Begay and Cooper Win The American in 2016
Begay and Cooper notch the biggest win of both of their careers in Arlington, Texas.

RFD-TV’s The American Photo by Andy Watson

In between the long round and the short round of the team roping at RFD-TV’s The American, one man took off his cowboy hat, closed his eyes, tipped his head back and took a nap in the stands while bucking horses bellered, announcers boomed and the crowd of tens of thousands roared.

That one man—Clay O’Brien Cooper—had just pulled back on his long-round steer in 3.85 seconds and was heading into the shoot-out round of four with a freight train of momentum rolling behind him and his partner, Derrick Begay. No better time for a power nap, right?

“I just relaxed,” Cooper said. “I was kind of tired, and so I was searching for a place to sit down and lay my head back. I found a good spot, and it was nice and comfortable. I took a little time out.”

After all, the day had started early, and with autograph signings and demands on his time, a nap was only reasonable. But that nap didn’t go unnoticed by Begay, who’s grown used to that sort of thing from The Champ.

“We got done roping, and there’s a lot of noise, and that building has a lot of electricity,” Begay said. “It’s an atmosphere we never really go to. But Champ, he’s been everywhere you can imagine to rope. We were waiting for the final steer, and there was no way I could sleep, but Champ—he could sleep. Fireworks, everything going on, and he’s sleeping. When you rodeo for 30-some years, you have to get your rest when you can. I guess it’s all part of it.”

Their first-round steer worked out like something Cooper would have dreamed up during one of those famous naps.

“We didn’t know much about him, but he’d been to the Semifinals (in Fort Worth the week before),” Begay said. “They told me my steer was good, so we just took it at that. I got a good start, and the steer had these big wide horns, being as I hit the barrier I thought ‘THROW!’ right then, and luckily I caught a half head. I’ll take that shot any day–I wish I’d have called it. Anytime you get that shot you’ll win something.” 

Begay might have been pumped about his half head, but Cooper didn’t really care either way. 

“I saw it go on, but I don’t care what it goes on as long as it goes on,” Cooper laughed. “There’s three legal head catches so it doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s one of them.”

And just like that, they won the long round with that 3.85. Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith were second with a 4.01-second run, qualifiers David Key and Dugan Kelly were 4.09, while Blaine Vick and Dakota Kirchenschlager were 4.20 to round out the top four.

The shootout round kicked off with Vick and Kirchenschlager, and Vick threw fast and lost his rope. Next up, Key and Kelly set the pace with a 4.94-second run. Brazile got it on quick but Smith couldn’t get his dally as his slack fell between his trusty horse Amigo’s ears. Begay and Cooper backed in the box, confident.

Was there anyone watching on TV or in the stands in Arlington who thought that if Begay spun his steer in the short round of RFD-TV’s The American, Cooper wouldn’t pull back on two feet to win $100,000? Doubt it.

“He can read what I’m doing just by watching me ride in the box,” Begay said. “We’ve only roped together a year, and that’s not very long. But we have a feel for each other. He knows what I’m going to do and everybody knows what he’s going to do. So when we back in there, everybody’s like ‘Is this guy is going to get out of the barrier and is he going to turn him?’ Everybody knows what he’s going to do. Dave Key and Dugan Kelly were 4.9, so I was thinking I didn’t need to hit the barrier and throw. I could ride one more stride and take one more swing, so if I took care of my part I was pretty sure Champ would stop the clock.”

“It’s set up, and it’s the header turning the steer to be that fast,” Cooper said. “All I’m doing is doing my job and roping him when I’m supposed to and putting the finishing touch on it.”

When the flag fell, Cooper rode over to Begay and asked his friend if they won it. Begay had a pretty good idea they did, but the big screen was straight above them so they couldn’t really see.

“Mentally, I felt like we were fast enough,” Begay said. “But I wasn’t sure; I couldn’t see the big screen up there. I kind of knew we were fast enough. I looked over at the shoot when I faced and my buddies had their fists in the air yelling. I wasn’t sure—maybe they were just happy I caught.”

Their time of 4.56 seconds was good enough to best Key and Kelly, who won $25,000 for their second-place finish.

Read the full story in our April issue, available the last week of March here

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