You would think carrying a $53,000 lead into the Wrangler NFR and placing in eight of 10 rounds would clinch a world title in any event. The fact that the PWBR gold buckle still hung in the balance by the 10th round gives props to arguably the handiest single group of cowgirls to run in Las Vegas together in recent history.
"To have five girls not hit any barrels, that's phenomenal," said four-time qualifier Brittany Pozzi-Pharr. "This has been the toughest Finals I've ever seen."
For 23-year-old Pozzi-Pharr of Victoria, Texas, it was also the sweetest. She made 10 runs in 140.18 seconds to win her second straight NFR average title and become the first to win back-to-back NFRs since Kappy Allen in 2000-01. She put more than a quarter of a million dollars in the bank. And, more importantly, she came back to win the gold buckle she lost in a heartbreaker to WPRA world champion Mary Burger* a year earlier.
Losing that pre-NFR lead at the Finals for the second time in her career had lit a fire under Pozzi-Pharr, who took no prisoners in the 2007 regular season. Outdoor, indoor; winter and summer, she won virtually everything from Denver to Dallas to amass a record $164,521 before the Finals even started.
Her weapon of mass destruction is 10-year-old Sixth Vision ("Stitch"), a sorrel gelding that Pozzi-Pharr purchased four years ago from Oklahoma trainer Sonny Suttle. The 2007 AQHA/PWBR Horse of the Year is by the great racehorse Streakin Six out of a Dash For Cash daughter named Dream N Win.
Pozzi-Pharr also earned 2007 dollars on Marvins Wonder ("Potato Chip"), the multi-event-talented 2003 AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year she purchased from Dugan Kelly. The little buckskin was ready to back up Stitch at the NFR, because Stitch had struggled to place in a round at the '06 Finals and Pozzi-Pharr wasn't taking any chances.
"I told Doug, if Stitch doesn't show up in the first two rounds, I'm getting on Potato Chip," said Pozzi-Pharr, who is married to roper Doug Pharr.
But she jumped out to place second in the first round and stayed on Stitch thereafter, placing in the third and fourth rounds and the final five. It should have been easy street for Pozzi-Pharr, but, like in '06, the second-place cowgirl just wouldn't go away.
Canadian Lindsay Sears, despite hitting a barrel in the first round, put on the most electrifying NFR performance in six years on her 7-year-old mare, Sugar Moon Express. The 27-year-old from Nanton, Alberta, earned more than $100,000 in the rounds alone, meaning Pozzi-Pharr, who earned $53,149 in the rounds, had only one way to hold her off-leave them all standing and do it faster than 10 other cowgirls.
It was prime time to panic for Pozzi-Pharr, who watched her lead slip away faster each night. The déjà vu had hit full force by round nine, when Sears won for the third straight night and overtook the Texan in the world standings. What's more, Pozzi-Pharr had to run down the alley each night to Lindsay Sears' deafening fanfare.
"I had to go behind Mary Burger every run last year when she was placing in every round," said Pozzi-Pharr, who wound up losing to Burger by $2,567. "This year, I ran behind Lindsay and had to watch her win all those rounds. It was like, 'I'm not going to let this happen again. I'll do everything in my power!'"
She did. This year, Pozzi-Pharr ran Stitch in different headgear-a bit that gave her more control than the former hackamore-and kept Marty Tanner, DVM (of Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Texas) on hand all 10 rounds.
On the final night, despite a near-brush with the third barrel, Pozzi-Pharr kept them all up. She'd rounded the Coors cans about a full second faster over 10 rounds than she had in 2006, and notched a final total of $259,713. Pozzi-Pharr, who said the ground conditions were better than they've been in past years, gives credit to Stitch for her 20 straight clean runs at the NFR.
"We may not have been the fastest, but we were definitely the most consistent," she said.
As for Sears, she earned more than any cowboy at the NFR save all-around champ Trevor Brazile with a near-record $119,255, and finished second in the world with $230,797. No barrel racer had cracked $200,000 in a season of pro rodeos since Sherry Cervi earned $245,369 in the WPRA in 1999.
In fact, Lindsay Sears' mistake on the first turn of the rodeo cost her about $50,000 and a world title. Without the penalty, she'd also have cleared 10 patterns faster than any barrel racer in 20 years, coming within a tenth of a second of Charmayne James' 1986 average record of 138.93.
Sears also split fast-time honors at the Finals with South Dakota trainer Jill Moody, on a pair of 13.64-second runs they clocked in the seventh and sixth rounds, respectively.
*From 1948-2006, PRCA barrel racing was sanctioned by the Women's Professional Rodeo Association. In 2007, the PRCA sanctioned the event with its own subsidiary, Professional Women's Barrel Racing.