Wrangler Challenge showcases best of the best
- Joe Kavanaugh Journal correspondent
It's an infrequent occurrence in a sport where rodeo athletes are constantly on the go and the elite seldom meet.
Eight reigning PRCA World Champions were in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s Barnett Arena competing for both big purses as well as the prestige that comes from beating the very best competitors their event has to offer.
“When the PRCA created this made-for-TV event (CBS Sports Network) four years ago, they wanted a production that would appeal to a television audience,” Steve Sutton of Sutton Rodeo said. “And we have been a member of the PRCA forever, six generations, and the PRCA knew that if we have something to do with it, we are going to try and put on the best production possible.”
The cowboys and cowgirls did their part, too, as the field of world champions stepped up their game, led by 2016 world champion saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston, who turned in an 87.5 spur ride aboard Sutton Rodeo’s award winning Chuckulator.
“I’ve never been on him, but he’s a great bronc and had a really good day, and you can’t ask for more than that when they jump and kick and are flashy and looks good,” the Canadian bronc rider said.
Thurston used a win in the NFR average to cement his first world title. Wednesday night’s win was another example of the 22-year-old cowboy seemingly saving his best efforts for the bright lights.
“I try to give it all I got every time, but the big shows have really treated me good, and so I’ve been fortunate and hopefully it keeps going this way,” Thurston said. “It’s been going good for me. I’m in the short round in Fort Worth and today I did good, so I’m just trying to keep it rolling.”
Another Canadian cowboy, bareback rider Orin Larson, captured the opening event of the evening with an 86-point trip, edging five-time NFR qualifier, Utah’s Caleb Bennett (84), while reigning champion Tim O’Connell claimed third money with an 83-point ride.
Ty Erickson was first out of the box in steer wrestling, and the Helena, Mont., and his 3.6 track down and tip stood up against a stellar field that included world champion Tyler Waguespack.
Sig“I was first out and it wasn’t what the head start would be that we have to give the steer, so we just kind of had an idea of what it might be and we had a great steer. It worked out well and had a good run,” said Erickson, a three-time NFR qualifier.
Barrel racer Tiany Schuster (Krum, Texas), the current leader in the WPRA world standings, continued her early season hot streak turning in a 12.67-second spin through the cloverleaf. Oelrichs barrel racing standout Lisa Lockhart finished second (12.94).
Another cowboy in the hotter-than-a-firecracker department, Liberty, Texas, bull rider Cole Melancon followed up a win in Saturday night’s Xtreme Bulls, adding the Rapid City Champions Challenge with an 89-point bull ride.
Other winners included the team roping team of Clay Smith (Broken Bow, Okla.) and Paul Eaves (Lonedell, Mo.) with a quick 4.1 second run to edge 2016 world champions Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler, and tie-down roper Marcos Costa, the 2016 reserve champion with an 8.3-second run.
Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo action continues tonight with the second performance of the PRCA rodeo.
Erickson keeps rig rolling in Rapid City
RAPID CITY, S.D. – The beat goes on for the best rig in bulldogging.
Ty Erickson, Clayton Hass and reigning World Champion Tyler Waguespack are picking up right where they left off at the end of the 2016 season, and that’s bad news for other steer wrestlers.
Erickson was the latest to take a victory lap when he won the Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots event Wednesday night at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
His time of 3.6 seconds was tops by two-tenths of a second, and earned him $3,944.
“The Champions Challenge events are against the best guys in the world, so it always feels good to win at them,” said the 26-year-old from Helena, Mont.
“It was a good atmosphere, and a good crowd. It’s a fun rodeo and a pretty cool little community there – we hung out in Rapid City for a few days, and there were a lot of people who knew the Champions Challenge was in town, and they were excited about going to watch it.”
Erickson, who represents Team Wrangler, entered the week third in the world standings, behind only his traveling partners – Waguespack sat in first, about $5,000 ahead of Hass and $10,000 ahead of Erickson.
Hass is fresh off a huge win in Denver Jan. 22, and Waguespack has been collecting big checks everywhere in 2017.
The Rapid City WCC win pushed Erickson over the $20,000 mark in season earnings, meaning all three men in the group are having a great winter so far.
“Everybody in our rig bulldogs so well that it doesn’t feel like there’s a bottom guy,” Erickson said. “It really helps having three guys who are always pushing each other to be better. It makes it more fun that way, and when one of us isn’t winning, the other two are encouraging him and trying to get him back to winning.”
