Nick Sartain and Rhen Richard didn't have lofty goals for the 2008 season. Sartain, who went to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2006 with Shannon Frascht, was afoot. After winning the George Strait Team Roping Classic last year with Jhett Johnson, his good horse got hurt. At the beginning of this season, he and Frascht tried again, but trying to win on a subpar mount wasn't worth the trouble.
Then along came Rhen Richard. If the name sounds vaguely familiar it's because Richard is the reigning National High School Rodeo all-around and tie-down roping champion. As a friend of Matt Sherwood, Richard, who just graduated from high school this spring, had expressed interest in making a run at the Resistol Rookie of the Year title. Sherwood was familiar with Sartain's situation and recommended to Richard that he give the Oklahoman a call.
"I didn't have a good winter and didn't have the horses I wanted," Sartain said. "Then I got the opportunity to rope with Rhen Richard, but still didn't have the horses to. Turned out his dad has a good horse that his brother rides and they let me ride him."
That good horse the Richards just bought from John Stafford was originally intended for Rhen's younger brother, Kaden.
"He's a phenomenal horse," Richard said of the 15-year-old they call Big John. "The week we got him, my little brother won the (Utah) high school state finals on him and then we hauled him to Reno and won it."
The Reno win was worth $10,909 each for Sartain and Richard, who roped three steers in 17.6 seconds.
The interesting horses doesn't stop there. Rhen Richard, who was heeling for his brother to win the Utah State High School Rodeo Finals, rides a five-year-old bay stud called Uno his family raised-Travalena on the top side and Peppy San Badger on the bottom. In addition to making the National High School Finals in the team roping, Richard will represent Utah in the tie-down roping in Springfield, Ill. That is, depending on how the month of July goes on the rodeo trail.
After making two good runs in the rounds in Reno, Sartain and Richard came back as fourth high call. True to their game plan for the season, they didn't see a chance to win the rodeo with the Cooper twins and Matt Sherwood and Randon Adams ahead of them.
"We both had $8,000 or $9,000 won," Sartain explained. "If I'd have had $30,000 won I'd have tried to win the rodeo on that steer, but where we were at we just had to do something and start getting on the board a little bit. Rhen's trying to win rookie of the year, so I was just trying to win some money to help him out. Plus, I was just going to make sure I could win enough money this year to get into the buildings next year. That was really our game plan: make a good run on the last one and win something. We were fourth high call and that's such a good rodeo, we didn't want to make a mistake there. I came across the line and the steer was better than I thought and my man made an awesome shot."
They stopped the clock in 5.6 seconds-third in the short round-satisfied they had executed the plan to perfection.
Then, things got interesting. First, Ty Blasingame's head loop went awry for Ryon Tittel. Then, Jake and Jim Ross Cooper's steer cut in front of Jake and he missed. Finally, the high call team, Sherwood and Adams, went just long enough that it moved Sartain and Richard to the top spot.
Suddenly, instead of just chipping away at a rookie of the year title, the race is on for a Wrangler NFR qualification.
"It was crazy," Richard said. "It's hard to appreciate never being there before. It's turned around fast and we have a chance to make the Finals now."
What's more, the duo went on to win more than any other team over the Fourth of July with $14,475 each-including a win in Livingston, Mont., and a second-place finish in Cody, Wyo. At press time, both were in the top 15.
The only hitch in the plan being a potential conflict for Richard between the NHSFR and the ProRodeos in Salt Lake City and Salinas. At press time, he was hoping to be able to trade around in order to make all the events and defend his titles and maybe win a new one with his brother.
"If we do good this next week, I'll turn out the high school finals if I have to," Richard said, making his priorities crystal clear. "I've roped my whole life and I've always wanted to go [professionally]. I just went to the circuit rodeos last summer and made circuit finals and wanted to try to win rookie of the year. I just couldn't wait. It was something I wanted to do and it's always been my dream to make the Finals. I felt like I was ready to go."
After winning the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West, it appears he's right. But it takes a season to see the bright lights of Las Vegas, and Sartain knows that.
"We're going to get a little wind in our faces here for a few weeks and see how it goes," he said.
In steer wrestling, Coloradoan Wade Sumpter built on the lead he started in Houston with a $10,966 Reno win after throwing three steers in 12.8 seconds.
