OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s a cliché, but it’s true in ProRodeo: The cream rises to the top.
No statement was more obvious than the final day of the 2012 Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which crowned eight national champions on Sunday afternoon, seven of whom were part of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Two-time barrel racing world champion Brittany Pozzi led the contingent of rodeo’s elite to the big-money rodeo, which offered a $20,000 voucher for a Ram truck as a prize for the winners. Steer wrestler Clay Cowan is the only non-NFR qualifier to take home the biggest prize in his event. Other winners were bareback rider Brian Bain of Culver, Ore.; tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa of Chubbuck, Idaho; saddle bronc rider Sam Spreadborough of Snyder, Texas; team ropers Spencer Mitchell of Colusa, Calif., and Brady Minor of Ellensburg, Wash.; and bull rider Bobby Welsh of Gillette, Wyo.
The championship featured a who’s who of ProRodeo’s top contenders as well as a mix of part-time cowboys and cowgirls and others who are just beginning their careers in the sport. They qualify by being one of the top two contestants in each event in their regions, so the top players from all across the United States converge on Oklahoma City each spring to try to get their hands on the $525,000 purse.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Pozzi of Victoria, Texas. “This is my first time to compete at the event, and I’m pretty excited to win a voucher for a truck. It was a tough barrel race, tough competition. I am very honored to be here.”
The RNCFR’s format calls for all contestants to compete in two go-rounds. Money is paid out in each round and the two-run aggregate, and the top eight cumulative times and scores returned Sunday for a clean-slate semifinals – the scores from the previous rounds were thrown out, and only the top four advanced to the finals later in the performance.
Pozzi was the No. 2 semifinal qualifier behind Carlee Pierce, but Pozzi blistered a 15.05-second run to win the semifinals. After Pierce posted a 15.08-second run in the final round, Pozzi and her great palomino, Duke, sprinted to a 15.07 to claim the top prize.
“That’s just a testament to how tough these horses are,” Pozzi said. “You’re not just going to luck your way into winning something.”
That may not be the case in barrel racing, but it was sort of that way for Mitchell, a header who qualified for the NFR for the first time this past December. Brady Minor usually ropes with his brother, Riley, who wasn’t able to compete because of an injury.
“I got to come in here because Riley Minor had a broken leg,” Mitchell said. “You can turn down an opportunity to try to rope with a partner like that.”
Although roping with his brother would’ve been nice – the Minors have roped at the NFR together three times – Brady Minor knew he had something special in Mitchell.
“He ropes great, and I knew he was going to do good over here,” said Brady Minor, who also qualified for the NFR with B.J. Campbell in 2006. “It’s a fast setup here, and he’s known to get on them fast. I was just going with the flow, and he turned them.”
Bain qualified for Sunday’s competition by the skin of his teeth. He finished in a tie for eighth place in the bareback riding aggregate with Casey Colletti of Pueblo, Colo., but Bain advanced because of a tie-breaker. He placed in a tie for third place in the semifinals, then rode Andrews Rodeo’s Power Play for 86 points to win the championship round.
“This is a dream come true,” said Bain, who qualified for his first NFR in 2011. “Last year I come really close; I ended up third, so I kind of knew what it was all about.”
Cowan, who held his newborn baby while being honored in the arena after the rodeo, celebrated the win in an understated fashion. A five-time qualifier to the RNCFR, he is the epitome of the circuit cowboy, taking care of his family in South Dakota and competing in multiple events.
“I’ve won second twice in the finals round for the pickup,” Cowan said. “It’s good to finally win first and finally win the pickup.”
Spreadborough is a two-time NFR qualifier originally from New South Wales, Australia. While the RNCFR is considered ProRodeo’s national championship, he’s quite proud to give it some international flair. Of course, he was pretty excited to match moves with Classic Pro Rodeo’s Big Tex, the 2010 bareback riding horse of the year that has been switched over to saddle bronc riding.
“He’s an awesome bronc, and I think he’s one of the best,” Spreadborough said of the horse. “He’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever been on.”
Shiozawa won the tie-down roping average title at the NFR this past December. His hot streak continued in Oklahoma City over the weekend.
“I’ve gotten to where I just love the competition,” said Shiozawa, a five-time NFR qualifier. “I’ve learned that the outcome is less important than the competition. It’s about enjoying the moment.”
Welsh took advantage of the format the most of any contestant. After bucking off his first bull, Welsh came back with an 82-point ride in the second round. Since only seven cowboys rode in the opening two rounds – only Minnesotan Sunshine Schwartz rode two in the first two rounds – Welsh advanced to Sunday. He bucked off his first bull, but he advanced because of a tie-breaker. He was the only cowboy to score a qualified ride in the finals, matching moves with Rafter H Rodeo’s Best Yet for 83 points.
“This rodeo is one of the most historic rodeos we’ve got in the PRCA,” said Welsh, a seven-time NFR qualifier. “To win a rodeo this prestigious is a very big blessing.”