Saturday night, October 12. Once there, all previous times are erased and the nine semi-finalists make another run; the four fastest advance to the sudden death finals later that same performance.

Making the wins even sweeter for McLeod is that she won aboard Kellies Chick, aka Skye, the five year old mare that also carried her to the win in Omaha. Both Skye and Slick by Design, the stallion that carried McLeod to the bulk of her earnings this season, are owned by High Point Performance Horses, owned by Charlie Cole and Jason Martin.

"She's amazing us. We can't believe she's stepping up to the plate like this and we're excited to have her," McLeod said of Skye, the daughter of Darkelly out of The Skye Chick.

"She tripped a little bit behind the first, it felt like, but she let me handle her and bring her right back. I'm super proud of her," she said of her second run. "The second she turned so tight I think I was up over the front of the saddle and the third barrel she worked great so I'll take it."

McLeod and High Point Performance Horses are thrilled looking ahead to the Wrangler National Finals
Rodeo in December with two horses competing at the highest level.

"I'm actually feeling a lot more comfortable now knowing that I have two that can go there because that's a long 10 days," McLeod said. "We just thought we'd take her to Omaha so I'd have a little bit of confidence on her in case I had to get on her [in Vegas] but now it's like, oh my gosh, she's really stepping up to the plate.

"I'm very blessed and very lucky to have two."
Making her home in Whitesboro, Texas, McLeod is enjoying the chance to be home in her own bed at night after a long season of rodeo and to have family in the stands cheering her on. She now takes a few days off before hitting rodeos in Bellville and Seguin before returning to Waco on Saturday.

McLeod earned the maximum possible in pool competition with $5,557. Running right behind her is fellow Wrangler NFR qualifier Kaley Bass. Bass' 16.11 won second on opening night while a 16.50 took third in round two. Riding Wonders Cowboy Dan, Bass earned $3,473. The Florida cowgirl has been a top four finalist at the All American ProRodeo Series Finals the last two seasons and has given herself a chance to be there for a third time.

Rounding out the semi-finalists for Pool A is Prairie Circuit cowgirl Gretchen Benbenek. After landing just outside the money in the first round, Benbenek bounced back with a 16.18 to take second in round two aboard Shot of Firewater, the 10-year old gelding she calls Maverick. She earned $2,084.

Other money winners in Pool A were Emily Efurd ($1,389) and Natalie Bland and Dolli Lautaret ($695 each).

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