The Wrangler Champions Challenge brings together the top ropers and riders in their respective events. The group of cowboys and cowgirls did not disappoint the fans Tuesday night at the Benton Franklin Fair and Rodeo.
The tie-down event had seven of the top 10 ropers in the world standings trying to go home with the top prize of $5,440. With just five weeks left to earn money for the National Finals Rodeo, the man who holds the purse strings — Tuf Cooper — split the top prize with second-ranked Matt Shiozawa with runs of 7.8 seconds.
Though Cooper and Shiozawa will split the 1-2 money, the fans gave Cooper the nod as the winner of the night.
“I was glad to go last,” said Cooper, who leads the world standings with $123,403. “The 10 best guys in the world are here, and going last, you know what you have to do — have a fast run and make no mistakes.”
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Cooper, who raked in a pile of cash at the Farm-City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston two weeks ago, said he loves competing in the Northwest.
“The Northwest fans are great, and the rodeos are great,” he said. “That is all positive, and that makes it easier to have a positive night.”
If there’s one man who needs a little money in his NFR bank, it’s steer wrestler Bray Armes, who sits 14th in the world standings, just $1,300 in front of the No. 15 man.
Armes, from Ponder, Texas, watched as world standings leader Trevor Knowles turfed his steer in 5 seconds to take the lead with just two men to go.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Armes slid off his horse and took down his steer in 4.7 seconds to pocket the top prize.
“I need it,” Armes said. “These are the 10 best guys in the world. You go out there, do what you can do and hope it falls your way. It did. I’m very blessed.”
Louisiana cowboy Winn Ratliff conjured up a little Cajun magic in the bareback event.
Drawing a mare by the Cajun Queen, Ratliff scored an 87 to take first, while traveling partner Tim O’Connell, the 2012 rookie of the year, was second with an 84.
“This is a dream come true,” said Ratliff, who noted he rode the same horse last year at the Calgary Stampede and scored a 91. “Fans like this and being able to ride animals like this, I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.”
The win was the second for Ratliff in the Champions Challenge.
“I was very blessed to win in Scottsdale (Ariz.),” he said. “It’s nice to get another one. It’s nice when guys like Tim ride good. It pumps me up.”
Cody Wright and Luke Butterfield shared the saddle bronc title with matching 82s.
While Butterfield is out of the running for the NFR, Wright is ranked second in the world standings, about $12,000 behind leader Taos Muncy.
“I just keep plugging along and moving up the ladder,” Wright said. “It’s too early to start counting money yet. They had 10 awesome horses here tonight. It was worth sitting around in the heat.”
Cody Teel, the No. 5 man in the bull riding standings, was the first man of the night to get an 8-second ride — after the first six failed. He put up a score of 86.5 on Crazy Bull to take the top prize.
Josh Koschel, with an 80 on Big Cool, was the only other man to stay on for 8 seconds.
“All the money helps, for sure,” Teel said. “I’ve been on him before, and he bucked me off. He’s a good bull.”
The team roping duo of Dustin Bird and Paul Eaves had the hot run of the night at 5 seconds.
Carlee Pierce topped the barrel racing event with a run of 17.21 seconds.
Bareback: Winn Ratliff 87 points; Tim O’Connell 84; Luke Creasy 79.
Tie-down roping: Tuf Cooper and Matt Shiozawa 7.8 seconds; Trevor Brazile 8.0; Hunter Herrin 8.3; Shane Hanchey 8.8.
Steer wrestling: Bray Armes 4.7 seconds; Trevor Knowles 5.0; Hunter Cure and Nick Guy 5.2; Dakota Eldridge 5.8.
Saddle bronc: Cody Wright and Luke Butterfield 82 points; Heith DeMoss and Jacob Crawley 80; Taos Muncy 77.5.
Team roping: Dustin Bird-Paul Eaves 5.0 seconds; Trevor Brazile-Travis Graves 5.1; Nick Sartain-Rich Skelton 5.3; Riley Minor-Brady Minor 5.4; Clay Tryan-Jade Korkill 6.0.
Barrel racing: Carlee Pierce 17.21 seconds; Mary Walker 17.40; Pamela Capper 17.68; Kaley Bass 17.80; Fallon Taylor 17.91.
Bull riding: Cody Teel 86.5 points; Josh Koschel 80.