Wrangler NFR rookie Telford breaks through for Round 4 victory
By NEAL REID
LAS VEGAS – Jessie Telford’s prized horse Cool Whip made the wait worth her while on Sunday night.
After Telford was forced to go to her backup horse, Shu Fire, for the first two rounds when the lights of Las Vegas were too much for Cool Whip, Telford and her 7-year-old sorrel gelding followed a solid third round with the Round 4 victory in record style. Their 13.49-second run tied the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s Round 4 barrel racing record set by Taylor Jacob in 2013 and was the fastest run of the rodeo so far.
“Oh, it feels amazing,” said Telford, one of six Wrangler NFR barrel racing rookies. “(The run) darn sure felt good. It hasn’t set in yet.”
Telford and Cool Whip finished nine-hundredths of a second clear of Jessica Routier’s 13.58-second mark that came aboard her 7-year-old mare, Missy, for the $26,731 first-place check. The win moved Telford to second in the Wrangler NFR average behind Round 3 winner Ashleigh Moore, who finished third on Sunday with a 13.64-second run.
Telford, of Caldwell, Idaho, said Cool Whip simply wasn’t ready to compete in the $10 million rodeo when it began on Thursday, but she gave him the nod for Round 3 on Saturday. The tandem completed a stellar run in front of 16,917 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Sunday and are primed and ready for the next six nights in Las Vegas.
“When he practiced, he felt like a colt – really green and spooking at everything – at that first practice we had, and my mare, Shu Fire, felt phenomenal,” Telford said. “That second practice (on Saturday morning), he felt awesome and felt like himself. From then on, I was like, ‘He gets the call.’”
Kelly Bruner finished fourth on Sunday at 13.71 seconds, with two-time WPRA World Champion Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi taking fifth at 13.74 and Carman Pozzobon making the pay window in sixth place with a 13.76-second run.
Moore’s third-place finish in Round 4 pushed her Wrangler NFR earnings to a rodeo-best $93,346, putting her in the driver’s seat for the RAM Top Gun Award that goes to the contestant who earns the most money during the Finals. It also moved Moore past reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller into second in the 2018 world standings, and she trails Hailey Kinsel – who knocked over a barrel on Sunday – by $59,919 heading into the final six performances.
Despite the five-figure payday, Telford said this wasn’t even her family’s biggest winner in Las Vegas on Sunday.
“My husband (Jake) won about $35,000 a couple hours ago team roping over at the South Point,” she said. “I was like, ‘We’ve had a damn good day!’ Team Telford did pretty good today.”
The 2017 PRCA Media Award winner for print journalism, Neal Reid is covering his 15th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year. He has written for USA Today, the WPRA News, Western Horseman, American Cowboy, ESPN.com and ESPNW.com, just to name a few. Follow him on Twitter at @NealReid21.