By Jolee Jordan
Las Vegas, Nevada—Sometimes when it feels like life—or rodeo life—has thrown a roadblock into your path, it’s helpful to remember that you may just need to find a detour. In the past year, Idaho cowgirl Darby Fox has truly learned this lesson after watching her plans change several times over.
Late last summer, she received a phone call from former WPRA Rookie of the Year Cayla (Melby) Small. Small had been riding a nice roan gelding named Barts Blu Jeans and the horse’s owners had decided to sell.
“She called me and asked if I wanted to come try him,” Fox remembers. Busy rodeoing in her home circuit, the Wilderness Circuit, Fox left her rig with her dad and caught a plane from Utah. “I flew to Oklahoma, tried him and brought him home.”
By Holy Bart, a son of Dash Ta Fame, and out of Sweet Alibis, the horse was bred by John and Cindy Baltezore and trained by Jolene Jones. Small campaigned him at some futurities as a five year old in 2018 for owners Jessica and Johnny Asher.
Fox instantly liked what she saw and felt.
“He was really fast,” she notes, “and I really liked him.”
Fox did not grow up in a rodeo family. In fact, she found the sport when her family moved to Idaho when she was five years old.
“Our neighbor was [horse trainer] Jerry Gorrell and his granddaughter was about my age. She junior rodeoed and I just got exposed to it through her,” she says. “I fell in love with it.”
Saying she didn’t get serious about barrel racing until she was a sophomore in high school, Fox has quickly made up for lost time. After her rookie season in 2014, Fox has twice finished inside the top 50 of the WPRA World standings in the last three years and found herself placing in some of pro rodeo’s most prestigious events.
With her top rodeo horse Fancy as well as several capable backups, Fox planned to take her time getting with Blue Jeans, her new acquisition. But life threw another curve ball her way. Fancy was injured when she got her foot caught in a stall door while in Denver for the National Western Stock Show in January.
With her main mount out of action for awhile, Fox set about regrouping and making a new plan. She arrived in California for the spring run with a full herd — nine horses in tow—but truly missing Fancy, who loves the big outdoor runs offered during April and May on the West Coast.
“She loves these pens but I’ve come to realize that everything happens for a reason,” she states. “With her down, it’s given me extra time to focus on him.”
Though she rode a different horse to begin the spring run in Red Bluff, Blue Jeans got the call in Clovis and she noted that he made a fast run that just missed a check.
“We made it back [to the performances],” she noted, “and I felt like he was getting better and better in the big pens. I’m getting to know him better.”
A former Wilderness Circuit finalist including a seventh place finish in 2018, Fox has changed her goals for the 2019 season. Fancy is expected to be back in action by summer, just in time for the circuit rodeo schedule to hit high gear.
“We’ll see how strong she comes back. I’m planning to just stick to my circuit rodeos and see how he progresses,” she says of the now just six year old Blue Jeans. “The circuit finals and getting with him are my biggest focus right now.”
Fox took a big step towards the Ram Wilderness Circuit Finals with a big win at Las Vegas Days over Mother’s Day weekend.
Las Vegas has a long tradition of hosting pro rodeo as a celebration of the western roots of the city. Helldorado Days began during the construction of nearby Hoover Dam in the 1930’s and continued to evolve over the years, nearly always including a rodeo along with other festivities such as a downtown parade and spearheaded for much of the time by the local Elks club.
After a long hiatus beginning in the late 1990s, Helldorado returned with a rodeo in 2009 and enjoyed a nine-year run, moving to several different locations around town and even pairing with the Professional Bull Riders’ Last Cowboy Standing for a couple of years. The last Helldorado Rodeo was held at Las Vegas Village near the Mandalay Bay, now closed after the tragic shooting there on October 1, 2017 which left 58 people dead.
Thankfully for rodeo fans and competitors, a committed group of local rodeo enthusiasts determined that they too could handle life’s detours. When the Plaza Hotel and Casino announced its new Core Arena, the first and only permanent outdoor equestrian center in Downtown Las Vegas, the group had a home to continue Las Vegas’ regular season rodeo; with the continued support of the city, Las Vegas Days was born.
With the Plaza offering room and stall packages for contestants, PRCA and WPRA members could compete for thousands of dollars in prize money, enjoy Fremont Street and other Downtown attractions, feed and care for their horses and head for a comfy bed all without having to get into a truck, a nice change of pace from the usually hectic rodeo trail.
Admission was free to the public for the two performances on Friday and Saturday nights, May 10-11, and the new, revamped rodeo was a hit for fans and rodeo cowboys and cowgirls alike.
The barrel racing was incredibly fast thanks to a hot track, particularly on Saturday morning during the slack when Fox competed. Already staring down some wicked fast times before she took her shot, Fox blew the doors out with a 16.92 on a WPRA standard pattern.
“It just felt really smooth,” says Fox of the fast time. “It’s just kind of coming for him.”
Fox edged out fellow Idaho cowgirl Italy Sheehan by just under a tenth of second. Seven cowgirls ran a 17.20 or better thanks to the great ground conditions.
For her win, Fox collected $2,040 towards not only WPRA World standings but also her Wilderness Circuit standings. Las Vegas was just the second Wilderness Circuit rodeo of the year, leaving Fox as the leader in the early going.
“I love all of our rodeos [in the circuit],” notes Fox. “Our circuit is just awesome. There’s really not one you want to drive by and not too many circuits can say that.”
“I just love it.”
Like her fellow competitors, Fox had high praise for the Las Vegas Days committee.
“Every year, it seems like it’s been a phenomenal rodeo and this year it was really nice,” she says. “They really worked at it and it’s nice to see a committee trying that hard.”
With the Wilderness Circuit rodeos still a few weeks from starting up, Fox is still enjoying the Golden State for now, spending time with her horses. Apart from two 10-year olds, including Fancy, the rest of the mob are all six or under.
“I feed, ride, clean stalls,” she laughs of her ‘day job.’ “I mostly ride all day long, nothing too exciting.”
Of the young ones, she says she enjoys the experience, particularly given that she did not grow up riding and training.
“It definitely keeps you humble,” she notes wryly. “But it’s been fun.”
In the end, Fox simply says she’s grateful.
“I’m grateful that I have a horse who tries so hard for me and I am thankful to my parents for all their support.”
“That’s what makes it all work.”
For more information on the new Core Arena, visit www.plazahotelcasino.com/entrertainment/core-arena/.
Results, Las Vegas Days
1. Darby Fox, Barts Blu Jeans, 16.92, $2,040
2. Italy Sheehan, Woody Pine Cone, 17.03, $1,734
3. Mindy Goemmer, Cuchara Fancy N Fast, 17.07, $1.428
4-5. Meka Farr, DD Dee Cee, & Megan Champion, Miss Dual Smartee, 17.12, $1,122
6-7. Destri Devenport, Buddy Rose (grade) & Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.20, $612
8. Jolee Lautaret-Jordan, Down Home Daisy (grade), 17.27, $408
9. Kathy Petska, Dinero Made Me Famous, 17.31, 4357
10. Leia Pluemmer, Famous French Bug, 17.40, $306
11. Hayle Gibson, BB Moonshine Chick, 17.41, $255
12. Toni Miller, Bugs N Fame, 17.43, $204