When it comes to the sport of rodeo, every dollar counts, whether it’s to feed your horse, put diesel in your rig or pay entry fees.
For bareback riders Ryan Gray and Kaycee Feild, the world title could come down to the difference of a few dollars.
Gray leads two-time world champion Field (2011-12) by $190 after last weekend, and both have more than an $8,000 lead over third-place Tyson Durfey of Colbert.
The world record for the closest finish for a world title came in 2005 when Scott Snedecor beat Guy Allen by $1.67 for the steer roping title, keeping Allen from his 19th world title.
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Gray, a Cheney cowboy, and Feild, from Payson, Utah, will compete at the 26th annual Farm-City Pro Rodeo this week in Hermiston, but not on the same night.
Feild is up Friday, while Gray will get to see what he’s up against when he rolls into Hermiston on Saturday.
“I always compete to improve my own riding,” said Gray, who took last week off from competing. “After not making the Finals (National Finals Rodeo) last year (he finished 17th in the standings), I’m doing better this year. I’m riding well and taking advantage of every opportunity.”
Gray has had a terrific season so far, raking in $79,651.
He won at Salinas for the fourth time and is just one of three cowboys to do so.
He also won at six other rodeos and picked up a $13,000 check for second place in Cheyenne.
“It’s been a good year all the way around,” Gray said. “I’m staying healthy and things are coming together. There’s still a lot of time left. I have to keep the momentum going.”
Feild has had just as much success, earning $79,461, winning eight rodeos this season, including co-champion at the San Antonio (Texas) Stock Show & Rodeo that came with a $10,889 check.
With 43 rodeos to choose from this week, Gray will ride in Sikeston, Mo., tonight, Friday in Lovington, N.M., Saturday in Hermiston and Sunday in Omak.
“We try to go to the biggest rodeos of the week,” Gray said. “We enter where the best stock is and the best payout.”
When it comes to a big payday, tie-down roper Tuf Cooper is first in line and pocketing the big dollars.
He’s earned $83,957 in his specialty event this year and went over the career million dollar mark on Feb. 22, just three weeks past his 23rd birthday.
Cooper is the youngest cowboy to earn a $1 million, surpassing seven-time all-around champion Ty Murray, who was 23 years and 9 months old when he hit the $1 million mark in 1993.
“I just wish I had time to spend it,” said Cooper on Tuesday as he was driving though Wyoming on his way to Hermiston, where he will compete tonight. “I wonder how much I spend on plane tickets and at the gas stations.”
Driving through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, Cooper is sure to stop at a few gas stations on his way to Oregon.
“We were in Sikeston last night and now we are driving 2,000 miles to Hermiston,” he said. “I feel like Lewis and Clark right now, fighting a few bears and trying to decide which creek we are going to go down.”
All joking aside, Cooper — who is in the midst of his fifth year on the PRCA circuit — also ranks second in the all-around standings behind brother in-law Trevor Brazile.
“When we start out, we set the highest goals, so this is what we work for every day of our career,” Cooper said of hitting the $1 million mark. “Hopefully, some day soon, some kid will come along and break my record.”
Cooper, a two-time world champion (2011-12), said he credits his success this season to the horses he has ridden, Topaz and most recently Big Slick.
Both were trained by James Barton.
“My horses are really good this year,” Cooper said. “They’ve been better than ever. I’m getting to ride some good horses. James Barton does a great job with them. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without him.”
Cooper will ride Big Slick in Hermiston tonight, then he will be off to Lovington on Friday, Lawton, Okla., on Saturday and Caldwell, Idaho, on Monday.
“I go to the biggest (rodeos) of the week,” Cooper said. “That being those four. I make sure I get to all of them. There is a cost to get here and there. It might cost a little more driving to Hermiston and not off-setting diesel with someone, but you have to give yourself the best chance to win. You want to do what’s smart on paper.”