Just how many rabbits can Derrick Begay and Cory Petska pull out of their hats? We all remember that little stunt they pulled in 2018, when they joined forces after the Fourth of July run, went on a winning rampage and came from nowhere to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Begay and Petska got their band back together just in time for the Reno Rodeo, placed in all three rounds, won the average, banked $13,864 a man and picked up their first pair of coveted silver spurs at the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West.
“I’ve been coming to Reno since 2006, and I’d only made the short round one time with Cesar (de la Cruz) before now,” said Begay, who’s 37 now and lives in Seba Dalkai, Arizona, with his fiancee, Justine Doka, and little girl, Brindle Mae, who’ll turn 2 on July 27. “Reno’s a special rodeo. In the wintertime, we have San Antonio, Houston and The American. Then we go home, regroup and freshen up before we head to Reno, which is our summer kickoff.
“Everybody heads to Reno happy, with clean bedsheets, pressed clothes and the rig all shined up. We all go to Reno with goals, high hopes and big dreams. The atmosphere at Reno is always great, but there was even more joy there this year, because we missed it so much last year. Everybody’s happy rodeo’s back, from the gate guys to the cowboys.”
Petska first entered the Reno Rodeo with his NFR header dad, Paul, when Cory was a pro rodeo rookie in 1998.
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“I roped with my dad at Reno the first three or four years,” said 2017 World Champion Heeler Petska, who’s 41 now and roped at 15 NFRs between 2003 and 2018. “I won second at Reno with my dad once, second with Shain Sproul one time and second with (Erich) Rogers the year we won the BFI (2015). Reno is like Salinas to me. When I was a kid, I remember very well sitting on the bucking chutes and watching slack with Wade Wheatley and Kyle Lockett. We all watched the BFI together as kids, too.
“Reno has always been such a prestigious rodeo, and it was the biggest team roping rodeo when we were kids, because they didn’t have team roping at rodeos like Houston, San Antonio and Cheyenne back then. We put some rodeos on a pedestal, and Reno’s been up there since I was a little kid. It’s amazing to finally win it.”
Begay’s sorrel superhorse, Swagger, waited a long while to head for the Reno winner’s circle.
“I’ve roped at Reno for 15 years now, and have been riding Swagger since 2006 also,” grinned Begay, who roped at eight NFRs between 2008 and 2018. “He doesn’t have any papers, and the years start running together. I’ve lost track of how old he might be. But I figure it doesn’t matter. I still ask myself what it is about Swagger and me. I’m still in awe of whatever it is, too.”
Petska, who won the 2005 NFR average heeling for Hall of Famer Tee Woolman, rode a bay mare by the name of Annie at Reno. Annie’s by his father-in-law Mel Potter’s stud Lone Drifter, and out of a great mare Mel’s cowboy contemporary Dale Ward headed on.
“Mel raised Annie, and I trained her,” Cory said. “She’s 16. I’ve jackpotted on her for 10 or 12 years now, but have been riding Chumley at the rodeos.”
About that…Rodeo horses’ best friend Bambi Robb left Reno with Swagger and Annie after the short round last night to get them to Prescott. Meanwhile, Begay and Petska just tied the 4.1-second arena record at Greeley this afternoon on Begay’s bay mare, Hannah, and Chumley. Oh, and Justine jumped on Hannah and is placing deep in the breakaway roping on her at Greeley also.
Petska’s wife and World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi is riding Jason Martin and Charlie Cole’s High Point Performance Horses’ (they also own Slick By Design) super-stud Stinger—who’s Sherry’s beloved Stingray’s first baby—this summer.
“Sherry sold the embryo to Martin and Charlie, they raised Stinger and Ryann Pedone trained him and made the NFR on him last year (sadly, he was hurt, so she couldn’t ride him at the NFR),” Cory said. “Sherry, Begay and me are all in the same rig for this Fourth of July week. And once we get to Prescott, Bambi will be in the rig with us, too.
“Sherry and I run 2,300 head of yearlings in Wisconsin (when they aren’t home in Marana, Arizona). The plan when I called Begay was to come out and go from Reno to Cheyenne to just tinker around and go to a few. We set out with no intentions of trying to make the NFR. Winning almost $14,000 at Reno is awesome, but it takes $70,000-$80,000 to make the NFR. And I had nothing won before Reno. So winning Reno is a dream come true and a great career highlight. But if we aren’t in the Top 15 after Cheyenne, I’ll go home and take care of those cattle.”
Reno was only Begay’s 10th rodeo of 2021, and his list of partners is pretty wild. He’s headed for World Champion Header Matt Sherwood, de la Cruz, NFR header Colter Todd and now Petska this year.
