Bring On The Big Guns: WSTR's First-Ever Open to the World Finale
The World Series of Team Roping will hold its first-ever Open to the World Series Finale roping during the WSTR Finale XIV at the South Point Hotel & Casino Equestrian Events Center this December. This will complete the full lineup of competition divisions at the South Point from the Open Division all the way to the #8.5 Division. With the Top 15 PRCA ropers under contract to the National Finals Rodeo, this event will provide an opportunity for other professional ropers to have their shot at the piece of the $14 million in prize money that the WSTR pays Dec. 7.
“The Team Roping Journal, like its predecessor, Spin To Win Rodeo, dedicates a tremendous amount of press to the professional side of roping as part of our belief that highlighting all levels benefits the growth of the sport,” Chelsea Shaffer, Editor of the TRJ, said. “We’ve advocated for the addition of this element for years, so we are honored to be the presenting sponsor in 2019. It really has been the piece of the puzzle that was yet to be added, and we are confident that it will be a great addition. Having profiled open ropers for years, we believe this will be a place where the amateur rodeo guys, the top 16 to 40 PRCA guys and the high school and college standouts can all come together in one place to take advantage of the opportunity to rope for a lot of cash, especially with the dynamics of the Top 15 being under contract and not part of the mix.”
The WSTR saw an increase in the outdoor arena’s Open roping during the Finale. That roping became the fifth largest Open roping in the country, sparking the association’s decision to offer this official Finale Division to the schedule.
“When we hit over 100 teams outside, we recognized that there are enough Open ropers who will support an Open roping as a full Finale division,” WSTR’s Denny Gentry said. “We don’t get a lot of spectators at the outside arena since the qualifiers are not the main attraction, but our crowd grew to be so large inside the South Point, with all of the rodeo fans in town, that I’m sure it will draw a big crowd. We are proud to have evolved to offer the full spectrum of the team roping experience from professionals to low amateurs to run at big-money payouts.”
The outdoor arena WSTR qualifier roping has grown since its first year, not only in payout, but in entries. Last year the roping saw its largest entry number in the Open with 115 teams paying out over $97,500, which Jake Barnes won with Billie Jack Saebens.
“I’ve always been an advocate of the Open ropers because that’s what everybody strives for—to make the NFR and be a world champion,” Barnes said. “But not everyone has the resources and the desire to chase the NFR. It was pretty disheartening when WSTR tried to put an Open roping on 10 years ago and nobody entered. Whether you’re a team roper or a team roping fan, they follow the top guys and they cheer for their teams. I just feel like that’s what keeps the sport going. The opportunities that WSTR has created up in Vegas for people to come—they have an opportunity to win $150,000. I think that drives both ends of it.”
The Open roping also benefits when the #15 and #16 teams to join some of the best in the business and still have a shot to win first. In 2017, up-and-comers Laramie Allen and Ross Ashford proved that point.
“It will give the Open ropers another place to go,” Allen added. “The World Series has done a lot for team roping. It’s awesome that the Open roper can go at it now, too. It gives them a chance to go for big money also if they don’t make the Finals. It gives them a chance to make a living roping.”
The WSTR is prepared to allow this roping to grow over time, like it does with any roping. The WSTR started 14 years ago with a #10 and #11 and has slowly over time worked its way outward. Three years ago, it added a #8 test roping inside and added the Open qualifier outside. Those two ropings represent the extremities of the formats, and the WSTR team knows it takes time to develop those very different demographics.
“I think there’s gotten to be so much to rope at on the way, especially in Arizona. You can stop there on your way out to Vegas,” Chris Francis, 2018 BFI champ and Mathews Land and Cattle producer, said. “I’d like to grow this to where everyone plans this as their ultimate roping journey, stopping in Arizona for a day or two, then looking forward to coming to Vegas and rope in the qualifiers and then kind of cap it off with the main Finale event at the South Point Arena. I think this first year of the Open is going to be a growing year, and I believe if everyone is patient it will be good, just as the other divisions have been.”
Gentry tried in 2009 to introduce the Open roping, but it saw very little support. Ropers like Barnes and Speed Williams have pushed Gentry to hold Open ropings for many years, and to see it all come together is something that Open ropers can look forward to by growing the sport. But timing is everything, and everyone believes this is the right time.
“Denny helped me produce my Open Match one day after the NFR, and we had good support and a large crowd,” Williams said. “He has got the greatest roping established, it is only right that he include the Open ropers with WSTR before he leaves. You eliminate the top 15 in the World and who’s going to win it in Vegas. You can almost have an Open world champion excluding the top 15 in the world that year. You can have a special event there. I think it can turn into a very big Open roping.”
Gentry is confident in the success of this roping and has dedicated all division sponsors’ contributions to be added money to really give the event some momentum.
“Long term, this is the only Open roping that is going to be able to bridge the gap between the #19 teams and the #16 teams,” Gentry said. “There is a cliché that on any given day any of the top 15 can be beaten, but beating all of them in one day will not happen. We need to shine the spotlight on Thomas & Mack, but at the same time have a bright spotlight in our house: the South Point Arena.”
• One entry will be allowed at the Open to the World Series Finale.
• This roping will be a five-head aggregate with four full rounds, $2,000 per roper discounted entry fees if postmarked by July 31 if you’ve qualified at a WSTR Open qualifier anytime during the 2019 season or have WSTR accumulated earnings.
• Entries postmarked after July 31, or if you don’t have earnings, will be $2,250 per roper. The extra $250 will be added to the pot.
• A traditional rope barrier will be used and there is no age limit.
• Any and all title sponsorship monies will become added money.
•Any roper who enters early the WSTR Open Finale and later qualifies for the NFR can draw out and receive a full refund.