In the middle of July, a significant partner shuffle left two ropers without a team. When Chad Masters and Michael Jones reunited, a domino effect resulted in Travis Tryan roping with Walt Woodard, Clay Tryan roping with Kory Koontz and David Key roping with Marty Becker.
That left Jade Corkill-who had been roping with Masters-and Jake Stanley-who was heading for Becker. Corkill hooked up with Brandon Beers at most rodeos, but Beers hadn't qualified for the Ariat Playoffs. Stanley, meanwhile, decided to rope with Caleb Twisselman at the rodeos, but again, Twisselman wasn't in the playoffs.
It only made sense for the team of Stanley and Corkill to rope at the first stop of the Ariat Playoffs in Caldwell, Idaho. It was the first rodeo they'd ever entered together.
In the elimination-style format, Stanley and Corkill made the first cut to the semifinal round as the eighth (and last) place team with a 16.2-time on two head.
As the last call back, they were first to rope in the semifinal round of eight. With the likes of Travis Tryan and Walt Woodard, Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith and Speed Williams and Allen Bach after them, the strategy of putting the pressure on versus staying safe is a fine line.
Stanley and Corkill took what the steer gave them and were a solid 6.4. With the arena record as a 3.8, at first glance it looked like that time might not hold up to make the cut for the top four back into the final round.
Two teams turned in no times and two more were 15 seconds or longer due to penalties or missed loops. Williams and Bach and Tryan and Woodard tied for the fastest runs with 5.7s.
Stanley and Corkill were in.
Coming in to the Playoffs, Stanley led the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour standings. As a result of his point total, he was virtually guaranteed safe passage all the way through the playoff rodeos in Caldwell, Puyallup, Wash., Omaha, Neb., and Dallas. Corkill, however, came in 21st. Thirty-six teams begin in Caldwell and are then whittled to 22 for Puyallup, 11 for Omaha and 10 in Dallas. Corkill had to pick up some points in Caldwell just for a chance to advance to the more lucrative playoff stops.
In the final round at Caldwell, the round of four with the slate wiped clean, the question of strategy once again came in to play. Travis Tryan, riding his great horse, Walt, and, interestingly enough, roping with Walt Woodard, had qualified. Williams and Bach were in as was the nothing-to-lose pair of Spencer Mitchell and Joseph Shawnego.
Mitchell and Shawnego broke out to be 4.1. Stanley and Corkill were up and put the pressure on the field with a 4.5-second run. Then Tryan and Woodard broke out to be 4.7. Finally, Williams and Bach, all 12 world titles between them, backed into the box.
They were 7.4.
"I was up against the best head horse tonight and the best header and it worked out great," Stanley said. "I didn't really know how it was going to work out, but I guess I'm glad I got cut. What can I say?"
What's more, the $8,679 each cowboy won for the win in Caldwell moved Stanley from 16th in the Crusher Rentals World Standings to 10th. In 2007 Stanley finished 20th in the world and in '05 and '06 he finished 18th.
Corkill remained in third, but the win did huge things for his confidence and proved the elimination-style format suits him. He and Chad Masters won RodeoHouston, which uses a similar system, but there they were the high call team.
"I had to do good here to have a chance," he said. "I've been on both sides of it now, it doesn't matter to me. Right there, that steer was so good I didn't have to get out of my element to make a good run."
Stanley, for his part, couldn't stop gushing. At his first ever playoff or post-season qualification he was an instant convert to the format.
"Every rodeo should be like this," he said. "Thirty-six guys, pays four good moneys. To come in here and have them take the top eight guys back and then the top four. I think more rodeos should be like this."
The results of the team roping had an unusual effect on the tie-down roping. When Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper and All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile missed his first loop in the semifinal round for Patrick Smith and the duo missed the finals, he became a man possessed.
"The team roping helped my calf roping," he said. "I was so mad after the team roping. I missed the start and just didn't do my job and panicked. The clock in my head was telling me to throw it with four guys behind me and I fell into the trap I tell all the young guys to avoid. It happens to all of us but I hate screwing up for my partner, so after something like that, I was determined in the calf roping."
