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Veteran Bests the Field at the Cow Palace
by Jolee Lautaret
11/1/10

San Francisco, Calif.-There's no denying that Cathey Vallerga embodies the saying, "been there, done that." When the Lower Lake, Calif., cowgirl hung up the phone after entering the Grand National Rodeo Horse and Stock Show, it marked the 25th time the cowgirl had done so.

There is also no denying that veteran experience can go a long way, particularly in a challenging set up such as the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco and home to the Grand National Rodeo. Barrel racers must line up along a narrow moat next to the arena to wait for their chance to compete. When the competitor ahead of them in the draw begins her run, a barrel racer must enter one of the two roping boxes and wait to make her start from there. She must also run back into the box and wait until the competitor following her begins her run to exit the arena.

The veterans showed the newcomers a thing or two at the 65th edition of the Grand National held October 20-23 as Vallerga took the top spot with her blistering run posted during the second slack Thursday night, October 21. Vallerga stopped the clock with a 15.94, the only competitor amongst 80-plus to break the 16 second barrier. The win was worth $2,079. Another veteran, 2006 WPRA Reserve World Champ Linda Vick came closest to Vallerga with a 16.05 for second.

"I am still excited," says Vallerga, a WPRA gold card member whose rookie season was in 1972. "I have been running barrels since I was nine, that's about 52 years."

The Grand National has been a must stop for cowboys and cowgirls for years with the first edition in 1941. For some time, it spanned two weeks and had upwards of 10 performances. Up until a few years ago, the Cow Palace was the final rodeo of the regular season, creating a fantastic atmosphere for contestants; cowboys and cowgirls came to compete, many with the entire season on the line as they fought for the final dollars that might send them to the National Finals Rodeo or position themselves for world championships.

When the PRCA moved the end of the regular season to September 30 from the end of October, the Cow Palace lost its position as the final rodeo of the season. Along with other issues, the event struggled to fill the seats and break even on high production costs. After a try at moving the event to April, the show went on hiatus in 2009 in order to deal with reorganization and financial issues.

It was greatly missed by the competitors, particularly the WPRA barrel racers. "Cow Palace has always been one of those rodeos that you waited all year to come back to compete, year after year," Vallerga agrees. She remembers when the Cow Palace overlapped the finals of the California Chapter of the then-GRA. Members elected to give up the finals in favor of supporting the rodeo and the Sierra (California) Circuit.

Vallerga has navigated about five different horses down the moat at the Cow Palace and her most recent ride is Smart Lil Wacker, a 12- year old son of Smart Lil Highbrow and by Lynx Dolly Mama.

"I purchased him at the Red Bluff (Calif.) Gelding sale," says Vallerga. "He didn't make the sale because he is a bit pigeon toed. Since he dodged the sale, his name became Dodger."

Dodger was just four when Vallerga brought him home and green broke. The gelding still bucks when she rides him. Dodger made one futurity as a five year old and made his way through jackpots and rodeos. Because Vallerga lives in northern California, she seasoned the gelding mostly through California Cowboys Pro Rodeo Association (CCPRA) events which were closer to home.

At the Cow Palace, Dodger navigated the course like a veteran as well.

"He can be tough sometimes to get a good start," Vallerga says. "I was third out and I run to the left barrel first. When they asked me what side I just went the same side as the girls in front of me because I didn't want to mess them up coming in the other side.

"He ran hard to the first and inhaled it. He never slipped a foot and I asked him for his life after that and he gave me all he had."

Vallerga said she couldn't believe the time that was posted for her run.

"What a high! And it paid great."

The rodeo committee helped ensure consistent conditions for the barrel racers by hand raking the pattern following each contestant. In addition to the rodeo, the Grand National features horse show events, mounted shooting, ranch horse versatility classes, and a western ball on Saturday night. The rodeo kicks off the 2011 season with a bang and is also a part of the All American ProRodeo Series. For more information visit them on-line at www.cowpalace.com.




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