Clay Smith and Jake Long are making up for lost time after a rough 2022 NFR, clinching their second major rodeo title of 2023 with a decisive win at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colorado, on Jan. 22, posting a 3.9-second run in the final round.
In all, the team earned $6,822 per man in Denver to add to a $4,228-payday they earned in Odessa, Texas, at the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo earlier this month.
Familiarity Pays for Clay Smith and Jake Long
Denver is a comfortable atmosphere for Smith and Long, who’ve each won the rodeo twice before. This time around, the team navigated Denver’s bracket-style format with a 10.6 on two head to advance to the semifinals, where they posted a 4.3-second run to earn $2,799 each.
In the final round, they could’ve played it safe for a third-place check that paid $2,974 each—but Smith was in a winning mood.
“We already knew that third place is easy to win,” said Smith, 30, of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. “Jake is the same every time, but for me it was ‘Do I cock my rope and try to win it or be OK with third?’ I told Jake that I wasn’t going to mess around. Try to win something, rope normal and stop trying to play chess all the time.”
Long, 38, of Coffeyville, Kansas, explained he’d be good with whichever Smith chose; he just needed a heads up so he could be in the right position to finish the job.
“I just need to know what kind of thunder Clay is coming with and what part of the arena we’re planning on being in,” Long said. “If I try to hide myself, I tend to make mistakes.
“If we were going for the catch, I would have let the steer a little more of a head start,” Long continued. “Here, I went with the cow, so I was ready for the feet and hooked it on him really fast.”
The teams final 3.9-second run netted them $4,023 each, raising their 2023 season earnings to $11,657.13 each, worth No. 4 and No. 2 in the PRCA world standings, respectively.
New Mounts and Old Mounts
In both Denver and Odessa, Smith was mounted out on NextGen Rodeo’s Clay Deen’s “Chief.” The decision was a no-brainer for Smith.
“That horse is so solid and he’s fast-footed,” Smith said. “He’s easy enough if a guy needs to be 3, but he’s fast enough to where, if I need to go catch, I can rope any kind of steer and catch up.”
Chief and Smith were competing together in the summer of 2022 before a broken right leg sidelined Smith, and he sent Chief home. Now reunited, Smith is considering Chief a reliable winter rodeo mount.
Long rode tried-and-true The Star Pepto (Peptos Star Dust x Lady Tonto Six), the 2013 gelding called “CJ” he bought from Trevor Kirchenschlager.
Semifinal One: 1. Lightning Aguilera/Coleby Payne, 4.0 seconds, $2,799 each; 2. Ty Arnold/Kaden Profili, 4.9, $2,099; 3. Cooper White/Tucker White, 5.2, $1,399; 4. Jake Clay/Kollin VonAhn, 6.0, $699; 5. Tyler Waters/Cutter Thomison, 9.9; 6. Clayton Van Aken/Rich Skelton, 10.9.
Semifinal Two: 1. Clay Smith/Jake Long, 4.3 seconds, $2,799 each; 2. Rhett Anderson/Chris Young, 4.8, $2,099; 3. Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira, 4.9, $1,399; 4. Hayes Smith/Jason Duby, 5.6, $699; 5. Dustin Egusquiza/Levi Lord, 8.7
Semifinal Three: 1. Hagen Peterson/Caleb Hendrix, 4.3 seconds, $2,799; 2. Jake Orman/Brye Crites, 5.3, $2,099; 3. Kellan Johnson/Carson Johnson, 5.7, $1,399; 4. Chet Weitz/Jace Davis, 16.1, $699
Finals: 1. Clay Smith/Jake Long, 3.9 seconds, $4,023 each; 2. Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira, 4.1, $3,499; 3. Lightning Aguilera/Coleby Payne, 4.3, $2,974; 4. Kellan Johnson/Carson Johnson, 4.8, $2,449; 5. Chet Weitz/Jace Davis, 5.4, $1,924; 6. Hayes Smith/Jason Duby, 9.9, $1,299