At the Omaha stop of the Ariat Playoffs, it was all about second chances and good omens. First, the second chances. In the elimination-style tournament, contestants compete in two go-rounds from which the top 8 in the average move on to a semifinal round, with their previous scores or times wiped clean. From there, the top four advance to a finals where again their scores and times are erased.
For Matt Sherwood and Randon Adams, being able to erase their scores meant everything. In the first round, the duo needed three loops to get their steer roped in 16.5 seconds. They placed 10th out of 12 teams.
In the second round, they managed to stop the clock in 4.4 seconds and were seventh in the average. In fact, every team that simply got a time on two head made the semifinal round.
Meanwhile, Riley Minor borrowed Sherwood's 2006 AQHA/PRCA Head Horse of the Year, Nickolas, and his partner/brother borrowed Adams's 2006-07 AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, Diesel. In a demonstration of what a good horse means, the Minor brothers won the first round and the average.
After the first two rounds, it seemed likely that Nick and Diesel would make the final round; it would just be a matter of who was riding them.
Then, in the semifinal round of 8, Sherwood and Adams, the second team to go, roped a leg to stop the clock in 9.3 seconds. With six teams to go, it seemed that at least four of them would turn in clean times. Only two did. JoJo LeMond and Martin Lucero led the pack with a 5.1, Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz came in with a 5.3, then Sherwood and Adams, followed by the playoff-only pairing of Speed Williams and Michael Jones who also slipped a leg for a 9.4. The Minor brothers, who seemed unstoppable in two rounds, wound up with a no time.
In the final round, Williams missed and the team bowed out with a no time. Sherwood and Adams went next and stopped the clock with a 4.3 to put the pressure on the rest of the field. Todd and de la Cruz needed three loops for a 26. It was up to LeMond and Lucero. They too stopped the clock in 4.3, but a slipped leg meant the title went to Sherwood and Adams. In sum, they each won $10,781. Interestingly, LeMond and Lucero actually won more money, $13,438 each, due to their consistency. They placed in every round and the average and the only penalty they incurred was the slipped leg in the final round.
"I'm sure it's frustrating for the guys who roped good early on to then have a hard time watching someone like us with a three looper and a leg and here we are the champs," Sherwood said. "I'm happy with it this year. You've got to do it the same way and everybody knows what it is, so you just have to play by the rules and hope you're the winner in the end."
In a way, the three preliminary runs were a way for the teammates to work out the kinks.
"I still do what got me here and I rope fast and try to rope the same way every time," Adams said. "I had a little heck this week. The first steer I slipped both feet and I had to rebuild to catch him. I felt like I roped the first one in the semifinals good tonight, but I let that rope get too high and it got stuck on his tailbone. Then I missed my dallies and that's why I slipped a leg. But I caught two feet in the finals. It's nice to have a second chance sometimes and be able to get up here and do what we did tonight."
Sherwood, however, shouldered a good deal of the blame for the slipped legs. Nickolas has occasional trouble pulling the steer as hard as he should and finishing the run so there are no slipped legs.
"These steers were big and my partner slipped a leg and maybe he hasn't dallied perfect, but some of it is my horse not finishing strong," Sherwood said. "I've got to get him finishing better. As far as scoring and roping, I don't think there's anything better."
Now for the good omen.
When Sherwood won his world title in 2006, he and then-partner Walt Woodard claimed victory in Omaha. It continued a momentum they had early in the season and catapulted Sherwood into a world title.
"I was going to go home when I thought I had the Finals made this year, then when I got in the lead, I thought, 'Man, don't take yourself out of the chance to win the world,'" Sherwood said. "Like I told my partner, I won the world by $800, so every $1,000 can make a difference in the end."
Plus, everyone near the top of the Crusher Rentals World Standings at this time of year has the non World Standings-counting $7,500 bonus for the regular-season leader on their minds.
"That $7,500 bonus for going into the Finals with the lead in the world would be nice but it's been back and forth between me and Travis (Tryan) all season. It seems like he's been at the top more than me, but I was always close enough that I wanted it so we kept going. That $7,500 bonus is a big deal for me in my deal."
At press time, both Sherwood and Adams had overtaken the top spot in the world standings.
Saddle Bronc Riding
The good omen theme continued with saddle bronc riding champion Chad Ferley. In 2006, he too won the Ariat Playoff stop in Omaha. He went on to win the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship title at the Texas Stampede in Dallas that same year. What's more, he won his world title at his first Wrangler NFR ever.
Last year at Omaha, his stirrup leather broke during his semifinal round ride. Even though he was still able to qualify for the NFR, once there, the rigging was jerked out of his saddle and he failed to place in a single round.
In 2008, things resembled his 2006 campaign more closely than last year's struggles. The South Dakota cowboy won the first round, finished sixth in the second and won the average by a point. In the semifinal round, he placed third.
His favorite horse bucking is Powder River Rodeo's Touch of Silver. That's the horse he rode to the 2006 win in Omaha. The horse was slated for the final round, but Ferley drew Mosbrucker's Silver Moon.
