Every professional rodeo cowboy has a short list of rodeos they want to win before their career ends. Less for the prize money involved and more for the prestige attached to them. To name a few: Houston, San Antonio, Reno, Cheyenne, Salinas and Pendleton.
For team ropers, the California Rodeo Salinas is especially sweet. Traditionally, Californians take their team roping very seriously, plus the set up in Salinas is unlike anywhere else. To win there is a testament to a roper's versatility and a nod to the legacy of team roping spawned in the area.
For most rodeos, that honor is passed around from year to year. But for five of the past seven years, Clay Tryan has held all the glory that comes along with winning the California Rodeo to himself.
"There's no secret," he said. "I really don't know what it is. I've had good success there. Everything has worked out, my partners have roped good for me, I've been good about never making any mistakes any of the years. Just scoring good, getting out of the barrier and turning them all every single time."
While that's the mechanics of what it takes, there's something less black and white about what it means to a person who is passionate about the sport and team roping's past to win there.
"I'm proud of it because you only go to a few rodeos a year that feel like a team roping rodeo," he said. "They make a big deal about the team roping there, the people from California want to win it real bad and you've heard about it since you were a kid. It's just one of those big-time rodeos. I love to do good there and I look forward to that rodeo every year."
In 2003, he won the rodeo with Allen Bach, the next year, with Cory Petska. In 2005, his partner Patrick Smith lost his rope in the short round to win it (they went on to win the world that year). In 2006, he got back to the winner's circle with Smith (redemption) and then in 2007 he won it with Walt Woodard.
This year, he and Petska teamed up again to turn in an average time of 45.2 (and that includes a 5-second penalty for roping a leg in the second round) on five to win $11,706 each.
The fifth Salinas buckle ties Tryan with David Motes, who won there in 1974, '77, '84, '86 and '89. Motes has also won the PRCA Gold Card Roping there three times: 2005, '06 and now '09 with Gary Ford.
Oddly enough, Motes finished second in the regular PRCA roping to Tryan by seven tenths of a second roping with Travis Woodard.
Tryan has won it all different ways; dominating, coming from behind and having it fall his way.
This year's edition was a hard-fought battle.
"I came back as second high team back with a leg," he said. "It wasn't like we had a big lead and then got a leg on our last one. We battled back and beat guys that were straight on all of them."
Roping that leg, however, might have been the best thing that happened to the teammates.
"We won second in the first round, then I roped a leg in the second round to win that round by a half second," Petska said.
They went to the videotape and found out that Tryan was taking the steer through the corner a touch too quickly. There's a 35-foot score at Salinas (the longest in ProRodeo) and the header and heeler both leave from the same box.
"The fun part about Salinas is coming out of the same box," Petska said. "But the bad part about coming out of the same box is the headers will pinch the heelers off in the box because their horses break to the pin. We're never even close to the barrier because they cut us off and then we have to go out and around them to catch up. You're hauling butt. That was the trouble we had on the second one. I was going as fast as I could go, but I was behind Clay because he cut me off. There was never a dead spot in the corner-he roped him and was gone-and my horse never did catch up. Once he slowed things down, it got real easy."
Plus, the most unpredictable of circumstances-the draw-went their way.
"Clay's outstanding there, everybody knows that," Petska said. "We didn't draw five high lopers, but we never drew one of those hard running son of a guns."
In fact, after a few tweaks, they placed second in both the third and fourth rounds as well as third in the short go.
"When you're drawing good there and you really get rolling across there you can leave your heeler in the dust," Tryan said. "They're not wanting to break the barrier because they can't see the steer as good as you and they don't have as much time to catch up if your head horse is really good there."
Tryan, as a student of the sport who understands its rich history, wouldn't change the set up one bit.
"It's a 35-foot score and they put a Styrofoam cup out there at 25 feet and you judge the steer off of that," he said. "It's not as hard as you think. You just have to see the steers to a certain point, usually his head to the cup, and go make your run from there.
"The hard part is you have to see them out there a long ways and when you come across and hit the line, they feel a long ways away from you for a while.
"Coming out of the same box, both of you behind the barrier, Travis Woodard said it the best: It's kind of like being at the U.S. Open. It's really true. At a lot of rodeos nowadays, everybody's 4 and the runs happen so fast. They're great runs to watch, but at this rodeo you can see the run develop and see how it all goes down. Plus, it's four days in a row so you can kind of get some momentum built up and people start talking about it. It has a different feel than any other rodeo by far just because of the way it's set up and how you do it. I think it's really neat, I like everything about it."
This year, though, the win meant more to Tryan and Petska's world standings than it ever has.
"We hadn't won but $6,000 or $7,000 together since we started roping in April," Petska said. "We won more at that rodeo than we won all year. That just gives us confidence now that we should be able to finish the rest of the year pretty easy. We needed to have some luck and get it done and get our confidence together."
For Tryan, a boost of confidence and a boost into the top 15 in the world standings couldn't have come any sooner.
"I just haven't roped very good to tell you the truth," he said. "I think I've roped the worst I've ever roped through my entire career and I'm trying to get it fixed. I was unfortunate that my horse (Sweets) broke his leg right before the Fourth of July and I had to ride horses I hadn't rode very much. It's disappointing to be where I'm at, but the only way is to battle through it. I'm still believing I can win a world championship. It's a long year and the Tours have a lot to do with it. When I won Salinas, it was my 36th rodeo, so basically my year is half over. My first half wasn't very good, so I have to have a second half like the guys at the top have had in their first half."