This year's Wrangler NFR barrel race was one of the most competitive in history with arena records smashed, checks taken by all 15 riders and a championship decided in the final round.
Mary Burger and Rare Fred ("Fred"), the AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year, edged past regular season leader and NFR Champion Brittany Pozzi by $2,566 to win their first WPRA World Championship in their inaugural appearance at the Finals.
Coming into the last round, Burger was leading in the standings, but trailed Pozzi in the average due to a tipped barrel in the eighth round. Clean through nine, Pozzi needed only to leave her barrels standing to claim the average title and the $41,087 that came with it, more than enough to retake the lead.
With the title on the line, Burger and Fred made a 13.75-second run, their second fastest time of the Finals, to take second in the round. Pozzi's 14.14 aboard Sixth Vision ("Stich"), earned her a sixth place check in the round, but even with her average earnings, it was not enough to retake the lead.
Burger finished the year with $189,185 earned riding Fred exclusively, with $78,558 of that won at the NFR. Their performance over the course of the Finals was amazingly consistent as the pair earned checks in nine of 10 rounds to finish third in the average.
Ronald H. Martin, Fred's owner, bought him on Burger's suggestion as a two-year-old for $2,000. After a year of seasoning, Martin sent him to Pauls Valley, Okla., for Burger to begin his training. After only three days, he received a phone call from Burger offering to buy him.
"I said, 'I'm not going to sell him, but I'll never take him away from you,'" said Martin. "And we've kept that promise to each other. He's such a great horse, and she does such a great job. They're an amazing pair."
"I just really had a bond with him," said the soft-spoken Burger. "It just seemed like after the first 30 days, for some reason Fred was just that kind of horse that really bonded with you."
An accomplished barrel horse trainer and jockey, Burger says she's been honored to win many prestigious titles with many special horses, but that this year's championship aboard Fred was something very special to her, especially running against the tough field of competitors on display at the Finals.
"I guess the thing is you've worked really hard from January clear to the end, and I've met so many different people that are all kind of like a family. I can't express how much it does mean to me, in my first full year, accomplishing what I did."
After a dominating second half of the season atop the standings, Brittany Pozzi, fiancee of NFR tie-down roper Doug Pharr, came into the Finals determined to take the average championship in hopes it would secure her first world title in three trips to Las Vegas.
In addition to Stitch, Pozzi also rode Marvins Wonder ("Potato Chip"), to finish all ten NFR runs in 141.12 seconds, winning the average by three tenths of a second over first-time Finals qualifier Codi Baucom and Naughty Go Gettum ("Naughty"), the only other pair with ten clean runs.
Kelly Maben and Mystic Angela ("Bubba") rode to five round wins and seven total round checks to finish sixth in the average with an NFR earnings total of $102,331, more than any other barrel race contestant.
Their win in round six set an arena record of 13.58 seconds, only to have Brandie Halls and I Am Not Te ("Slim") surpass the new mark two nights later with a 13.52 in one of their two round wins.