By Jolee Jordan
Calgary, Alberta Canada — There’s just something about Mary.
That’s surely the story from the 2016 edition of the $2 million Calgary Stampede but in truth it’s a tale of two Marys. Two record-setting Marys.
The name Mary Burger already appears in the record books for the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA); not only does the Pauls Valley, Okla., cowgirl own a WPRA World title, she holds the record as the oldest world champ in the Association’s 68 year history. She was 58 years young when she took the title in 2006.
Right behind Burger in that category is Mary Walker, who claimed her WPRA World title in 2012 at the age of 53, setting the record at the time for earnings at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
Both cowgirls were among the field at the 2016 edition of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, two of just 20 WPRA ladies who compete here. All competitors are divided into two pools and given four go rounds. The top four money winners from each pool go directly to Showdown Sunday while the remaining six go to Wild Card Saturday for one more chance. The top two from Saturday join the rest of the field for the final run for $100,000.
At this year’s Calgary Stampede, Burger won the hearts of the crowd early on, sweeping all four rounds of Pool A to advance directly to Showdown Sunday. Meanwhile, Walker struggled to find her stride, failing to be among the top four of that same pool and having to compete on Wild Card Saturday.
In an emotional run, Walker posted a divine run on Saturday to advance to Sunday for the fourth straight year. After pouring rains, the arena at Stampede Park was soupy and slow but Walker and her phenomenal gelding Latte scampered through the water on wings of angels. Her time of 17.97 seconds won the go ahead of Kimmie Wall’s 18.37. Walker’s late son Reagon would have turned 27 on Saturday; he passed away in a car accident in 2011.
“Today is his birthday,” Walker told the crowd. “I flew home to Texas and yesterday put flowers on his grave and wished him a happy birthday. So today is for him.”
The field was set and the rain continued to come down. Burger had been unbeaten at the Stampede in her previous runs but they had all come in dry ground. Walker and Latte had dominated the day before in the mud. And no one could forget about reigning champion Lisa Lockhart; though she had ridden Chisum on her mud run in pool competition, she won $100,000 a year ago aboard Louie under very similar conditions.
Hoping to spoil the favorites’ chances were young guns Ivy Conrado, Jackie Ganter, and Taylor Jacob as well as the lone Canadian on Showdown Sunday, reigning Canadian Champion Nancy Csabay. Also in the mix were three-time WNFR qualifier Michele McLeod, former schoolteacher Kelley Schnaufer, and Utah cowgirl Kimmie Wall, who is well on her way to her first WNFR.
The Calgary Stampede is a tournament style rodeo, there are no averages kept nor paid and no times carry forward from one round to the next. Showdown Sunday is comprised of the Semi-Final round of four from each pool as well as the two Wild Card competitors. The four fastest from the Semi-Final round advance to the Showdown. With the slate wiped clean, the final four race for $100,000.
Burger took the early lead in the Semi-Finals, posting a solid 18.12 second run as Mo took his first trip around the cloverleaf with the mud splashing on his belly. Her lead would only hold through one lady as Lockhart and Louie took their maiden trip in the mud in 2016, stopping the clock at 18.01 seconds.
Like Burger, Lockhart’s lead would be short lived. Walker and Latte came next, tackling the pattern with passion and emotion. Her 17.97 took the lead from Lockhart with half the field yet to run.
Several others struggled to find their footing in the slop and Csabay, who had run first, was clinging to the fourth and final spot into the finals when Ganter’s turn came. Running Jet, the big solid buckskin who carried her to second at the 2015 WNFR, Ganter took her shot, stopping the clock at 18.14 seconds to move into fourth. She had placed on every previous run in her pool.
Ganter had to sweat through three more ladies but her time would hold up, setting up an almost all buckskin finals with only the brown Latte breaking up the yellow dominance.
After a break, the Showdown Round began with the heavy rains which sometimes veered into sleet continuing to fall down.
Ganter was first to test the even wetter conditions for the Showdown. Jet rolled through the pattern in 18.515 seconds.
Burger was next and the crowd, as they’ve done every day, roared their approval of the 67-year old grandmother’s dominating performance to date. Despite brushing the second barrel, seven year old Mo and Burger took over the lead with another very unassuming run. Their time was 17.999 seconds.
Reigning Calgary champion Lockhart came next in the draw. With steely determination, the cowgirl jockeyed Louie into position and the gelding responded with a huge burst of speed into the pattern. The pair tipped the first but it stayed standing; at the second, the gelding came back so hard that the second came down. As Lockhart coasted home, the clock showed the heartbreaking time: 17.562 seconds, easily to the lead if not for the five second penalty.
