Riley Minor rode out of the arena looking down at his chestnut horse’s neck to the sound of tens of thousands of rodeo fans cheering while the announcer harangued him for not celebrating just a bit more. He and brother Brady had just stopped the clock in 3.61 seconds, the fastest run of the rodeo so far, and they only had two teams to sweat before they were $100,000 richer. Still, both remained stoic as they rode out the back end of the arena.
“Those two teams left to go were Erich Rogers and Cory Petska and Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira,” Riley said. “I’ve been 3.6 three times in my life, and one of those times was at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Brady told me to get ready for the victory lap, and just then Travis Tryan and Cory Petska were 3.5 so I learned never to celebrate early.”
“I had the fastest guys in the world behind me, with good, even steers,” Brady added. “I thought I’d get moved once if not twice.”
Win or lose, Riley was relieved—he’d fought off his nerves by telling himself to just do his job, and he’d come through. In the qualifying round of 15, Riley got a good start and Brady crossfired to make a 3.87-second run, bringing them back in the number-three spot. So before Riley nodded his head on their shoot-out steer at RFD-TV’s The American in Arlington, Texas, he’d watched Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza go 3.87, and he knew he needed to come with it.
“Normally I get pretty nervous, but I wasn’t that nervous,” Riley said. “I was thinking positive. Either way it went, at least I made it to the top four to have a chance at it. When you can win that much at once, you don’t want to screw up. You want to capitalize. Being a one header and everybody slinging it, that’s not really my style. I’m not really a reacher. I’m more conservative. But I knew if I wanted to win it I’d have to go at it. I saw Bird be 3.87 and realized I’d have to at least do what I’d just done to even have a chance.”
Riley threw as the neck rope broke, and his quick-footed 15-year-old gelding, Bob, kept him from having to reach too far at the straight-running steer. Brady roped the steer—the one Rogers and Petska had in the qualifying round—on the first legal hop to bump Bird and Cardoza to second and put the heat on the last two teams.
“If I’d have been the last team out, I’d have thrown my hat,” Brady said. “But I’d have looked pretty stupid waving my hat around if I got moved.”
Rogers, aboard Dustin Bird’s mare, Dolly, got out of the barrier and stuck it on him quick and Petska fired fast, coming up with just one leg to make them 3.41 plus five.
“After Erich went, I was like holy cow,” Riley said. “And then Driggers went, and he’s won it twice already, so I thought, ‘He shouldn’t be too greedy.’ He’s got Junior who heels faster than anyone. They were quick but not as fast as us. I still can’t hardly believe it.”
Driggers’ steer went left a step or two, so despite Nogueira’s best efforts, they didn’t finish fast enough and the flag fell in 4.08 seconds.
Riley and Brady didn’t get to talk to each other much as they rushed on stage to accept their giant checks surrounded by The American’s sponsors, but they had a 16-hour drive back to their winter retreat in Wickenburg, Ariz., to decompress.
“A buddy of mine ropes a little and is a firefighter,” Riley said. “He doesn’t understand the ups and downs of rodeo, and he was asking me what my thoughts were. I said, ‘Man, a big win is coming. Heck, I might just go win $100,000 over there and it will all be good.’ I’m not a cocky, confident person. I know rodeoing is like gambling with skill. Every day is a new day. But I felt good going into it. The old saying is if it’s your day, it’s your day. That was our day. They wanted us to win.”
It hadn’t been their day much this winter—at press time, Riley sat 38th in the PRCA world standings with $6,702 won, while Brady sat 37th with the same amount. They won checks at the Rapid City Stock Show and Rodeo and the Rapid City Wrangler Champions Challenge. Otherwise, they’ve had tough luck.
“I missed my dallies at Denver to place,” Brady said. “Riley broke out at San Antonio in the first and second round, and on the third one we were too long to place. We just haven’t had that big $10,000 or $20,000 rodeo yet, but hopefully we can turn it around. We won our circuit and get to go to the Ram National Finals in Kissimmee, and that counts for the standings this year. It will be good to get to rope against 24 teams for that much money.”
“I’ve already had a good year now,” Riley said. “It’s been a slow winter. I haven’t just done the best. I’ve broke some barriers and not roped the greatest. We’re obviously behind but we’ve been to six rodeos so I won’t get too worked up.”
Both brothers have the horses to make up ground in the coming months. Riley has owned Bob for two years since a fateful trip to an amateur rodeo that changed the course of his career.
Riley had been interested in Bob for a while when he saw his owner Bob Morarti at an amateur rodeo, and Morarti finally said Riley could take him home to try. But first, a girl was hazing on him in the bull dogging, so Riley would have to stick around awhile to wait to take him home.
“My wife was annoyed, but I told her I had to wait for him because he could be life-changing,” Riley said. “Turns out, I was right.”
Brady rode Travis Woodard’s Sug to the $100,000 payday at The American, and afterwards, he knew he needed to own the 12-year-old sorrel. Brady’s two-time AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, Rey, has been sidelined by injury since the Wrangler National Finals, and Brady needed a horse to step in to give Rey fewer runs in the coming years.
“Travis has had him at least six years,” Brady said. “He came from Kyle Crick pretty green, and Travis did a lot of work with him and rode him a lot. Sug let me be 3 twice in a row. He proved that he’s a good horse. I darn sure am glad to have Sug on the rig to give Rey more time off. Sug is a little smaller, a little more like my old horse Dugout. I can almost see the steers easier on him. He doesn’t do anything to screw you. He keeps his head out of the way. I’m glad to have him.”
For Riley, the $100,000 payday couldn’t have come at a better time—he and his wife, Jordan, are expecting their first child, a daughter, this June. Brady and Ashley Minor’s son Maverick turned two the day before The American, and he was in attendance in Arlington when his dad and uncle won.
“My mom and dad were watching live at home,” Brady said. “I talked to my mom, and she was excited. Dad was probably already outside checking on his cows.”
The Minor family’s cows are already calving, and the brothers will fly home in March to help brand some early calves. They’ll come back home in May to brand the rest, and in between, they’ll battle their way up the world standings. But, it’s pretty safe to say that whatever happens in the next nine months, 2017 has already been a good year to be a Minor.
Other winners at the $2 Million American
Bareback riding: Tim O’Connell
Steer wrestling: Clayton Hass
Saddle bronc riding: Cody DeMoss*
Tie-down roping: Marty Yates
Barrel racing: Hailey Kinsel*
Bull riding: Sage Kimzey*
* Won $433,333.33 for being qualifiers/exemptions