The field for the Showdown Round at the WCRA Cowtown Christmas Championship (CCC) Rodeo held at the historic Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth on Saturday, December 18 was stacked deep with team roping celebrities, including four PRCA World Champions, a two-time WCRA Major winner and several Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualifiers and PRCA Circuit Champions.
So, it may have come as a surprise when South Texan ropers Jason Burson and Corey Hendrick claimed the title and big $12,500 paycheck after roping their final round steer in 5.65 seconds. The win at a WCRA Major qualifies the cowboys for the WCRA’s Triple Crown of Rodeo $1 million bonus, given to any athlete who wins three consecutive WCRA Majors.
Burson and Hendrick roped in the first performance of the rodeo, finishing third but advancing to Saturday’s Showdown Round because perf winners, newly minted PRCA World Champs Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, were already seeded thanks to ranking first on the WCRA Leaderboard.
The final night in Fort Worth featured a long round of seven teams with the three fastest advancing to the Triple Crown of Rodeo round for the title.
“In the first round, we were fifth and it was a soft round to that point so we knew, unless something crazy happened, that if we left the arena winning it, we would advance,” Hendrick said.
“An 8.9 or something was winning it so we knew we just had to be faster than that, so that was our plan,” Burson agreed. “I was late on that one but I knew I just had to catch him and Corey was going to heel him.”
The team followed the plan, stopping the clock at 7.47 seconds to take the lead from Joe Mattern, a two-time WCRA Major winner as a heeler, and Coy Brittain who were 8.93 seconds.
When the final two teams, Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp and Driggers and Nogueira failed to catch, Burson and Hendrick were number one into the final round and thus had their pick of steers to rope from the top three from the Showdown Round.
“We took the same steer we had because the other two both went left and in this tiny building, that’s a tough go,” Burson said, noting the tight confines in the Coliseum.
Burson and Hendrick have been roping together for a couple of years and get to practice several times per week thanks to living close at Sealy and Bedias, respectively.
Coming back into the Triple Crown Round, the team had the advantage of going last thanks to winning the long go and watched as Mattern and Brittain got a leg. Lovell and Johnson, who snuck into the final round with a leg penalty, meanwhile, got theirs caught clean at 6.22 seconds.
“Our plan was just to be a little more aggressive,” Hendrick said. “It was actually a lot harder in the first round because we safetied up and that steer was stronger than we expected. We ran him to the back end and had to really buckle down and get him caught.”
“This arena is so little, you can run one to the back and still be five as long as the steer stays straighter,” Burson noted. “I was late on the first one and I wanted to take a better start the second time but I took too good a start and had to pull across the line to get out.”
Despite the rough start, the team made a smooth, clean run in the field to stop the clock at 5.65 seconds for their first Major win.
Hendrick, who turns 30 in a couple of weeks, was aboard his coming-eight-year old gelding Opie, whom he bought as a two year old and trained himself.
“He’s just been a blessing everywhere,” Hendrick said. “He’s a little horse so I can always see the feet on him. He gives me his all and just really fits me like a glove.”
Burson rode Two Chains, an eight year old gelding who’s still young and learning.
“I just started riding him,” he said. Though he has another, more seasoned horse, he thought Two Chains would be the better fit at Cowtown. “I wanted to be on the freer horse and that’s him.”
The team didn’t have long to savor the win; they immediately loaded up with buddy Justin Lofton for the all-night drive to Denver where the qualifier is happening for the National Western Stock Show PRCA Rodeo in January.
“We turned out the first one there to rope here today but we’re going for the second round to try to qualify on one head,” Burson said. At 36 years old, Burson is a PRCA Rookie, just buying and filling his permit last season. “We’ll see what we can do.”
“Oh yeah, we weren’t turning this one out,” Hendrick joked. Though the team was riding the adrenaline high of the win, Hendrick was thankful to have Lofton along to help drive. “We’re on top right now but I feel like in a little while we’re going to crash.”
Hendrick said he only really figured out the WCRA’s system after nominating some events and getting into Salt Lake City last summer as an alternate and roping with another partner.
“Before Salt Lake, we didn’t know too much about it. It was the first one I’d been to and I liked it so much, I told Jason, ‘we have got to get into these things.’”
“It worked out great.”
Ropers by trade, Burson and Hendrick nominated the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) and Louisiana Rodeo Cowboys Association (LRCA) Finals and had enough success to make the Leaderboard and qualify for the Cowtown Christmas Championship.
Burson said his share of the purse will buy “a lot of diapers.” Wife Sara is expecting their third child, a boy to be named Judge, any day. The couple has two older children, Stella, 6, and James, 3.
Hendrick doesn’t have plans for his winnings yet but noted that he could buy a nice Christmas present for his wife of two years, Alea.
“The WCRA is great,” he said. Both cowboys noted they nominated the Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo for the next segment, Rodeo Corpus Christie, where they’ll have a chance to take the second step towards $1 million thanks to the Triple Crown of Rodeo Bonus.
“This ought to be a big jump in the standings for us,” Hendrick said. “We’ll be there.”
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1. Jason Burson and Corey Hendrick, 7.47-second run
2. Joe Mattern and Coy Brittain, 8.93-second run
3. Colby Lovell and Trey Johnson, 11.90-second run
4. Tanner Green and Whit Kitchens, NT, $1,500
5. Miles Baker and Zack Woods, NT, $1,500
6. Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, NT, $1,500
7. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, NT, $1,500
Triple Crown Round
1. Jason Burson and Corey Hendrick, 5.65-second run, worth $12,500 a man
2. Colby Lovell and Trey Johnson, 6.22-second run, worth $6,750 a man
3. Joe Mattern and Coy Brittain, 12.74-second run, worth $2,750 a man