Finally, it was Walker’s turn to chase the elusive Calgary title. She had won second before here and the beautiful bronze given to the champion would look great alongside the WPRA World Champion’s buckle. Latte made a gorgeous run around Stampede Arena and the crowd waited breathless to see what the clock would show.
The time was 18.009, surely one of the closest finishes in Stampede history. In the end, it was a $75,000 one-hundredth of a second.
“It’s overwhelming,” Burger told CBC’s Melissa Hollingsworth. “When I come through the alleyway, they are screaming and yelling for me.”
Burger got standing ovations throughout the week as the crowd responded to her inspirational story. When asked on stage where her passion for the sport, despite her age, came from, the ever humble champion responded.
“It comes from God,” she said. “He put it in me; I just always loved horses.”
When asked about where the money was going, Burger drew a laugh from the crowd.
“You’ll have to ask my husband.”
Burger tied Sydni Blanchard’s 2011 record for earnings at the Stampede with $122,000 won—the maximum possible; like Blanchard, she won all four rounds in her pool, the only barrel racers ever to do so. Only the third place finish in the Semi-Finals kept her from tying Blanchard’s record for winning every round.
Due to WPRA rules, only half the $100,000 counts towards the WPRA World standings so Burger adds $72,000 to her WPRA total. This mark sets a new record for earnings at a regular season rodeo, passing Kaley Bass’ 2014 Calgary earnings of $65,500.
The Oklahoma cowgirl carried a $30,000 lead in the standings into the Stampede; she only added to that lead and her incredible new total for the season is over $170,000.
Records will fall this season after Burger’s dominance in Canada. The record for regular season earnings is $184,567, set by Lindsey Sears in her magical 2008 season. Burger will surely surpass that mark easily, needing just under $14,000 with two and half months left of the season. She will break June Holeman’s record as the oldest WNFR qualifier come December and she is well on her way to breaking her own record as the oldest WPRA World Champion should she hold on to her now sizable lead through the 2016 WNFR.
“Mo is so inexperienced,” Burger noted of her still young champion, a horse she trained and has brought along since two years of age. “But he really came through for me here. I am so proud of him.”
“I’m so thrilled,” Burger said simply. When asked how her young granddaughter Kaden, herself a barrel racer in training, would feel about the big win, Burger responded: “I think she’ll think Mema did good.”
While Walker did not claim the top prize, she did reach a pretty cool consolation prize. The Texas cowgirl passed $1 million in career earnings with her $35,000 won in Calgary. She is just the seventh WPRA lady in history to reach the milestone.
For more information on the Calgary Stampede, visit them on-line at www.calgarystampede.com.
Wild Card Saturday Results
1. Mary Walker, Perculatin, 17.94, $6,000
2. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 18.37, $5,000
3. Julie Leggett, FDI Cash to Burn, 18.44, $4,000
4. Vickie Carter, Lil Pep of Gold, 18.61, $3,000
5. Callahan Crossley, 18.62, $2,000
6. Sarah Rose McDonald, Foxys Driftin Jewel, 18.64, $1,000
Showdown Sunday Results
1. Mary Walker, Perculatin, 17.97
2. Lisa Lockhart, An Oakie with Cash, 18.01
3. Mary Burger, Sadiesfamouslastwords, 18.12
4. Jackie Ganter, Guys French Jet, 18.14
5. Nancy Csabay, Little Miss Wicked, 18.28, $3,300
6. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 18.31, $3,300
7. Taylor Jacob, Sissy B Gold, 18.57, $3,300
8. Kelley Schnaufer, Jess Undeniable, 18.70, $3,300
9. Ivy Conrado, CFour Tibbie Stinson, 21.42, $3,300
10. Michele McLeod, Streakinflingindisco, 26.62, $3,300
1. Burger, 17.999, $100,000
2. Walker, 18.009, $25,000
3. Ganter, 18.515, $15,000
4. Lockhart, 22.562, $10,000
Total Money Won
1. Burger, $122,000
2. Walker, $35,000
3. Ganter, $23,000
4. Lockhart, $30,000
5. Conrado, $16,300
6. Csabay, $16,300
7. Schnaufer, $13,800
8. Wall, $13,300
9. McLeod, $11,800
10. Jacob, $11,300
11. Leggett, $10,000
12. Carter, $9,000
13. Melby, $5,000
14. Guelly, $4,500
15. McDonald, $3,500
16. Taylor, $2,500
17. Crossley, $2,000
18. Kruse, $1,500