By Jolee Jordan
Waco, Texas—If anyone was wondering how this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo might go, they could have watched the final night of the All American ProRodeo Series Finals to get a bit of a preview.
The All American ProRodeo Series is made up of the smaller pro rodeos during the season—those that add less than $30,000 in total prize money—and contestants earn money towards the year end standings at each rodeo. At the end of the season, the top 30 competitors who have competed in at least 30 rodeos get an invite to the Finals held annually in conjunction with the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco.
The 30 contestants are broken into three groups of 10 and given two go rounds to earn enough money to advance to the final night. The final performance is made up of a Semi-Final round for nine competitors (three from each group) and then a Finals of the fastest four from the Semis.
The final qualifiers into the Semi-Finals were decided with the two rounds of Bracket C held on Thursday and Friday nights, October 12-13. Newly minted Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Champ Nikki Hansen led off the final bracket with a first round win aboard her gelding Sky. Hansen is a new mom to daughter Elsie who was born in March and had a terrific summer run before punching her ticket to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo last weekend.
In round two, a very familiar name rose to the top of the pile. Setting new records has become habit for Tiany Schuster and she bounced back from a rough round one with a horse change in round two.
Hoosier Fame responded to her call with a new All American ProRodeo Series Finals arena record, breaking the record set less than week ago by Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi. Schuster and Hoosier stopped the clock in 15.66 seconds, just four one-hundredths ahead of the mark set by Pozzi Tonozzi.
“Hoosier Fame just doing what he does,” Schuster noted along with the video on Facebook. “Still a rock star at the age of 12. Still setting arena records. Still winning. And they say futurity horses don't go on long term.”
“I want to thank Don Lee for all the help and support and the love and care for Hoosier. Because Hoosier is not ready to stand in the pasture and do nothing.”
Interestingly, Schuster finished in a four-way tie with Carmel Wright, Taci Bettis and Hansen for tops in the bracket; each cowgirl earned $2,779. Tie breaking rules for the event give the advancement to those competitors ranked highest in the season All American standings, leaving Hansen as the odd one out.
With Schuster and Bettis moving on to the final night, the field of nine increased to six cowgirls of the nine advancing who are headed to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in just under two months time. The pair join Pozzi Tonozzi, Stevi Hillman, Kellie Collier and Tillar Murray as fellow 2017 WNFR cowgirls. In addition, two of the three remaining finished inside the top 25 of the WPRA World standings this season, Ari-Anna Flynn and Carmel Wright, while final competitor Kelly Bruner is a top Texas circuit contestant.
Photo by James Phifer
Hillman and Murray came into the final night as past champions of this event. Murray took the title back in 2015, while Hillman is the reigning champion. Both cowgirls rode different horses than they did in their championship seasons. No one has won more than one All American title since the event began back in 2010.
The Semi-Final round held all the drama expected for a championship event with a field full of talent. Wright led off the go, posting a sub-sixteen run at 15.95 to lead the way on her mare Luna.
Murray and Bruner both caught barrel penalties on the final turn before Collier and Lolo broke sixteen at 15.97 seconds, good enough for second at the time.
Flynn switched mounts for the final night but a costly tipped can on the second turn cost her the lead and advancement to the next round.
Bettis came next aboard the solid Smash. The 2017 WPRA Rookie of the Year was flawless again, putting 15.75 on the board, her fastest run of the rodeo to take the lead.
Hillman and the streaking grey gelding Sharpie followed the fast tracks and laid down a run of their own in 15.78 seconds, leaving Collier on the bubble with Pozzi Tonozzi and Schuster still to compete.
When both cowgirls caught their first barrels, the four cowgirls who had gone clean all knew they would get another shot on Saturday night. It took a clean run and under sixteen seconds to advance as this year’s event continued to be much faster than previous years overall.
With just about an hour to regroup and catch their breath, the fabulous final four again gathered at the back of the alley for the final run. As the fourth qualifier, Collier got to set the pace and she saved her best run for last as Lolo blew through Extraco Events Center in 15.78 seconds.
Wright was next in the line-up and had already proven her ability to win in the sudden death, tournament style format here in Waco; the same format is used at the Ram National Circuit Finals where Wright took the championship back in 2015. Unfortunately, a downed barrel ended her hopes of a first title here on Saturday.
The reigning champion was next to compete . . . could the WPRA’s second ranked cowgirl in 2017 go back-to-back aboard a pair of five year old barrel racing prodigies? She and Sharpie looked like it was in the bag until the third barrel came down. Her time of 15.72 would have gone to the lead but instead went to 20.72 with the penalty.
Finally it was the rookie’s turn to play. Bettis and Smash were consistent as ever, laying down another beautiful run. The time of 15.84 was just six one-hundredths too slow for the title, leaving Collier with the biggest win of her career.
Both cowgirls will be in Vegas soon at their first WNFR’s, part of an outstanding WNFR rookie class that includes Schuster, Kathy Grimes, Hailey Kinsel and Murray. With the final night in Waco looking like a WNFR preview show, both will likely ride into Sin City with confidence to spare.
Even more important than the momentum is the jump start the All American gives cowgirls heading into the 2018 season. All money won here counts towards the standings and both Collier and Bettis earned more than $10,000 for their four runs here.
For more information on the All American ProRodeo Series, visit www.prorodeo.com/prorodeo/tours-circuits/all-american-prorodeo-series or www.hotfair.com.
Bracket C Results
- Nikki Hansen, Sky High Guy, 15.95, $2,779
- Taylor Jacob, Honor Thy Frenchman, 16.04, $2,084
- Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 16.12, $1,389
- Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtrem, 16.13, $695
- Tiany Schuster, Hoosier Fame, 15.66, $2,779
- Wright, 15.70, $2,084
- Bettis, 15.81, $1,389
- Jana Bean, 15.93, $695
Total Money Won
*Schuster, Bettis & Wright, $2,779
*Advance to Semi-Finals
- Bettis, 15.75, $2,400
- Stevi Hillman, MCM ImASharpGuy, 15.78, $1,800
- Wright. 15.95, $1,200
- Kellie Collier, Streakin Easy April, 15.97, $600
- Ari-Anna Flynn, 20.77
- Tillar Murray, Dirty Dan Stinson, 20.87
- Kelly Bruner, Suzytresseis, 20.88
- Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, 21.08
- Tiany Schuster, Hoosier Fame, 22.34
- Collier, 15.78, $7,500
- Bettis, 15.84, $5,000
- Hillman, 20.72
- Wright, 21.12
Final Total Money Won
Pozzi Tonozzi, $4,168