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LOVINGTON, N.M. â€“ Kaley Bass likes Jake McClure Arena.
Each of the past two seasons, the Florida-born cowgirl has raced through the Lovington stadium in route to the Lea County Fair and Rodeoâ€™s barrel racing titles and back-to-back qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
She expected to be in the mix to make it a three-peat at this yearâ€™s rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6-Saturday, Aug. 9. In fact, she is one of 10 reigning champions who should be on hand to defend their titles, joining bareback rider Jessy Davis, steer wrestler K.C. Jones, steer roper J.P. Wickett, bull rider Corey Navarre, tie-down roper Jesse Clark, team ropers Chace Thompson and Jayton McCright and saddle bronc riders Cody Wright and Jake Wright.
Thatâ€™s a strong list of rodeoâ€™s greatest stars. In fact, seven of the 2013 Lea County champions have qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
â€śI think it says something about our rodeo that we get so many NFR qualifiers to Lovington every year,â€ť said Greg Massey, chairman of the rodeo committee. â€śI think it also says a lot about the elite contestants in our sport that they continue to perform at such a high level every year.â€ť
The Lea County Fair and Rodeo is part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, which is an attractive feature for ProRodeoâ€™s biggest names. Hundreds of rodeo cowboys and cowgirls make their way to southeastern New Mexico every August, including many world champions.
Take Cody Wright, a two-time saddle bronc riding world champion from Milford, Utah. He won ProRodeo gold in 2008 and 2010. He is the oldest of six Wrights competing in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, including younger twins Jesse and Jake, who have qualified for the NFR; in fact, Jesse Wright earned the 2012 world championship.
The youngest PRCA competitor is Cody Wrightâ€™s son, Rusty, who leads the rookie saddle bronc riding standings. The fact that Cody shared the 2013 Lovington title with Jake is proof of the familyâ€™s talent.
â€śItâ€™s nice to go to a rodeo and have really good horses for everybody,â€ť Jake said after posting an 87-point ride on Pete Carr Pro Rodeoâ€™s Miss Molly, the same score Cody posted on Carrâ€™s Mike & Ike. â€śThe stock contractor here has the kind of caliber that itâ€™s really a riding contest and not a drawing contest.
â€śEither Iâ€™m riding better or drawing better; maybe both.â€ť
Jake Wright utilized the victory to earn a second straight berth to the NFR, the season-ending championship that takes place each December in Las Vegas, where he made a solid run toward the 2013 world championship. He finished second in the world standings, but he won the hearts of many fans with his performance throughout last season.
And just like the other nine Lea County Fair and Rodeo reigning champions, expect to see him back in Lovington in August.