By Jolee Jordan
Waco, Texas—The All American ProRodeo Series Finals wrapped up its final weekend of rodeo action on October 13-14, 2018 after a decade at the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco.
Only thirty cowgirls earned the right to compete here, based on money won at rodeos designated on the All American ProRodeo Series as those with less than $30,000 total added purse. The qualifiers battled their way through one of three, two-go round brackets, to advance to the final night of the rodeo based on the money won in those rounds.
The final night, Saturday October 13th, the final night ever for the All American Finals which is ending its run this year, consisted of two runs, a Semi-Finals for the nine to move out of the brackets and then another sudden-death run in the Finals for the best four from the Semi-Final round. The Finals Champion is the event winner and earns $7,500, which counts towards 2019 standings, and all the prizes that go with the title.
Before the big money and titles could be divvied up, preliminary competition had to be completed with Bracket C.
Wrangler NFR cowgirl Ivy Conrado had never run at the All American Finals in the past—though she’d never had trouble winning enough money, she had had trouble getting enough rodeos to meet the 30 rodeo minimum, a fact she changed in 2018 no doubt with the prodding of friend and mentor, former WPRA World Champion Jimmie Munroe. Munroe and her husband Bud are heavily involved behind the scenes at the All American Finals.
Once inside the Extraco Events Center, Conrado made the most of her first qualification, tying the year old arena record with a smoking fast run of 15.66 seconds during the first round of her bracket on Thursday night, October 11th. She was riding her great partner JLo, the steady palomino mare who carried her to a go round win as well as the reserve average championship at the Wrangler NFR in 2017.
She won the round by more than four tenths of a second over Callahan Crossley.
Riding the “always in the same tracks” Brownie, Crossley rose to the top twenty-four hours later on Friday night, winning the second go of Bracket C with a run of 16.00 seconds. She was the only cowgirl to place in both payoffs in her section.
Brownie has carried Crossley to a College National Finals Rodeo championship, a couple of Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo wins, three Canadian Finals Rodeos and a Reserve National title at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), all within the last few years. The iron horse turned 20 in 2018 and punched Crossley’s ticket to the Semi-Finals in Waco for the first time.
Crossley earned $4,863, tying Kylie Weast for the highest money amongst the barrel racers. She moved on to the next round along with Conrado and Nikki Hansen, who earned a clutch second place finish on night two aboard her outstanding mare Mia Hamm. Ironically, Hansen won a round here a year ago but did not advance to the Semi-Finals after losing out on the tie breaker.
The final night began with some very interesting storylines among the nine Semi-Finalists, which included four cowgirls on their way to the 2018 Wrangler NFR and another who had been there in the past.
Since the All American began hosting a barrel race in 2010, no cowgirl has ever repeated a win here and Stevi Hillman began the night as the only former champ in the field, competing in her third straight Semi-Final round in Waco.
In a fascinating twist, the year she won the title, 2016, she outran the beautiful black stallion Slick by Design, piloted then by Michele McLeod, for the win. As she attempted to etch her name in history in the final year of the All American Finals, Hillman was hoping that same black horse would carry her to victory this time around.
Speaking of history, the odds could have favored the lone rookie in the field, KL Spratt. That’s because a rookie has won this event three times in the eight years it has been held.
The past three champions at the RNCFR were also in the field: Conrado (2016), Emily Miller (2017) and Taci Bettis (2018). And all nine cowgirls finished inside the top 50 of the WPRA World standings in the just completed 2018 regular season and had a chance to get off the blocks fast for 2019 as all money won here counts for WPRA World standings.
The top three spots on the ground in the Semi-Finals went to the bracket winners, led off by Crossley. She made another run at 16 flat but just carried the second barrel over on the way out, costing her a five second penalty.
Running second out, Weast and the gritty mare Reddy scampered through the pattern in 15.98 seconds to set the pace for the field.
Bettis followed, hoping to duplicate or improve on her second place finish here in 2017, but she too caught the second barrel, leaving her out of contention for the finals. She cruised home in 16.08 plus five.
The penalty blues followed Miller as the second place finishers from the brackets began their chase; her tough grey horse Chongo got a little too quick on the backside of the first barrel, preventing the dental hygienist/professional barrel racer from advancing to the next round.
Hillman did her best to grasp history but her time of 16.54 seconds, while second when she ran, left a lot of room for the remainder of the field to pass.
As they did throughout the rodeo’s duration, the committee hand raked the ground after the fifth cowgirl, setting up the new arena record holder with fresh ground to make her move. Conrado and the second place horse in the just announced AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year voting, JLo or KN Fabs Gift of Fame, sprinted into the arena, lighting up the board for the second time in three nights with a fast run of 15.80 seconds.
