The stakes are high.
So high that organizers say 400 barrel racers wanted to compete for the $280,000 in combined payouts from the The Breeze and The Runaway barrel races held in at the Calnash Ag Event Centre in Ponoka last weekend.
The slot races are the brain child of Laciee Shock-Fyfe, who felt there was an opportunity in the barrel racing world for high stakes racing. Last year she hosted The Breeze and The Runaway event together at the Ag event centre and the stands were full.
“Our race is very different than anything else,” says Shock-Fyfe.
“After you pay for your slot, you can rent the slot to someone else. You don’t have to pick the horse you’re running in,” she added.
In slot races a fixed number of barrel races can compete. One hundred racers competed in the Breeze while 150 competed in the Runaway.
The entry into The Breeze — with a total of 100 lifetime slots — is $1,780.
It’s a 2D race with the first rider in each division taking $50,000, the second winning $30,000 and the third and fourth taking $5,000 each. That’s $180,000 total for The Breeze.
The Runaway has 150 slots at $750 each with a total of three divisions, also a lifetime spot. The prize money for first place in each division is $20,000, second is $10,000 and third and fourth are $2,000 each. That’s $102,000 in total cash payout.
The rider and horse can change right up until just one drag before the race, which creates extra work for organizers but gives some flexibility to racers. Considering the stakes, this flexibility for riders is an important piece.
“It’s really I think the versatility of the race,” said Shock-Fyfe about the demand. “And it is definitely the money.”
A win could be a life-changing experience for a racer, she said, adding that it’s only recently that the Calgary Stampede put up $100,000 for racers. “This is an event where you bought a slot, you run for $50,000.”
There are racers from all over North America who wanted to take part in the event. National Finals Rodeo competitors such as Taylor Jacob and Jackie Ganter competed.
Because of the high stakes, the racing is of high calibre and the competition is so strong that riders clocked speeds that challenged even the most veteran racers.
Carman Pozzobon posted some excellent times on both days and on the second day during The Runaway, she posted an arena record of 16.906 seconds on her horse Ripp. It’s a time that drew cheers and claps from the large crowd.
Pozzobon is on an upward climb in the barrel racing world; she won the Ponoka Stampede this year and is a CFR qualifier as well.
Shock-Fyfe says there is some opportunity for growth with The Breeze but didn’t elaborate on details stating organizers are ironing out the details.
Why the ag event centre? “The reason why we book at Calnash (Ag Event Centre) is the ground.”
“Their ground is incredible. It holds horses, there’s no slips,” said Shock-Fyfe.
She likes that the building is protected from the elements, has a long laneway for racers and can hold a regulation size barrel racing pattern.
“There’s no other event (centre) in Alberta that has as good of a ground,” she stated.
Shock-Fyfe doesn’t charge attendees to see the races but asks that either food or cash donations be made to the Ponoka Food Bank. Almost $400 was donated to the bank along with some food.