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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the May 2013 edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA.
Yeah Hes Firen just hadnât been himself.
Duke is one of the top barrel horses in ProRodeo, having guided Brittany Pozzi to Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications and lots of money in recent years. But the 10-year-old gelding out of Spendid Discovery by Alive N Firen just hadnât felt right to kick off the 2013 campaign.
That changed the first weekend in April when Duke led Brittany Pozzi to her second straight Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo barrel racing championship in Oklahoma City.
âHe felt outstanding,â Pozzi said of Duke on April 6. âItâs been a really hard winter. Heâs been off and on and hurt and not hurt.â
It was a valuable rodeo, too. Pozzi won $19,125 for her take over the three-day competition; she also added a $20,000 voucher for a Ram pickup. The tournament-style format seemed to work quite well for the talented tandem. Pozzi finished fifth in the opening go-round, with her 15.61-second run being worth $997. She scored that time in the opening performance, then waited two days to run again.
But that final day was quite busy. Pozzi ran in the final preliminary performance, blistering the pattern in 15.42 seconds, finishing second in the go-round and second in the two-run average. That evening, she and Duke scored a 15.48 to win the semifinal round, then followed that with a 15.35 to win the championship.
âHeâs coming back really strong,â Pozzi said of Duke.
Everything seems to be pointing in a positive direction for the two-time world champion from Victoria, Texas. But there were a lot of great things that happened over the five performances of ProRodeoâs national championship.
Theresa Walter of Billings, Mont., kick-started the rodeo with a 15.59-second run to take the early lead after the opening performance that began at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 4. That evening, the second half of the field of 24 competed, and thatâs where the lead changed hands. Carlee Pierce, a two-time NFR qualifier from Stephenville, Texas, won the first round with a 15.42, pocketing $4,607 in the process.
She then kicked-off the second round with the fastest run of the RNCFR, posting a 15.25. In just two days, she earned $13,821.
âI think being first on the ground helped a little bit,â said Pierce, who ran her great horse, Rare Dillion, inside State Fair Arena. âHe likes this arena. As many times as I can run in here the better.
âI just feel at home here. Itâs a great set up.â
The format works
The Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo features the top 24 circuit barrel racers in the Womenâs Professional Rodeo Association â the year-end champions and the circuit finals champions from each of the 12 ProRodeo circuits; in case the year-end champion wins the circuit finale, the year-end runner-up earns the right to compete in Oklahoma City. In the Texas Circuit,Â for example, Pierce won the year-end and the circuit finals, so Pozzi, as the No. 2 cowgirl in the year-end, qualified for the RNCFR.
Because of the sheer numbers, each round is broken into two performances. There are great payouts in both go-rounds, but the key is that the top eight in the two-run aggregate qualify for the clean-slate semifinals â money is still tabulated, but the times are thrown out.
Pierce, Pozzi and Walter were joined by Nancy Hunter of Neola, Utah; Cindy Smith of Hobbs, N.M.; Barbara Merrill of Axtell, Utah; Pamela Capper of Cheney, Wash; and Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D.
Pozzi won the round and was followed by finalists Hunter, 15.63; Pierce, 15.70; and Smith, 15.94. With less than an hour from semifinals to the finale, the girls kept their horses warmed up and got ready to attack the cloverleaf pattern again.
Pozzi and Duke rounded the pattern in 15.35 seconds, two-tenths of a second faster than Pierce, who finished runner-up to Pozzi for the second straight year. Smith finished third with a 15.59, while Hunter tipped a barrel to finish fourth.
Racing to the title
Pozzi has had great success over the last decade. She first qualified for the Wrangler NFR in 2003 at the age of 19.
In 2013 alone, she won Denver; San Angelo, Texas; Logandale, Nev.; Pocatello, Idaho; Red Bluff, Calif.; Riverdale, Calif.; Livermore, Calif.; Santa Maria, Calif.; Belle Fourche, S.D.; St. Paul, Ore.; Molalla, Ore.; Spanish Fork, Utah; Salt Lake City; Salinas, Calif.; Casper, Wyo.; and Sheridan, Wyo.
There arenât many titles she hasnât won, and she owns an outstanding pen of great barrel horses.
But thereâs something about the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo that has caught Pozziâs fancy.
âIt pays great,â she said. âI did not know how awesome the Ram finals were until I made them last year. Now every year from now on Iâll make sure I make my circuit finals. Itâs really awesome to be here.â