"I was really hoping for Touch of Silver because me and her have a really good track record," Ferley said. "My first horse kind of stumbled and then trailed off."
He was awarded a reride on MJM's Little Stone.
"I'd never been on him, I'd seen him a few times," Ferley said. "He makes the NFR every year in the eliminator pen, he's big and droppy. I wasn't too worried because most of them were tough to ride, had some moves to them. I didn't know if he'd be good enough, but he sure turned out to be good today."
So good, in fact, that the judges awarded him 88 points, distancing him from Anthony Bello by three points. In sum, Ferley took $16,875 out of Omaha.
In 1976, a rookie calf roper burst onto the scene, winning the first of what would be eight world titles. Roy Cooper revolutionized the sport of tie-down roping-and steer roping for that matter.
Now, in 2008, there's another rookie making his mark: Tuf Cooper, Roy's 18-year-old son.
While his fellow competitors have been impressed by his rise in the world standings-he didn't start rodeoing in earnest until mid-summer-he showed what he's made of on Omaha's big stage, surviving elimination and actually flourishing in the face of stiff competition.
In fact, while his uncle Stran Smith and his brother-in-law and reigning world champion Trevor Brazile missed the semifinal round, Cooper won the average with an 18.4-second time on two.
Once there, the Decatur, Texas, cowboy faced the likes of Fred Whitfield and Jeff Chapman, but beat them all with an 8.5-second run. Part of the secret to his success is the horse, named Boo, his father and Karen Herbst partner on.
"In the semifinals I just wanted to be smooth and let him get in front of me so I was sure to rope him around the neck," Cooper said.
Along with Cooper, Mike Johnson, Jeff Chapman and Josh Peek rounded out the final four. Johnson set the pace with an 8.3-second run. Chapman broke out and Peek went long with a 9.2. Cooper knew what he had to do to win, an 8.2, and he had drawn the same calf he roped in the second round in 8.1.
His dad had been by his side all week, and for an individual event the father-son duo incorporated an extraordinary amount of teamwork. The elder Cooper would help strategize each run and stand in the corner of the box with instructions and encouragement.
"We knew what I had to do before I roped because I was last," Tuf Cooper said. "In the finals he told me to go ahead and put on the inside and hustle. I ran that calf before in the second round so I knew if I set it up nice I could do good in the final round."
As the run unfolded, Tuf's yet-developing internal clock was ticking-and he couldn't have cut it much closer. He got just what he needed, an 8.2, to win. By placing in every round, he won $16,875 and moved to fifth in the Crusher Rentals World Standings.
"I'm pumped, I'm so pumped," the rookie gushed.
Luke Branquinho has been the most consistent steer wrestler over the past six years-despite missing the 2005 season due to injury. He's qualified for 10 post-season Tour championships, yet only won one, Las Vegas in 2004. Incidentally, that was the year he won his one and only world title.
Now, after a four-year drought, he's got another one under his belt. He turfed his final round steer in 3.8, won $16,875 and narrowed the margin between himself and current world standings leader Wade Sumpter to just under $16,000.
"The way it is you got to run at them and if you catch them, you catch them, but it doesn't make that big of a difference," Bran quinho said. "I try not to worry about that gap."
Interestingly, the steer Branquinho won the event on was the same one Sumpter threw for a round-one win. In the early round, Branquinho finished second to Sumpter in the average, but then won the semifinal round with a 3.6.
"I didn't feel like I made great runs on my first two, I thought over what I needed to try to do and I was a lot more aggressive and it worked out," he said.
Lindsay Sears owns Omaha. Last year, the Nanton, Alberta, cowgirl and her super horse Martha 40 percented the field, meaning they won everything and hauled in 40 percent of the prize money available to barrel racers.
This year, she nearly repeated the feat. Had it not been for a tipped barrel in the first round, she might have. She won the second go, and slipped into the semifinals in the eighth spot. After that, she didn't look back, winning both the semifinal and final rounds-the final-round victory coming with a 13.81-second run. She added $15,000 to her lead in the world standings.
Last year, her win in Omaha meant she could compete in Dallas. However, it conflicted with the Canadian Finals Rodeo. She opted for the CFR, ended up having an unbelievable Finals, but finished second in the world.
"It's a really tough decision, but I think I'm going to go to Dallas this year and try something new," she said.
Because of that decision, she might just be trying on a new gold buckle come December.
One of Tuf Cooper's fellow Texas High School Rodeo friends, Stormy Wing, from Dalhart, made an impressive 93-point ride on D & H Cattle Company's Ricky Bobby to win the final round and $13,594. The win put him within striking distance of his first Wrangler NFR qualification.
Kelly Timberman literally spurred the hair off his final-round horse, Mosbrucker's War & Peace, en route to an 87-point winning ride. After he dismounted, a tangle of the big paint horse's mane was stuck in his spur. The 2004 world champion earned $11,875 to remain in the top 10 in the world standings.