By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
San Antonio, Texas — Judging by recent results, a cowgirl traveling into the Southeastern Circuit to rodeo better bring her best stuff if she hopes to win. That's because two Southeastern Circuit barrel racers are dominating the competition in the pro ranks this winter.
The scariest part? The pair only has a total of three years of pro experience.
Victoria Williams of Kiln, Miss., ran second in the race for WPRA Rookie of the Year back in 2013 but finished that season strong with a big win at the All American ProRodeo Series Finals Rodeo in October. Then she went to the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo (RSECFR) and won all three rounds en route to the average and year end championships.
In 2014, Sarah Rose McDonald won the WPRA Rookie of the Year award on the wings of an incredible $12,000+ final weekend of the regular season. Like her Southeastern cohort, she also won the All American ProRodeo Series Finals and finished second to Williams at the RSECFR.
That means that Williams and McDonald will be the Southeastern Circuit's reps at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in March, on home turf in Kissimmee, Fla. After watching the results in recent weeks, that could be a scary proposition for the rest of the RNCFR field.
As 2015 has gotten underway, both cowgirls are making a big push to be in Las Vegas in December as one of the top 15 money winners in the WPRA qualified to compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Williams kick-started her Wrangler NFR run with a win at the first Wrangler Champions Challenge event in Rapid City, S.D.; she landed fourth in the WPRA World standings. McDonald meanwhile jumped to the lead in the standings after a $21,000+ win at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
To say the two cowgirls were on a roll would be to greatly underestimate the situation.
Then came the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, a $1.65 million Gold Tour stop on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. The San Antonio rodeo is a favorite of contestants due to the huge purse offered and the fact that the committee graciously pays the contestants' entry fees.
Only 50 competitors in each event are allowed to compete. In the WPRA barrel racing, those entries are chosen from the 2014 WPRA World standings (43), the 2014 WPRA Tour (2) and the 2015 WPRA World standings (5). The 50 are divided evenly into 5 brackets; each bracket competes in three rounds of competition.
There are no averages in San Antonio and money is paid out every night on the round placings. Following three rounds, the top four money winners in each bracket advance to the semi-finals. Twenty competitors will be left standing for the semi-finals and each contestant will get two more runs in one of two semi-final sets. At the conclusion of the semis, the top five from each set, again based upon total money won, will advance to the finals to be held February 28.
The biggest money will be paid out during the finals. Each of the 10 finalists will run one more run with the winner awarded $14,476. The winner of the rodeo will be the cowgirl who has won the most money at the end of the finals round.
Williams competed in the first bracket, ran February 12-14. Running her nine year old mare Three Jets Olena, Williams won the first two rounds of her bracket, easily ensuring her place in the semi-finals. She added a split of fourth in the third and final round for good measure.
Three Jets is a daughter of WPRA PESI stallion Blazin Jetolena, a Wrangler NFR qualifier in his own right. The tough grey mare carried Williams to times of 13.95, 13.74 and 14.02 during preliminary competition in San Antonio.
With $4,847 in winnings, Williams easily advanced to the next round. Joining her from the first bracket is Texas cowgirl Kenna Squires. Squires rode Dashing Trace, aka Tracer, a son of Dash ta Fame that she trained. Tracer was injured in 2014, requiring back surgery in May but bounced back in his first week in action since the surgery by winning the third round of Bracket 1 with a 13.98 second run. Squires added a second in round one and fourth in round two for total earnings of $4,562.
Also advancing from Bracket 1 are Sarah Kieckhefer and Britany Diaz. Kieckhefer was a finalist in 2014 but rode a different horse for her two money winning rounds in 2015. Diaz is a past champion in San Antonio, winning back in 2011, and was in the finals a year ago as well.
When Bracket 2 kicked off on Saturday night, February 14, Brunswick, Ga., cowgirl McDonald picked up right where she left off a week ago in Fort Worth... winning first.
Sarah Rose McDonald
PHOTO BY: Greg Westfall
McDonald and her amazing roan mare Fame Fling N Bling were undefeated in Fort Worth, winning all three go rounds. She continued the streak, winning every round of Bracket 2 in San Antonio including an amazing 13.70 in round two that was just two one-hundredths of a second off the arena record for the AT&T Center. Sydni Blanchard set that mark back in 2013.
Riding Bling, also a progeny of a PESI stallion, A Streak of Fling, McDonald posted times of 13.83, 13.70 and 13.79, winning $2,281 for each run. Her three-run total of $6,843 is the best of any contestant at the rodeo thus far in 2015.
Carley Richardson and Ann Scott tied for second in money won, each earning $2,281. Richardson rode her horse Radio, registered Doda Flit, to a third in the opening round and the final round. Scott and Fallin for Fame, aka Buzz, took second in the opening round and fourth in the final round to earn her spot in the semi-finals.
The final qualifier from Bracket 2 was Kimmie Wall, the second best rookie in 2014. Wall rode her home-gown and trained mare Foxy, aka TKW Bullys Famous Fox, to a second place finish in round two. 2013 WPRA Rookie of the Year Taylor Jacob and Honor Thy Frenchman also won a second place check, earned in round three, but lost out on the third tie breaker to Wall. Ties are broken by go round wins, fastest runs and then 2014 money won; as Wall finished 20th in the 2014 WPRA World standings, she will advance to the semi-finals.
Bracket 3 kicks off on Tuesday night, February 17 with four-time WPRA World Champ, and past San Antonio Champ Sherry Cervi along with 2014 Wrangler NFR qualifiers Christy Loflin and Christine Laughlin as well as the reigning champion here in San Antonio Sabrina Ketcham.
For more information on the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.sarodeo.com and stay tuned to www.wpra.com for continuing updates.
Bracket 1 Money Winners
Williams, Three Jets Olena, $4,847
Squires, Dashing Trace, $4,562
Kieckhefer, Cruisen Okey Dokey, $3,422
Diaz, Dasher Dude, $2,281
Kassidy Dennison, Sierra Hall of Fame, $1,141
Gretchen Benbenek, Shot of Firewater, $855
Bracket 2 Money Winners
McDonald, Fame Fling N Bling, $6,843
Scott, Fallin for Fame, $2,281
Richardson, Doda Flit, $2,281
Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, $1,711
Taylor Jacob, Honor Thy Frenchman, $1,711
Rebecca Hughes, Runnin ta Fame, $855
Carmel Wright, Sweet Heart Special, $855
Natalie Foutch, Maggies Moon Fire, $570