Riding Wick, the horse he bought from Birch Negaard, Sumpter finished second in the first round, made a solid second round run and came back to the short round as third high call.
"There were a lot of steers that I thought would be better than mine, but then the short round started falling apart," he said. "Jason Miller was 7.7 on two and I was 8.3, so he just had to be some sort of four, but he didn't get a very good go at his steer. Then [high call] Stockton Graves went long, missed the barrier and ran him down there too far."
Part of Stockton's troubles may have been that at the last minute he had to borrow a horse. Rodney Burks' great horse, Zan, who Graves had been riding all summer, came up hurt just before the short round. Interestingly, Sumpter lent him Wick. Maybe karma was on Sumpter's side.
After winning the highest paying winter rodeo (Houston) and now the highest paying summer rodeo (Reno), Sumpter explained it as simply a necessity of the business.
"With five dollar-a-gallon diesel, you have to win," he said. "There's no choice. It's like having a 96 percent calf crop or an 85 percent calf crop. You don't have a choice if you want to make money. Luck is a lot of it. I do better when there's a lot of pressure. I don't know why."
But with a $40,000 lead on the field at press time, the pressure is seemingly off. Sumpter, however, has found a way to give himself the motivation he needs to get the job done.
"I figure if you have $80,000, you'll make the Finals pretty easy," he said. "My goal is to have $130,000 because I don't want anybody to say I made the Finals just because of Houston. I want to have a $50,000 lead on everybody going in."
In the tie-down roping, Crusher Rentals World Standings leader Josh Peek-like his fellow Coloradoan Sumpter-built on the lead he started in Houston by winning $11,057 after roping three calves in 27.5 seconds. Not only that, he won an additional $701 in the steer wrestling to claim Reno's all-around title.
At press time, that put him about $30,000 behind Trevor Brazile in the all-around race. Brazile, however, works three events to Peek's two and has a Tiger Woods-esque ability of keeping his competition at bay.
In the tie-down roping, however, Pueblo, Colo., cowboy Peek has a nearly $23,000 lead on Brazile.
For reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Bobby Mote, Reno was a mixed bag. The team roping didn't go so well, but in his signature event, it couldn't have gone much better.
Mote, who entered the team roping in the rodeo with fellow bareback rider Josi Young, missed their second steer. He also entered the Perry DiLoreto Invitational, where his heeler missed their third and fourth steers.
On the roughstock end of things, however, it was a different story for the Prineville, Ore. cowboy. He won the first round, placed in the second and short round and won the average with a total of 255 points on three head.
"I rode a horse called Sundance of Flying Five's," Mote said. "I'd seen him in the bronc riding quite a bit. He's normally not a bareback. Ryan Gray had him at San Antonio this winter and that was the first time I'd seen him in the barebacks and he was pretty good. With me, he just went straight out there and jumped and kicked then circled around to the left."
The judges scored him an 85 and the secretary wrote him checks worth $11,364.
"I never have won Reno, it's pretty cool," he said. "It's one of the more prestigious rodeos we go to all year. It's good to win there, not to mention it kicks off the Fourth of July run."
The win put him right in the thick of the leaders in the world standings.
"I'm not too far out of it, especially if I have a good run over the next couple of weeks," he said. "I feel great, my elbow and my neck are all good. I've been home all spring so I haven't been anywhere. I've been working out and hanging around home. I took the family with me to Reno and had them all with me during that week. It's a lot easier to stay fresh going like that."
In the saddle bronc riding, Jesse Kruse of Great Falls, Mont., set a new Reno Rodeo arena record by spurring Flying Five's Spring Planting for 91 points. He won $9,983 in the Silver State and after finishing second to Reigning World and Collegiate Champion Taos Muncy at the College National Finals Rodeo last year, Reno is his first big win.
2006 World Champion Barrel Racer Mary Burger of Pauls Valley, Okla., showed she's still got what it takes after posting a 51.1 second average time on three runs in Reno. She won $10,776.
Six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Fred Boettcher won the bull riding by covering two bulls for 176 points, including a 90-point ride on Flying Five's Firewater to tie for the top spot in the first round. He pocketed $13,984.