“Pleasant Grove (Utah) right before Reno was my first rodeo with Petska after we got the band back together,” Begay said. “I ran through the barrier and lost my rope at Pleasant Grove. I told Petska, ‘Sorry, man, I truly don’t know what I’m doing out here.’ Reno was our second stop. I could have played hard to get when Petska called. But I said yes, and it was a no brainer, even though I have to wonder if I’ve still got it.”
Petska guesstimates that he went to 12-15 rodeos this winter with Luke Brown. Why’d he call Begay for this little rodeo rendezvous?
“Begay and I don’t put any pressure on each other,” Petska said. “With a lot of teams, there’s an added pressure, but not with us. We’ve been around each other since the first time he cracked out, and have been really good friends all along. We’re friends, and we like roping together. If we do good, we do good. If we don’t, it’s just part of life and it’s fine.
“Begay fits right in with Sherry and I. We’re not going to be stressed about winning. At this stage of our lives, we’re rodeoing to enjoy it. It’s not do-or-die for us this year. We’re out here to have fun.”
A year ago, when he stepped away from the rodeo trail to spend more time at home with Justine and Brindle, Begay told me, “I’m never going to quit. I love rodeoing too much. I love backing in the box and seeing all my friends. I have always been and always will be addicted to rodeo. I love the smell, the people—all of it.”
He knew then that every time he nods his head from here on out will be a bonus run on his terms.
“It’d be nice if Petska and I could pull another rabbit out of our hat,” Begay said. “But I’ve always been realistic, and I know what the chances are of that happening again. I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think we had a chance to win, but it’s too early to see if we’ve still got it. I know one thing—winning Reno was fun. That rodeo is on everybody’s bucket list. And I appreciate it all the older I get. If I had to quit roping tomorrow, I’d sleep good tonight.”
1. Clay Tryan and Jake Long, 4.9-second run, worth $6,043 each
2/3/4. Garrett Rogers and Jake Minor, 5.0-second run, worth $4,466 each
2/3/4. Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler, 5.0-second run, worth $4,466 each
2/3/4. Jade Stoddard and Max Kuttler, 5.0-second run, worth $4,466 each
5. Kolton Schmidt and Wyatt Cox, 5.1-second run, worth $2,890 each
6. Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, 5.2-second run, worth $2,102 each
7/8/9. Derrick Begay and Cory Petska, 5.4-second run, worth $613 each
7/8/9. Riley Minor and Brady Minor, 5.4-second run, worth $613 each
7/8/9. Tanner Baldwin and Clay Elkington, 5.4-second run, worth $613 each.
1. Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves, 4.4-second run, worth $6,043 each
2. Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin, 4.5-second run, worth $5,254 each
3. Clay Smith and Jade Corkill, 4.6-second run, worth $4,466 each
4/5. Derrick Begay and Cory Petska, 4.7-second run, worth $3,284 each
4/5. Lane Ivy and Evan Arnold, 4.7-second run, worth $3,284 each
6. Jake Clay and Rance Doyal, 5.0-second run, worth $2,102 each
7. Rhett Anderson and Cullen Teller, 5.3-second run, worth $1,314 each
8/9. Brooks Dahozy and Tyler Forsberg, 5.4-second run, worth $263 each
8/9. Laramie Allen and Truman Magnus, 5.4-second run, worth $263 each.
1. Jason Stewart and Jason Duby, 5.5-second run, worth $1,378 each
2. Jake Clay and Rance Doyal, 6.1-second run, worth $1,140 each
3. Derrick Begay and Cory Petska, 6.4-second run, worth $903 each
4. Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler, 6.5-second run, worth $665 each
5. Chad Masters and Joseph Harrison
Marcus Theriot and Jim Ross Cooper, 6.9-second run, worth $333 each.
1. Derrick Begay and Cory Petska, 16.5 seconds on three head, worth $9,064 each
2. Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler, 17.8 seconds on three head, worth $7,882 each
3/4. Laramie Allen and Truman Magnus, 18.0 seconds on three head, worth $6,108 each
3/4. Jake Clay and Rance Doyal, 18.0 seconds on three head, worth $6,108 each
5. Jason Stewart and Jason Duby, 18.5 seconds on three head, worth $4,335 each
6/7. Marcus Theriot and Jim Ross Cooper, 19.0 seconds on three head, worth $2,562 each
6/7. Chad Masters and Joseph Harrison, 19.0 seconds on three head, worth $2,562 each
8. Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, 23.6 seconds on three head, worth $788 each.