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Stampede draws world’s top cowboys and cowgirls

Stockton Graves of Alva, Oklahoma, steer wrestles on Tuesday night at the Cody Stampede Rodeo at Stampede Park. Graves got his steer to the ground in 4.4 seconds, posting the top time of the night, but coming up 0.1 seconds shy of placing in the overall top 10. Stockton Graves of Alva, Oklahoma, steer wrestles on Tuesday night at the Cody Stampede Rodeo at Stampede Park. Graves got his steer to the ground in 4.4 seconds, posting the top time of the night, but coming up 0.1 seconds shy of placing in the overall top 10. Tribune photos by Breanne Thiel

Continuing a tradition started in 1919, the four-day Cody Stampede Rodeo brought the top performers to Park County this past week — including eight reigning world champions across seven events. Between Saturday and Tuesday, more than 800 contestants competed in their respective events for the title of champion.

For locals, one of the highlights was a second-place showing by J.R. Vezain of Cowley in bareback riding.

The unique part of the Cody Stampede is each night features a different set of competitors, with each getting just one shot at winning a title and a paycheck. Those competing in the earlier nights’ performances have to wait until the night of the Fourth of July to see if their times/scores will hold up, while those who compete later know the bar set before them.

Despite some impressive times and scores in the first performance and first slack, no one would remain in the first place spot come the conclusion of the event on Tuesday, when the champions were named.

Saddle Bronc

Jake Finlay of Goondiwindi, Australia took the initial lead in saddle bronc riding with an 85-point ride on Burch Rodeo’s Strawberry Rocket on Saturday’s opening night. Finlay was a member of the 2017 College National Finals Rodeo Championship team at Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Oklahoma, finishing fourth in bareback at the CNFR this year.

However, Finlay lost his first-place position on the final night.

On Tuesday, Jesse Wright of Milford, Utah, edged Finlay with a 85.5-point ride on Frontier Rodeo Company’s horse Delta Force.

Wright was following a family tradition, as his twin brother took the saddle bronc title last year. Wright took home $8,657 for his overall first place finish and Finlay took home $6,637.

World champ Zeke Thurston had entered to compete in the Cody Stampede, but ultimately was unable to attend.

Bareback

The bareback riders in Tuesday’s culminating performance came in with winning on their mind as seven of the 13 riders scored 80 or more points.

Taking the title was Tyler Nelson of Victor, Idaho, with an 86-point ride on Frontier Rodeo Company’s horse Gunfire. That was the same horse that reigning bareback world champion  Tim O’Connell of Zwingle, Iowa, rode to 85.5 points on the rodeo’s very first night.

Vezain, of Cowley, matched the world champ for second place with an identical 85.5-point ride on Tuesday.

Nelson took home $10,032 for his championship while O’Connell and Vezain won $6,688 each.

Barrel racing

For the cowgirls running the barrels, Tammy Fischer of Ledbetter, Texas, won the overall event with a time of 16.88 seconds. She collected $9,793 to go with the title.

Team roping

The team of Kaleb Driggers, header, of Albany, Georgia, and Junior Nogueira, heeler, of Presidente Prudente, Brazil, took first place with a time of 4.4 seconds on Monday night. It withstood the final night’s performance when all nine teams posted no times. That resulted in Driggers and Nogueira — the reigning world all-around champion — each taking home $9,401.

World champions Levi Simpson at header and Jeremy Buhler at heeler finished in a tie for sixth with a time of 5.1 seconds, earning $3,958 each.

Tie-down roping

Among a fast Sunday night of roping times, Caleb Smidt of Bellville, Texas, and Sterling Smith of Stephenville, Texas, wound up tying for first place with identical times of 7.7 seconds. They each earned $9,475 when no one could best them on Monday or Tuesday.

E.J. Panetta of Sheridan won the first night’s event with a time of 10.2 seconds, but his time ultimately didn’t get him into the money.

Steer wrestling

During the first slack performance on Sunday, Chason Floyd of Buffalo, South Dakota, jumped out to the lead with a time of 3.9 seconds. However, the next night, Kyle Irwin of Robertsdale, Alabama, overtook Floyd by the narrowest of margins — wrestling his steer in just 3.8 seconds.

Neither Irwin nor Floyd would lose their top two positions for the remainder of the Cody Stampede Rodeo. Irwin took home $8,934 and Floyd came away with $7,994.

Payden McIntyre of Douglas won the second performance Sunday night in 4.5 seconds, but ultimately finished out of the money.

Bull riding

The bull riders got off to a tough start on Saturday, as not a single cowboy rode to the 8 second buzzer. However, they had picked things up by Tuesday night.

On a Monday night that was generally uneventful, Dustin Bowen of Waller, Texas, scored an impressive 87.5-point ride atop Mo Betta Rodeo Company’s bull Woody. Not only was it the best score of the night, it stood up — just barely — for the overall title and scored Bowen a total of $8,993 in winnings.

In the final, fourth performance, Joe Frost of Randlett, Utah, and Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Oklahoma, each gave Bowen a run for his money; Kimzey — the reigning world champ — and Frost each posted 87 point rides to tie for second place overall; they took home $5,995 each.

Both cowboys rode Frontier Rodeo Company bulls, with Frost atop Dark Moment and Kimzey on Show Off.

A total of $84,161 was awarded to just to the first place finishers, a part of $343,861 in overall prize money.

Other defending world champs who competed in Cody were Tyler Waguespack in steer wrestling, Tyson Durfey in tie-down roping and Mary Burger in barrel racing.

Having concluded its 98th running, the Cody Stampede remains the longest-standing professional rodeo. It was named the Best Large Outdoor Rodeo in 1998 and 1999 and Rodeo of the Year in 2014.

J.R. Vezain of Cowley rode Crazy Eyes for an 85.5-point ride. Vezain tied for second place overall in bareback riding.

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