Aside from the immense talent all three men possess, they also own the best horsepower in the business. However, Erickson wasn’t riding prized horse Cadillac in Rapid City. Cadillac – the 2016 PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year – was resting in Fort Worth, so the trio rode Waguespack’s horse, Outlaw.
“When you have three good horses, you can send them to different places and pick ones that fit certain setups,” Erickson said. “We knew they were going to run fresh steers here, and Outlaw scores so good and is honest – a lot like Cadillac. You always have a good chance to win.”
Erickson finished seventh in the 2016 world standings, a result which has driven him to continue to keep his foot on the gas early in 2017.
“I didn’t have the NFR I wanted to, but all a guy can do is go home and start practicing and get ready for the next year,” he said. “I had a good (Montana) Circuit Finals, won some money in Denver and now we’re trying to win everywhere we go.”
Other winners at the $92,800 rodeo were Team Coors bareback rider Orin Larsen (86 points on C5 Mcdonald’s Spit Fire), Team Resistol team ropers Clay Smith and Paul Eaves (4.1 seconds), Team Justin Boots saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston (87.5 points on Sutton Rodeos’ Chuckulator), Team Wrangler tie-down roper Marcos Costa (8.3 seconds), Team Justin Boots barrel racer Tiany Schuster (12.67 seconds) and Team RAM bull rider Cole Melancon (89 points on Burch Rodeo’s Alabama High Test).
For more coverage of the Rapid City WCC, check out the Feb. 17 issue of the ProRodeo Sports News
Wrangler Champions Challenge
Rapid City, S.D., Feb. 1
Bareback riding: 1. Orin Larsen, 86 points on C5 Mcdonald's Spit Fire, $3,944; 2. Caleb Bennett, 84, $3,016; 3. Tim O'Connell, 83, $2,204; 4. Jessy Davis, 81, $1,508; 5. Bill Tutor, 79.5, $928.
Steer wrestling: 1. Ty Erickson, 3.6 seconds, $3,944; 2. (tie) Blaine Jones and Olin Hannum, 3.8, $2,610 each; 4. Tyler Waguespack, 3.9, $1,508; 5. J.D. Struxness, 4.2, $928.
Team roping: 1. Clay Smith/Paul Eaves, 4.1 seconds, $3,944 each; 2. Levi Simpson/Jeremy Buhler, 4.9, $3,016; 3. Dustin Bird/Russell Cardoza, 5.0, $2,204; 4. Riley Minor/Brady Minor, 5.4, $1,508; 5. Logan Olson/Chase Tryan, 5.8, $928.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Zeke Thurston, 87.5 points on Sutton Rodeos' Chuckulator, $3,944; 2. Ryder Wright, 85, $3,016; 3. Jacobs Crawley, 84, $2,204; 4. Cooper DeWitt, 83, $1,508; 5. CoBurn Bradshaw, 82.5, $928.
Tie-down roping: 1. Marcos Costa, 8.3 seconds, $3,944; 2. Cade Swor, 8.6, $3,016; 3. Caleb Smidt, 9.2, $2,204; 4. Braxton Laughlin, 10.4, $1,508; 5. Hunter Herrin, 10.6, $928.
Barrel racing: 1. Tiany Schuster, 12.67 seconds, $3,944; 2. Lisa Lockhart, 12.94, $3,016; 3. Jordan Moore, 12.98, $2,204; 4. Jackie Ganter, 13.05, $1,508; 5. Calyssa Thomas, 13.16, $928.
Bull riding: 1. Cole Melancon, 89 points on Burch Rodeo's Alabama High Test, $3,944; 2. Brennon Eldred, 84, $3,016; 3. Dalan Duncan, 83, $2,204; 4. Joe Frost, 80.5, $1,508; 5. (tie) Scottie Knapp and John Leinaweaver, 80, $464 each.
Total payoff: $92,800. Stock contractor: Sutton Rodeos. Sub-contractors: Burch Rodeo, Bailey Pro Rodeo and New Frontier Rodeo. Rodeo secretary: Jackie Higlin. Officials: Mike Todd, Steve Knowles and Bruce Keller. Timers: Kim Sutton and Amy Muller. Announcer: Wayne Brooks. Specialty act: John Harrison. Bullfighters: Josh Rivinius and Cooper Waln. Clown/barrelman: John Harrison. Flankmen: Eric Jensen, Brice Sutton and Gundy Gunderson. Pickup men: Brent Sutton and Tyler Robertson. Photographer: Jackie Jensen. Music director: Chuck Lopeman.