If ever there were child prodigies in team roping, 2019 PRCA Team Roping World Champions Clay Smith and Wesley Thorp were it.
Smith, now 28, kicked off a career of big wins in 2008, when he at just 17, along with his younger brother Jake, won $114,300 at the USTRC's Cinch National Finals of Team Roping. They swept both the #13 Shoot-Out and #13 Prelim that year.
Only 24, Thorp's lifelong win streak started at the USTRC's Cinch NFTR two years later, when he left Oklahoma City with $70,500 in his pocket, including a win in the #11 Shoot-Out with Jamie Hayden.
And now both will wear gold buckles.
For Smith, a second title seemed inevitable for the header from Broken Bow, Oklahoma. He started the 2019 season with Jake Long, winning the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo in Waco, Texas, National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colorado, the San Angelo Cinch Shoot-Out (with 2018 partner Paul Eaves), and the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida. He dominated at the jackpots, too, winning both the Wildfire and the Wildfire Gunslinger, as well as the Fort Worth Timed Event Challenge.
He changed it up after the spring run, picking up three-time World Champion Heeler Jade Corkill at Reno—his dream partner, the heeler after whom he'd named his son.
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"He’s been the best that I’ve ever seen, all growing up and starting rodeoing," Smith said. "His mental game—that dude wants to win more than anybody—almost anybody, because I want to think I want to win that much too. But he’s even more aggressive than me, and his mind is so good about not letting things get in the way."
They got rolling quickly, winning $25,419 a man over the Cowboy Christmas run, and Smith and Corkill finished the regular season with $150,512.22 and $108,637.93 won, respectively. Smith led the standings heading into Las Vegas by $32,056.70 over the number-two man of Kaleb Driggers. Corkill was behind Junior Nogueira by $7,136.73.
"Every year out here, it doesn’t matter what you came in with, what kind of lead," Smith said. "It always seems to come down to one steer."
Smith and Corkill had a leg on their first steer but rebounded to win the second round, then took a no-time with a miss on the head side in Round 3. They placed in four more rounds before Corkill missed their ninth round steer, almost certainly taking him out of the world title race and putting more pressure on Smith's lead than there'd been all season.
"Only Jade could have caught some of the steers I turned this week," Smith admitted. "There was no way he was going to miss. There wasn’t nobody in the world I’d have rather had back there than Jade when it mattered. I knew he’s the guy. He’s a closer, and he’s the best, and I’m glad to have him as a partner and a friend. I know for a fact Jade Corkill ain’t going to miss again. I messed up earlier in the week, and it shouldn’t have came down to the last steer."
Smith and Corkill entered Round 10 eighth in the average with a time of 42.60 seconds on seven head. As the heading standings leader going into the 10th round, they got to rope at last out. They had a steer Luke Brown and Paul Eaves were 5.0 to win fourth in the seventh go, and one Tate Kirchenschlager and Tyler Worley got a leg to be 9.7 on in Round 4.
"Our plan has kind of been the same all week, so I didn’t have to change. Every night we was trying to win something. If we win the round, good. If we didn’t as long as we were getting checks. I knew tonight, that if some of those guys did good, I was going to have to place in the round and sure enough it was going to be good. I knew I was going to have to place in the round to hold my spot. You can see on the TVs, and those guys were right in front of me."
[Read More: The Gray Bomber: Clay Smith's Marty]
Smith watched as the round slowly fell apart, with the bottom 9 teams in the standings bombing to try to win the day-money, with only Erich Rogers and Kyle Lockett connecting for a clean run in 4.5 seconds.
Of the contenders, first Cody Snow and Thorp came out swinging at 4.4. Riley and Brady Minor were 6.8, and Brenten Hall and Chase Tryan got a leg to be 9.4. Chad Masters and Joseph Harrison took a no-time with a miss on the head side. Then Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, fresh off wins in Round 8 and 9, put the pressure on with a 4.1-second run.
"I was really wanting to try to win the round, but I kind of missed my dally and I didn’t give Jade a good handle," Smith said.
The flag fell on their run in 4.7 seconds, winning fourth in the round, worth $11,000.00 a man, sealing the deal for Smith, but not enough to get Corkill his fourth title.
"It’s a little bittersweet not having Jade. I didn’t do a good enough job or he would have been up here with me. He roped great for me all year... I'm planning on roping with Jade as long as he'll rope. We're going to have to have the same number won next year and we won't have to do any weird figuring at the end. And I'm really thankful for him."
Smith won his second world title on Marty, his 12-year-old gray, grade gelding, widely considered one of the greatest head horses of this era of team roping.