As the field switched to those cowgirls who placed third in the preliminary competition, just three gals had made clean runs, leaving advancement to the next round wide open. Nelson and her good horse Friday seized the moment, stopping the clock at 16.35 seconds despite a slip at the third corner. They sat third with two to run.
The rookie was next and showed no jitters at trying to best the proven talent around her. Spratt and her mare OK sprinted into the Finals, knocking Hillman to fifth and guaranteeing that another new champion would be crowned in 2018. Spratt ran a 16.02 to sit second in the go with one lady to compete.
Hansen finished the round, staring down Nelson’s 16.35 as the bubble mark to beat to keep running for another go. The former Badlands Circuit Champ and Wrangler NFR qualifier just missed the mark at 16.56 seconds.
With just a little time to un-cinch and catch their wind, the four Finalists prepped for the final run for the title just under an hour later. The group included two cowgirls headed to the 2018 Wrangler NFR in Conrado and Weast and two others who likely will get there soon in rookie Spratt and perennial top 30 racer Nelson.
The Final round draw is set by the Semi-Final times, giving Conrado top of the ground again thanks to her flawless performance in her first run of the night. She and JLo demonstrated exactly why they’ll be in Vegas again with another smooth run, breaking into the 15’s with a 15.99 second run.
With the gauntlet laid, Weast took her shot and lived on the edge as she rocked the first barrel. That one stood up but lady luck pulled her support by the third as Weast and Reddy just brushed it just hard enough for it to fall. She finished out with 21.18 seconds.
So Spratt and OK came next, making a run that was fun to watch where every turn got just a little tighter until everyone was holding their breath as they squealed around the final barrel clean. Her time of 16.15 seconds slid her into second place with just Nelson to run.
Steady as ever, Friday dug hard and a little stumble coming into the second barrel pushed the team wide on the backside, just enough to drop their time to 16.29 seconds and out of the final round money.
So Conrado adds another major rodeo victory to her impressive rodeo resume just as she and JLo are tuning up for their second trip to Las Vegas together, and Conrado’s third overall.
“Oh JLo... always making me eat my words!” Conrado posted to Facebook, eluding to a previous post where she noted that JLo was not setting arena records but was always consistent.
“I always love tournament style rodeos, it's more of a game I think! Knowing what you have to run to win/place... the first night the first couple of girls had trouble so I told myself okay just go make a good run & JLo will place then we place again tomorrow night. A good run? She tied the arena record!”
Conrado pocketed $12,679 for the rodeo after winning every round in which she made a clean run. The money is a big boost to the 2019 season standings in just its second week.
“It was extra special to have JLo win her ‘hometown’ rodeo & to have everyone there supporting us,” added Conrado. “Kenny [Nichols] & Dale [Barron] (JLo’s owners), thank you guys so much for the opportunity to ride this amazing horse.”
Conrado gave a shout out to boyfriend, Wrangler NFR team roper Billie Jack Saebens for his help with the mare along with friends and family including the Munroes.
“After making my first All American finals, I'll be sad to see it go because it such a fun rodeo,” Conrado concluded.
As Reserve Champ, Spratt earned just under $9,000 to kick off her sophomore season within the WPRA.
Weast earned more than $6,000 for her four runs in Waco, already off and running for a potential second Wrangler NFR in 2019. Eighteen of the thirty ladies who ran at the All American Finals in 2018 won a check 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 B Results — CORRECTED
- Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, 15.95, $2,779
- Lacinda Rose, RR Meradas Real Deal, 16.11, $2,084
- Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 16.19, $1,389
- Stevi Hillman, Slick by Design, 16.20, $695
- Hillman, 15.95, $2,779
- Weast, 16.03, $2,084
- Nelson, 16.10, $1,389
- Nicole Laurence, Bully's Little Dash, 16.19, $695
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Bracket C Results
- Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 15.66, $2,779
- Callahan Crossley, Brownie Bi Bogie, 16.08, $2,084
- Katelyn Scott, KN Born this Way, 16.26, $1,389
- Kaylee Gallino, JC Truly Bob, 16.34, $695
- Crossley, 16.00, $2,779
- Nikki Hansen, HH Mia Hamm, 16.15, $2,084
- Kelly Bruner, Fabulous Zone, 16.35, $1,389
- Tiany Schuster, PC Sunnerelse, 16.37, $695
*Advance to Semi-Finals
- Conrado, 15.80, $2,400
- Weast, 15.98, $1,800
- KL Spratt, KK Cash Colours, 16.02, $1,200
- Nelson, 16.35, $600
- Hillman, 16.54
- Hansen, 16.56
- Crossley, 21.00
- Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 21.08
- Emily Miller, Namgis D 33, 21.11
- Conrado, 15.99, $7,500
- Spratt, 16.15, $5,000