The barrel racing world has some relatively new superstars this year, turning the world title race upside down. Familiar faces like three-time world champion Sherry Cervi and reigning world champion Mary Walker are one-two, but behind them is NFR-rookie Michele McLeod and second-time qualifier Christy Loflin. 

As usual in barrel racing, our picks come down to who is mounted the best. This year, it just might be NFR-rookie McLeod who will roll into the Thomas & Mack with the best horse. McLeod burst onto the rodeo scene in a big way this year when she started riding Highpoint Performance Horses’ 2007 stallion, Slick By Design.

They racked up the wins all year in every size pen, and when “Slick” needed a fall break after the long summer, Highpoint Performance Horses picked up Kellies Chick, a 5-year-old-mare, for McLeod to season. That “seasoning” process happened at warp speed, when McLeod won the Justin Boots Championship in Omaha aboard the rodeo newcomer.

With both horses running in top shape and clocking in small pens like the Thomas & Mack, McLeod’s got a real shot at her first world title.

“This is going to be the toughest NFR in history,” says barrel racing legend and world champion Martha Josey. “I can’t pick one horse and rider combination that I think won’t have a chance. More girls have their horses healthy this year, and there are just so many fierce competitors.”