"That horse is so smart. He knows like tonight he was ahead of me a little bit. He was reading the play. He knows what I’m going to do before I do it. He’s been amazing. I’m hoping I got something else that when he goes down that will be able to take his spot. I’ve got several other horses coming up that I think will be good, in all reality, I don’t know that there will ever be another Marty," Smith said.
For Thorp, the journey to the 2019 heeling gold buckle started over a decade ago.
"Going back to the US Finals when I was 12, 13 years old, having a chance to win a lot of money, that prepares you for a lot," Thorp, of Throckmorton, Texas, said. "Being a young kid, backing into the box for $50,000 or $100,000, just crazy numbers at a young age, so tonight, I've been used to that and I've had a lot of failures in that spot—I roped a leg at the American one year for $350,000.
"So I was fortunate enough to have put myself in that spot enough times that I really tried to make myself have fun with it tonight. Growing up, I roped the Fast Lane over and over, and every time you're in the 10th round for a gold buckle you know? And I knew I had equally as good a chance as anybody tonight. It was basically a one-header between me and Joseph and Chase Tryan."
At first-out among the group of contenders, Thorp, in his fourth NFR appearance, wasn't pleased with the steer he'd drawn. Nogueira had slipped a leg on him, Ty Blasingame had missed him, and Hall and Tryan had made the best run they could have on him to be 4.4.
"Cody needed to try to win first, and Clay Smith would have to stub his toe. We needed to push, but we both decided our run was to come out here and make the best run possible. On a good steer, that is a fast run. So we didn't change anything.I was as positive as I could be for the situation and I just wanted to have as much fun as I could. I was super glad I put myself in that spot to run that steer," Thorp said.
Snow pinged the barrier, and the steer surprised Thorp with how he handled.
"Cody just tried to be on the barrier, not safety up, take his first best throw, and he set the steer up phenomenal. No way did I think I was going to get that good of look at the steer. He hasn't handled anywhere close to that good all week. So I was nervous thinking I would need to pull off a shot, and he actually made my job easy. I could not have drawn that run up any better for the steer that I knew we had," Thorp said.
When the smoke cleared, Snow and Thorp made a 4.4-second run, worth second in the round for $20,730.77 a man. That secured them the average win before the rest of the pack even roped, with a time of 43.80 seconds on nine head, for $67,269.23 a man.
That money was enough to push Thorp ahead of Nogueira by $10,938, making him the 2019 World Champion Heeler with $249,180.61.
Thorp rode his 14-year-old gelding Million Dollar Lexus to win his first world title.
"He was lights out," Thorp said of Lexus, who was out last year with an injury. "It would be a bold statement to say he's the best horse I've ever rode, but I think now I can say it. I've been so fortunate to own him. The people in the #8.5 World Series tomorrow would have a chance to win on him. That's saying a lot."
[Read More: No Wasted Motion with Wesley Thorp]
Thorp now has $735,802.61 in career earnings, a world title, a College National Finals Rodeo championship and a Bob Feist Invitational win to his name. But he's not even close to done. He'll rope with Masters in 2020 in pursuit of an even bigger goal.
"I set a really broad goal at a young age. I never told myself I wanted to win a world championship. I never even set a goal to do that. I always told myself I wanted to be the best heeler in the world. I wanted to know that myself and it be point blank. And I am not. I'm honest enough with myself to know that. I hope to be there. This is a pretty good milestone to help prove that. Even though I won a world championship, and it's such a cool accomplishment and the biggest thing I've ever accomplished in roping, but honestly I have a lot more that I want to do to prove to myself." TRJ
