Team ropers Brady and Riley Minor were excited to be part of the Wrangler Champions Challenge when it started earlier this year. With a payout of $5,440 for first place, you could be half way to the National Finals Rodeo if you placed in the top three in half the events.
Alas, the Minors have not done as well as they had hoped. But with just a month left to earn money toward the NFR, they still are in the running for a return trip to Las Vegas.
“They pay really well,” said Brady Minor, the heeler of the Ellensburg duo, “but we’ve done terrible at them. But there’s no entry fee and they pay five holes. Your odds are pretty good. Some of the people are the top 10 in the world standings. They are tough to rope against. Hopefully tomorrow is our turnaround.”
The Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo will host the fifth stop of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Wrangler Champions Challenge at 7 p.m. today, a day before to the start of the Horse Heaven Round-Up.
The Champions Challenge is part of an ongoing commitment to increase the popularity of rodeo. The made-for-TV series began in 2013, featuring 10 top competitors in each event and the sport’s best livestock.
Seven of the 10 spots in each event are reserved for top finishers in the previous year’s world standings. The remaining three qualifiers will be comprised of the leaders in the 2014 world standings and Wrangler Million Dollar Tour standings one month before the Champions Challenge, as well as the venue champion of the host city.
The Minors are ranked in the top 10 in the world standings. Both have earned $58,083 this season. Riley is ranked seventh, while Brady is eighth.
Riley Minor, who got married Sunday to barrel racer Jordan Crossley of Hermiston, said the last month of the season can change so fast and every bit of money helps.
“If I could win that, I could dang near have the finals made,” Riley said. “In rodeo, things can change so quickly. You can make up $10,000 pretty quick. With only 10 teams, it should be easy, but it’s 10 of the best, so it’s not easy as you think.”
The prize money payout is $16,000 for each Champions Challenge event, with the winner pocketing $5,440 — among the highest of any of the rodeo cowboys association’s one-go rodeos.
“It’s a great show for the fans,” tie-down roper Tuf Copper said in an April interview. “It’s the top cowboys and the top rough stock. The best of the best.”
Cooper, the world leader in the tie-down event with $123,403, is on Team Justin, which sits third in the standings among the 10 teams.
Team Ram leads the standings with $98,880. Pendleton bareback rider R.C. Landingham (ranked 12th) will lead off the event, while Colbert’s Tyson Durfey (13th) is in the tie-down, Michele McLeod (6th) will run the barrels, Casey Martin (5th) will be in the steer wrestling, and team roping will be Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, who are ranked No. 1 in the world standings with $98,388 each. Bull rider Cody Campbell is injured, and his replacement has not been named.
One young cowboy to keep an eye on is bullrider Sage Kimzey, 19, of Strong City, Okla. The rookie sits second in the world standings with $103,155.
“This year has been more than I ever could have ask for,” Kimzey said. “A breakout rookie season. It was always my goal to make the NFR this year. I had a really good winter and it has rolled in the summer.”
Kimzey is on the World Standings Leaders team with Tim O’Connell (BB, 6th), Blake Knowles (SW, 13th), Cody Wright (SB, 2nd), Clint Robinson (TD, 4th), barrel racer Kaley Bass (1st), and team ropers Coleman Proctor (header, 4th) and Jake Long (heeler, 5th).
“They been the hottest guys all year,” Kimzey said. “You always have good guys around you.”
Kimzey, who took a couple of weeks off after injuring his groin in an Xtreme Bulls competition in Lovington, N.M., said he’s only won money in one Champions Challenge event, but is looking forward to picking up a check tonight.
“There is a great set of bullriders coming,” said Kimzey, who is making his first trip to Washington. “The caliber will be there. Hopefully it’s my night.”
Girl’s Night Out: The Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo will pay tribute to Big Bend Rodeo Company’s legendary mare Spring Fling tonight. She was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame earlier this month.
Spring Fling started out on the bareback side and received the PRCA’s top honor in that category in 1997, then came back to twice claim the saddle bronc award, winning it outright in 1999 and sharing it with Surprise Party Skoal, of Sankey Rodeo, a year later.
Spring Fling, who will be in attendance tonight with her new foal, was selected for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 14 times from 1993-2008 — 10 times in bareback riding — and was voted the top saddle bronc at the 2001 WNFR. She was also was voted the top horse at the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho, three times (1997-99).
“She just kicks real hard and jumps real high,” co-owner Don Hutsell said in a news release. “They (cowboys) either win the rodeo on her or get bucked off.”
Feeling better: The Justin Sports Medicine team is making its first appearance at the Horse Heaven Round-Up this year. The mobile facility, sponsored by the Justin boot company, spends about $1 million a year treating cowboys at the country’s largest rodeos. About 6,000 athletes are treated a year.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com; Twitter: tchicequeen