That determination manifested itself first in an 8.8-second semifinal-round winning run. Because he missed the team roping finals, he had nothing to do but focus on his final-round preparations in the calf roping.
As he watched his competition in the round of four: Boe Brown, Mike Johnson and Seth Childers, times got quicker with each run. Seth Childers set the pace with an 8.7.
Brazile roped his calf quickly and got down the rope and flanked him in good shape, but as the scoreboard clock ran behind him, it appeared he might be cutting it too close by taking a second wrap. Mercifully, the clock stopped at 8.5.
"I knew I had time after I got him roped and I didn't want that calf getting up," he explained.
The win was worth $9,812, kept him in the No. 1 spot in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour standings and inched him closer to the world standings leader Josh Peek.
What's more, Brazile's best calf horse, Texaco, returned to competition and showed a full recovery from injury.
"It's nice to have him back sound," he said. "I've had him back here and there and I'd bring him back with the minimal recovery time. Last year I needed him, but I owe him more than that. He's back as good as he's ever been."
That, combined with Brazile's ability to draw motivation from almost any circumstance, might just have all the calf ropers rooting for him in the team roping.
While it doesn't appear that Brazile will have any real threats for the all-around title in 2008, the second-place man in the event is Steven Dent. After winning RodeoHouston's $50,000 jackpot, he has led the world standings in his best event, bareback riding.
In the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour standings, he was secure through Puyallup, but his goal was to qualify for Omaha-his home state's biggest rodeo.
In the semifinal round he scored an 86 on Burch Rodeo's Wild Woman to advance to the final round in the number two spot.
Once there, Cimarron Gerke threw down the gauntlet with an 88 on Burch Rodeo's Rock Star. Dent would be second-to-last and had drawn the Four-Time PRCA Bucking Horse of the Year Grated Coconut. The Stud, as most bareback riders refer to him, is an incredibly strong horse. Most who draw him either buck off or just hang on. Few are able to keep in time and get much spurring action.
Dent, however, did his best to match the great Calgary Stampede bucking horse's intensity when the gate cracked. While he didn't match him jump for jump, Dent showed more control than most do on the horse. The judges rewarded him with a new Caldwell Night Rodeo arena record of 91 points.
"The stud, his credentials say it all, he's the greatest horse ever," Dent said. "To do it on him makes it a little sweeter. He's a bucker. When you see that 88 you know you have to go for it. Hanging on to him isn't going to get it done, you have to get your hips rocking. He's dang sure all there, that's why we do it, to get on the best bucking horse in the world."
Dent won $11,320 in Caldwell, moved to a more comfortable fourth place spot in the Tour standings and extended his lead in the world standings.
Reigning world champion steer wrestler Jason Miller has made a significant run up the world standings after a slow start to the 2008 season. Traveling with 2004 Champ Luke Branquinho, Miller has had access to Rance Thrall's grey horse, Skid, as well as the horse he won the world on, Curtis Cassidy's Willy.
"You try not to think about it and go to the rodeos and win as much as you can," he said of his slow start. "I stayed home during calving season and I eased up a bit. Our horses are right and that makes a big difference."
In Caldwell, he rode Skid to a final round tie with Ken Lewis of 4.1 seconds, but due to Miller's faster time in the semifinal round, he won the tiebreaker and $8,050. He also sits solidly at fourth in the Tour standings and seventh in the world standings.
Saddle bronc rider J.J. Elshere emerged from a final-four field of fellow South Dakotans (Jesse Bail, Billy Etbauer and Chad Ferley) to win the Caldwell stop on the Ariat Playoffs. He rode Burch Rodeo's infamous horse Blood Brother for 87 points and won $11,546.
Barrel racer Shelley Murphy was able to compete in Caldwell because she won the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho, last March. Winners from that rodeo are automatically seeded into Caldwell, Puyallup and Omaha. Her Idaho fortune continued in Caldwell when she turned the cloverleaf patter in 17.33 seconds to win $7,453.
In the bull riding, little-known circuit cowboy Brian Curtis was the only cowboy to ride his final round bull when he spurred D, H & T's Velvet Slinger for 91 points and $9,809. While the win moved him to sixth in the tour standings, he was not able to crack the top 20 in the world standings.