It’s been a long time coming for Clay Smith and Jade Corkill to win Wyoming’s 125th Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. After battling their way to the finals for the past week, Smith and Corkill won the sudden-death Championship Sunday performance with a 10.2-second run, worth $8,930 a man, plus buckles, saddles and more.
With Sunday’s earnings, plus the checks won throughout the week for a total of $11,019 a man in CFD winnings, Smith and Corkill are now fourth and sixth in the 2021 PRCA World Standings with $53,153.45 each in season earnings.
“Winning that much at one time should have gotten us locked in to where we should be safe now, as far as making it,” Corkill said of their goal to compete at the 2021 Wrangler NFR. “It’s always good when you do good at the big ones. When you get towards the end of the year, the big money gets more scarce. Anytime you can add lump sums like this that are a decent amount together, it helps a lot.”
Smith, who first competed in Cheyenne in 2012, had never made it to the final performance at the “Daddy of ’Em All, and planned to hit the barrier running to take an early lead in the Sunday matinee performance as the third team to rope out of 12 teams.
“I hadn’t done good here [until] 2019. That was my first check to ever win here,” Smith said of his efforts at CFD, which was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. “We knew that if we were going to try and win it, then we were going to have to try to nail the barrier and be pretty aggressive. I was almost a little too close to the barrier; I had to pull a little at the end. The steer ran a good pattern and [Jade] heeled him fast and got tight fast. I took him a long way down there. We were faster than what I thought we were going to be. Being third out, we didn’t know if that was a winning run or not. Some guys had heck and we were fortunate enough to do good.”
The black and white paint steer left the chute running straight to break the 30-foot barrier quick, giving Smith a clean start. The steer took five strides out of the chute and faded to the right, which is crucial in the Cheyenne Frontier Days arena setup, providing Smith enough room to turn the steer for Corkill without getting into the left fence.
“Heeling here is really different because, a lot of times, you think you need to start moving, but you really don’t. If you catch up at all before the header does and [the steers] want to move in front of him, [the header] can close the gap pretty fast,” Corkill said. “You see a lot of guys miss when that happens. I just try to stay back and catch up when [my header] does. You count on [your header] waiting on you and it usually works out pretty good if you do it like that.”
The pair started their journey to the final round after roping in the slack on Sunday, July 25, as the first team out. They roped their first steer in 13.5 seconds.
“I feel like it’s a little easier to make the finals now than in years before, when it was two and a short, just because you can have a bad steer, especially in slack that morning when they take 12 guys back,” Smith said. “Our first steer was pretty strong, so our mindset was to just catch clean and make it back.”
The team roped in the second performance and knocked down their steer in 10.3 seconds to advance to the semi-final performances, worth $1,386 a man. They roped on the first set of the semi-finals and placed fifth with a 10.9-second run, worth $703 a man, to squeeze into the top 6 to advance to the Championship Sunday performance.
“The hardest is the semi-finals—making it back in the top 6 out of 12,” Smith said. “It was really tough in some sets and a leg made it back in some sets, so you don’t really know. We were in the middle of the road in the semi-finals, so we kind of knew what to do to make it back.”
Smith and Corkill went into the rodeo with the mindset of knocking each steer down to keep advancing with hopes of making it through to the final round.
“There’s no big advantage to try to take a big risk until [the finals],” Smith said. “We just did what we could to get by and, then, you try to do all that you can and don’t miss.”
Smith tapped his sorrel gelding, General, which he usually rides in more of a jackpot setting.
“I’ve had him a little over a year now, but it was my first time to ever ride him here. He can run hard and stay moving forward so you’re able to keep the steers up. Sometimes, you’re going so fast that, if a horse really uses his left leg and wants to really come back, you can jerk [the steers] around a bit. He stays moving forward and makes it easier to keep steers up.”
Corkill, who is now a three-time Cheyenne Frontier Days Champion, understands how important it is to have a solid heel horse in the setup: He won his first CFD title in 2009 on Iceman, his second title in 2013 on Caveman and has now won the 2021 title on his sorrel gelding, Huey.
“All three of them were similar as far as this setup goes,” Corkill said about the trio. “They all scored good and read the cow really well. That is important here heeling because you get to rolling fast. You have to let them get measured off with the steer so you don’t slip a leg or something like that. I’ve had [Huey] two years now and he’s been good. He’s probably one of the better one’s that I’ve ever had and I’m just glad to have him.”
With their hard-won CFD Champion team roping titles earned, Smith and Corkill now face the remainder of the 2021 Pro Rodeo season.
“Whenever you can win anything at all it helps,” Smith said. “We try to win as much as we can and stay as close as we can [to the top of the PRCA World Standings]. Everyone knows that Las Vegas is going to come down to the 10th Round anyways. We’re just going to try and win as much as we can and see what happens at the end of the year.”