Team Roping World Standings
Name—Season Winnings—NFR Earnings—Total World Earnings
1 Clay Smith—$150,512.22—$118,307.69—$268,819.91
2 Cody Snow—$95,053.52—$161,884.62—$256,938.14
3 Kaleb Driggers—$118,455.30—$122,467.95—$240,923.25
4 Brenten Hall—$88,926.57—$148,134.62—$237,061.19
5 Riley Minor—$97,648.95—$110,057.68—$207,706.63
6 Chad Masters—$95,528.72—$100,538.46—$196,067.18
7 Luke Brown—$84,939.19—$97,153.85—$182,093.04
8 Coleman Proctor—$104,318.34—$48,923.08—$153,241.42
9 Tate Kirchenschlager—$75,737.64—$71,487.18—$147,224.82
10 Clay Tryan—$103,164.76—$44,057.69—$147,222.45
11 Tyler Wade—$73,394.24—$62,461.54—$135,855.78
12 Ty Blasingame—$101,489.65—$30,730.77—$132,220.42
13 Erich Rogers—$73,999.00—$54,634.62—$128,633.62
14 Matt Sherwood—$76,204.07—$48,500.00—$124,704.07
15 Jake Cooper—$73,190.95—$30,660.25—$103,851.20
Name—Season Winnings—NFR Earnings—Total World Earnings
1 Wesley Thorp—$87,295.99—$161,884.62—$249,180.61
2 Junior Nogueira—$115,774.66—$122,467.95—$238,242.61
3 Chase Tryan—$86,345.09—$148,134.62—$234,479.71
4 Jade Corkill—$108,637.93—$118,307.69—$226,945.62
5 Brady Minor—$97,648.95—$110,057.68—$207,706.63
6 Joseph Harrison—$98,277.59—$100,538.46—$198,816.05
7 Paul Eaves—$89,446.54—$97,153.85—$186,600.39
8 Ryan Motes—$109,166.08—$48,923.08—$158,089.16
9 Kyle Lockett—$98,729.83—$54,634.62—$153,364.45
10 Jake Long—$106,896.49—$44,057.69—$150,954.18
11 Tyler Worley—$71,190.21—$71,487.18—$142,677.39
12 Cole Davison—$71,909.31—$62,461.54—$134,370.85
13 Travis Graves—$103,164.76—$30,730.77—$133,895.53
14 Hunter Koch—$84,307.07—$48,500.00—$132,807.07
15 Caleb Anderson—$72,389.60—$30,660.25—$103,049.85
Full Results, Round 10:
1. Kaleb Driggers, Hoboken, Ga./Junior Nogueira, Presidente Prude, BR, 4.1 seconds, $26,231
2. Cody Snow, Los Olivos, Calif./Wesley Thorp, Throckmorton, Texas, 4.4, $20,731
3. Erich Rogers, Round Rock, Ariz./Kyle Lockett, Visalia, Calif., 4.5, $15,654
4. Clay Smith, Broken Bow, Okla./Jade Corkill, Fallon, Nev., 4.7, $11,000
5. Riley Minor, Ellensburg, Wash./Brady Minor, Ellensburg, Wash., 6.8, $6,769
6. Brenten Hall, Jay, Okla./Chase Tryan, Helena, Mont., 9.4, $4,231
7. Luke Brown, Rock Hill, S.C./Paul Eaves, Lonedell, Mo., 11.6
8. Tyler Wade, Terrell, Texas/Cole Davison, Stephenville, Texas, 12.7
9. Tate Kirchenschlager, Yuma, Colo./Tyler Worley, Berryville, Ark., 14.3
10. Matt Sherwood, Pima, Ariz./Hunter Koch, Vernon, Texas, 20.4
11. (tie) Coleman Proctor, Pryor, Okla./Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, NT
Clay Tryan, Billings, Mont./Jake Long, Coffeyville, Kan., NT
Ty Blasingame, Casper, Wyo./Travis Graves, Jay, Okla., NT
Chad Masters, Cedar Hill, Tenn./Joseph Harrison, Marietta, Okla., NT
Jake Cooper, Monument, N.M./Caleb Anderson, Mocksville, N.C., NT
1. Cody Snow, Los Olivos, Calif./Wesley Thorp, Throckmorton, Texas, 43.8 seconds on nine head, $67,269
2. Brenten Hall, Jay, Okla./Chase Tryan, Helena, Mont., 56.7, $54,577
3. Luke Brown, Rock Hill, S.C./Paul Eaves, Lonedell, Mo., 59.3, $43,154
4. Tate Kirchenschlager, Yuma, Colo./Tyler Worley, Berryville, Ark., 93.0, $31,731
5. Riley Minor, Ellensburg, Wash./Brady Minor, Ellensburg, Wash., 44.4 on eight, $22,846
6. Clay Smith, Broken Bow, Okla./Jade Corkill, Fallon, Nev., 47.3, $16,500
7. Kaleb Driggers, Hoboken, Ga./Junior Nogueira, Presidente Prude, BR, 50.1, $11,423
8. Chad Masters, Cedar Hill, Tenn./Joseph Harrison, Marietta, Okla., 54.9, $6,346
9. Matt Sherwood, Pima, Ariz./Hunter Koch, Vernon, Texas, 62.5
10. Tyler Wade, Terrell, Texas/Cole Davison, Stephenville, Texas, 68.1
11. Erich Rogers, Round Rock, Ariz./Kyle Lockett, Visalia, Calif., 60.8 on seven
12. Jake Cooper, Monument, N.M./Caleb Anderson, Mocksville, N.C., 54.2 on six
13. Clay Tryan, Billings, Mont./Jake Long, Coffeyville, Kan., 36.9 on five
14. Ty Blasingame, Casper, Wyo./Travis Graves, Jay, Okla., 20.3 on four
15. Coleman Proctor, Pryor, Okla./Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, 27.2 on three