WPRA Top 15 Ready to Ante Up in Vegas
By Ann Bleiker
If the 2017 WPRA regular season barrel racing action was any indication of what will unfold inside the Thomas and Mack in December, the fans are in for a treat.
World standings leader Tiany Schuster has dominated the world of barrel racing this year and is eyeing her first gold buckle at her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Schuster, of Krum, Texas, has held the No. 1 spot since October 2016. She set a new regular-season earnings record with $250,378 won at 93 rodeos. No one has ever entered the NFR with more money won in a single event during the year.
"It is a great accomplishment but it also makes me think of all the money I left on the table at all the various rodeos like Houston, Puyallup, Salt Lake, etc.," said Schuster. "I was strong this year but if someone could dominate the year, man the sky is the limit on how much they could collect. It has been a life changing year for me, I so excited to see what happens in Las Vegas."
Schuster gives all the credit to her horses and she will have a trailer load of equine talent to choose from when she makes that first run down the Thomas and Mack alley. Show Mance, who finished third in the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year voting, has carried her to the pay window the most during the season, including their big win in Calgary in which they set a new arena record en route to the title.
June was a trying month for Schuster and Show Mance, because their future was uncertain. Show Mance sustained a minor cut around his hock that got infected that led to some other complications. They immediately shipped him to the University of California-Davis from Reno, Nev.; at the time, Schuster wasn't sure what the outcome would be.
Thanks to everyone's efforts to heal, and the horse’s will and determination, he returned to Schuster in time for the Fourth-of-July run. After their run at the Cody Stampede, where they finished second with a 16.90-second run behind Tammy Fischer’s 16.88, Schuster breathed a sigh of relief knowing her main mount was back in top form in perfect time for Calgary.
Show Mance continued to show his athletic ability in Calgary, and although the run in Cody was faster than the arena record in Calgary, the latter will go down as Schuster's most memorable.
"The Cody run was faster, but the Calgary run was just so amazing in that arena with those fans," Schuster said. "I have set arena records at much smaller arenas including at Fort Worth Northside Cowtown Coliseum, but that was my first at a ProRodeo. It was an experience of a lifetime."
She is hoping to add to that experience of a lifetime when she competes for a share of the $10 million in Las Vegas during 10 days in December. She leads Stevi Hillman by $64,426 and is only $73,193 from setting a new single-year earnings record. Lindsay Sears holds that record with $323,570 set in 2008.
Hillman is returning for the second time with two great horses in her trailer. Cuatro Fame "Truck" will once again make the trip to Las Vegas but MCM Imasharpguy "Sharpie" will be making his Vegas debut. The 5-year-old gray gelding, owned by Matt and Bendi Dunn, has already proven he can handle the pressure setting an arena record at the Caldwell (Idaho) Night Rodeo and winning the Daddy of 'em All in Cheyenne. He also finished second in the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year voting.
"It will be somewhat of a relief just knowing where everything is at from my experience last year," Hillman said.
Photo by Ric Andersen
While Hillman is the closest to take aim at the No. 1 spot, the three ladies behind her have also made runs down the Thomas and Mack alley in the past. Since Nellie Miller's last NFR qualification in 2010 as Nellie Williams, she has gotten married, had two kids and a horse change. All those changes have helped lead her back to the City of Lights in the No. 3 spot aboard the 2017 AQHA/WPRA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year, Rafter W Winnie Reba "Sister." Sister is a 9-year-old blue roan mare raised and trained by Nellie's father, Sam, and is a half sister to Rebas Smokey Joe "Blue Duck" that carried her to her first Wrangler NFR.
Amberleigh Moore is anxious to return to the Thomas and Mack, an arena that her 8-year-old mare CP Dark Moon "Paige" couldn't get enough of last year. Moore and Paige, ranked fourth in the world standings in 2017, tied the NFR arena record with a 13.37-second run and set a new NFR earnings record with $187,692 to move from 15th to second in the world standings in 2016.
It has been 12 years since Kassie Mowry made a run down the alley at the Thomas and Mack. While the arena hasn't changed since 2005, the money sure has. Prior to winning RodeoHouston, Mowry hadn't even considered making the NFR again, as she spends the majority of her time these days training futurity and derby horses. In fact, it was one of those horses that she took to San Angelo, Texas, in February to get prepped for a big futurity race that turned into a ticket to the Wrangler NFR. So one never knows where just one run will lead them.
Lisa Lockhart is returning for the 11the consecutive time and will be joined by two-time world champion Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi with the most barrel racing experience at this year's Wrangler NFR. Like Miller, Pozzi-Tonozzi has had several life changes since her last qualification in 2013, marrying PRCA team roper Garrett Tonozzi and becoming a mom with the birth of her daughter, Tinlee, in March. Lockhart will be aboard her trusty stead Louie, while Pozzi-Tonozzi will call upon the services of Steele Magnolias "Steeley," a horse that Jana Bean rode at last year's NFR for five rounds.
Sydni Blanchard of Albuquerque, N.M., will be making her third appearance at the Wrangler NFR, while Ivy Conrado of Hudson, Colo., and Kimmie Wall of Roosevelt, Utah, return for their second consecutive time.
Schuster leads a field of six that will be making their first trip down the T&M alley on Dec. 7. Kathy Grimes, a veterinarian, from Medical Lake, Wash., is anxious to see what her homegrown horse Issy can do within the walls of the Thomas and Mack. Not only will she be competing for more than $26,000 in round money each night but will also have a chance to win the 2017 Jerry Ann Taylor Best Dressed Award for the second time this year. Grimes took home top honors with her purple bling at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in February. She could add another $5,000 to her bank account if the fans and judges vote her No. 1 again.
Photo by Greg Westfall
Hailey Kinsel has had a busy and unexpected year but very profitable 2017 and she is hoping to add to her bottom line during the 10 days in Las Vegas. Kinsel of Cotulla, Texas, started her year with wins at RFD-TV's the American and the College National Finals Rodeo, both non-sanctioned events, but kicked it into high gear in July when she took home $50,000 and a gold medal from the Days of '47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo in Salt Lake City, the 2017 WPRA Innovative Rodeo of the Year.
Taci Bettis never dreamed her rookie year would turn out as well as it did or be as profitable. Bettis, who travels with six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Tammy Fischer has proven she has what it takes to be successful in the WPRA ranks. She collected more than $97,000 at 70 rodeos in 2017 and will look to add to that total in Las Vegas. Jackie Ganter holds the record for most money won during a rookie year, finishing 2015 with $164,780.
Tillar Murray and Kellie Collier round out the top 15 of those making their first trip to Las Vegas. Murray already has one win on her resume from Las Vegas, when she won the barrel racing title in May at the Helldorado Days Rodeo. A round win or an average title would go nicely with that win to cap off her year. Collier of Hereford, Texas, got her season rolling with a big win at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver and a good showing in Las Vegas in December would be a nice way to bookend her 2017 season.
While no one knows what the cards hold for them in Las Vegas, one thing is for sure they will all ante up and it will be good watching for the fans inside the Thomas and Mack and those watching on CBS Sports Network. Don't miss any of the action!