Success seems to follow Luke Branquinho. He's already qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo seven of the past eight years since turning pro in 2000. And this year, he joined the PRCA $1 million dollar club for career earnings while winning a dozen regular-season rodeos.
And that success extends to others who jump into the truck with him. All the cowboys who traveled with him at one time or another-Jason Miller, Curtis Cassidy, Les Shepperson and Gabe Ledoux-qualified for the Finals.
The collection of world-class steer wrestlers combined to win 30 rodeos and almost three-quarters of a million dollars. Miller, the 2007 world champion, finished third in the final standings, while Cassidy, a Canadian champion, was sixth.
"We had a great group," understated Branquinho. "It got a little crazy with entering, we had to split into two buddy groups. But it was fun."
And of course, the biggest winner of all was the large, friendly California cowboy. With his typical flair for the dramatic, Branquinho delivered a clutch time of 3.7 seconds in the final round to win his second world steer wrestling championship. He won his first in 2004.
"The first title, a guy never forgets that," said the 28-year-old Branquinho, who lives with his wife Lindsay and new son Cade (born June 7) in Los Alamos, Calif. "But that year, I had it won by the ninth round. This one was a little tougher."
Branquinho not only won his second world title, but also his first NFR average buckle. He put down 10 steers in 41.9 seconds en route to $242,018 total earnings for 2008. Branquinho earned $111,237 at the 10-round NFR.
Along the way, he had to survive two dangerous eliminator pens and a sleepless night before the final round. Branquinho made his NFR statement by winning the first round in 3.6 seconds. He had to keep a tight hold on a horn of his second-round steer for a time of 4.7 seconds. "If I had missed that one, it would have been tough to come back," he acknowledged.
Branquinho also emerged unscathed in the eighth round, where four other competitors took no times with the difficult pen of beef.
"Once I got past that pen, things started coming together and I knew things would be O.K.," said Branquinho.
While the steers weren't predictable, the horse Branquinho rode was. He was aboard Willy, the AQHA steer wrestling horse of the year owned by Cassidy. Cassidy also served as Branquinho's hazer during the NFR. Branquinho figures he won $80,000 to $90,000 on Willy in 2008, including the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colo., to start the season. "Any time you can win that much money on one horse, that's amazing. He's just a great horse," said the new world champion.
Branquinho also pocketed almost $30,000 on Gunner, owned by Jesse Peterson of Dillon, Mont. A third horse, Skid, filled in when necessary.
"A guy couldn't ask for better horses," Branquinho said.
His steadiness allowed him to pass world standings leader Wade Sumpter, of Fowler, Colo., in the later rounds. Sumpter had to withdraw from competition after suffering a torn pectoral muscle early in the NFR. He tried to compete in two more rounds, but stopped after the fourth round.
"Wade's a tough cowboy. It's a shame he had to pull out, because then it might have been a three-man race," Branquinho admired. Ironically, Branquinho suffered the same injury in June of 2005.
Branquinho held off challenges by Stockton Graves, of Newkirk, Okla., and Dean Gorsuch, of Gering, Neb. Gorsuch is the 2006 world champion.
"This was kind of a flip from 2006," said Branquinho. "Dean and I are friends. We saw each other before the 10th round and told each other we would be honored to finish second to either one. It was a great battle."
Gorsuch finished second in the world standings with $171,129. With his second title, Branquinho became the first steer wrestler since Ote Berry to win multiple world championships. Berry won world titles in 1990, 1991 and 1995. Now that has Branquinho thinking more long term.
"After you win that first one, you start thinking about being part of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame," Branquinho said. "That's the next step of a guy's career. To become one of the great ones in the Hall of Fame.
"I live a couple of hours from John Jones Sr. and John Jr., and they have multiple titles. Just to be in a category like that is amazing."