The stage is set for the richer than ever Ponoka Stampede Finals today. In true dramatic fashion, one of the regular players cinched up a spot in Monday’s steer wrestling event.
It was a wild afternoon of bulldogging, with several cowboys making more exotic moves than the steers they were to wrestle. There were hoolihans, long reaches and bum first skids. It was kind of action that gives steer wrestlers nightmares when they think about the infamous Ponoka long score run.
And then there was one. Cody Cassidy had recorded the fastest time of the morning run at 5.5 seconds, and all he needed was a clean solid run in under ten seconds to be among the top twelve total times. He was the last man to go, and he came out after his black steer at a good clip, got down from his horse, took a tumble himself, and managed to knock his steer over, all in just 4.8 seconds. It was one of those runs where only a video replay would do it justice.
“There was a whole lot of stuff going on there,” his older brother Curtis commented. He was hazing and had a close-up view. Cody agreed he wasn’t exactly sure what happened.
“I had a hold of the right horn, but when I got the nose, I just kind of fell over top of him, and went along with it. It was fairly crazy.”
“I don’t usually try to hit sideways, but that steer was like a little graham wafer cracker,” stated Cassidy, shaking his head. “I just went on with it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the flag (for a completed run), but I looked up at the judge, and was glad to see that flag drop.”
“I tried to be light on his head, but I could tell as soon as my feet hit it was either now or never. I guess it worked out. That’s all I can say. Today was my day, I guess,” he grinned.
Cassidy’s combined time of 10.3 seconds was enough to bump back leader Lee Graves with his 11.9, and snag first place in the ‘long’ round of the Stampede. That gives him the advantage in the Finals, plus he’s already earned $2317 from the payoff in the first two rounds.
“I knew I just had to be sharp today, and give myself a chance to win. Here at Ponoka, it’s all about the last day. You’ve got to be smart and remember you need to go at the end for the final four deal.”
Cassidy considers Ponoka his hometown rodeo, with the family ranch at Donalda just 50 minutes up the road. Since his father, Greg, ran here many years before the boys even competed, it’s a familiar place, and that might be an advantage.
“As crazy as it seems, I’ve run a million steers here. I ran the spares so long before I ever was even entered in the rodeo. I’ve been down this alley probably well over a hundred times. So I’m not nervous when I get here. I’m excited, but I’m not nervous. Some guys are pacing around, sweating, and you can see that it worries them. I know what my job is.”
“Not that I always do my job,” admitted Cassidy. “I got muffed out here on a couple steers here last year.”
Along with the money available in the afternoon Finals round, the winner of the final four Showdown in the evening picks up another $7500. Cassidy would love to get a cheque that size.
“I need it. I’ve been sucking so far this year.”
While Curtis Cassidy leads the Canadian standings this season, Cody’s name is nowhere to be found among the top twenty yet. A good hit from Ponoka could change that.
“Ponoka’s been good to me, and my whole family’s here watching, and you know everybody, so it’s always fun to do good in front of your hometown crowd.”
In case you’re keeping track, Greg Cassidy won steer wrestling at Ponoka once, Cody has taken the title twice, and Curtis has won it three times.
The other event to see a leader change was the team roping, where two teams moved into a tie at the top. Ponoka’s own Levi Simpson and his partner Ryon Tittle of Colorado snagged two steers in 12.9 seconds, a total that was matched by Brett and Justin McCarroll of Camrose.
Several contestants did manage to snag a spot among the top twelve in other events. Two-time World Champion Tuf Cooper roped a pair of calves in 16.5 seconds, to finish third fastest on two. Matt Shiozawa will have the best time going into the Finals with his 15.9. Four-time World Champion Sherry Cervi raced to a tie for second spot in the barrel racing Ponoka standings Monday, with her running time of 17.487. Lisa Lockhart remained fastest at 17.472, to win $4266 in the long round. Wyoming’s JR Vezain marked 85.25 Monday in the bareback riding, to grab a qualifying spot. Kaycee Field of Utah has already earned $4735 for his top mark of 88 points. The 86 from Taos Muncy earlier in the week was best in the saddle bronc riding, to give him a down payment of $4706 on his Ponoka earnings. Jesse Torkelson of Warburg was the only bull rider to make the Finals with his ride Monday, as he marked 84.50 on Liar, Liar. Oklahoma’s Brennon Eldred picks up $4836 for his first trip to Ponoka, with his 88.75 mark.
They crowned the novice champions at Ponoka Monday. Drayton Valley’s Dawson Shannon took the steer riding with a 76, for $2002. The novice bareback title went to Linden Woods of Swift Current for his 79, worth $1260, while novice saddle bronc riding was claimed by Lane Cust of Ardmore for his 80.5 mark, giving him $1311.
After muddy conditions on day 4, racetrack conditions were the best of the week so far on day 5 at the Ponoka Stampede. Tension ran high as eight drivers running two heats were trying to survive the semi-final round and looking for a spot in Tuesday’s final. When it all played out, Kirk Sutherland, Jason Glass, Chad Harden and Kurt Bensmiller survived the semi-final round and will comprise the $50,000.00 Tommy Dorchester Winner-Take-All Championship final heat. Evan Salmond missed the winner-take-all final by just by 28 one-hundreds of a second. Jerry Bremner would have qualified for Monday’s final, but penalties proved costly and eliminated the former Ponoka champion. Troy Dorchester and Colt Cosgrave were also eliminated in the semi-final round.
On the night was complete, it was Kirk Sutherland who not only qualified for the championship final in first place, but had the best time of the race meet with a time of 1:14.16 from barrel number 3 in the ninth heat. He was followed by Doug Irvine, Jason Glass, Luke Tournier and Kelly Sutherland filled out the top five on the night.
The top twelve in each major event go head to head this afternoon at the Ponoka Stampede Finals at 1:00 pm, with the chuckwagon finals and the Showdown round going at 6:30 pm.