Drama. That’s the only way to describe the conclusion of the Wrangler Pro Tour/Copenhagen Cup Finale, which wrapped Sunday, Oct. 28, at the American Airlines Center. Fans were literally on their feet throughout the entire final round, whose sudden death format decided champions in the tick of a second hand.
Just a taste of what transpired before we get to the meat and potatoes. In the final round of calf roping, two-time world champ Cody Ohl of Orchard, Texas, rocked the house with a 6.7 second time. Then, cowboy supermodel and five-time NFR qualifier Stran Smith of Tell, Texas backed into the box knowing that he’d need at least that time to take home the cut crystal cup awarded at the conclusion of the one-round, sudden death final. Smith nodded for the calf, then took two swings before snaring the scrambling youngster. Hustling down the rope, he grabbed his calf, flanked him in one fluid motion, gathered the legs, and tied tight in … exactly 6.7 seconds. The runs were doubly spectacular because the ropers matched the all-time speed record for calf roping set by Joe Beaver in Jordan, Utah, way back in 1986.
Both cowboys were so elated, they took not one, not two, but three victory laps together. In the end, it was Smith who captured the Cup based on a faster time in the semis, but you couldn’t have told Ohl he wasn’t the co-champion. Each cowboy left Dallas with $11,250 for the single run, all of which counts toward the world standings. Ohl is in pursuit of a first world-all around title and the whopping $27,500 he collected here over four days will take him a lot farther down that road.
The Copenhagen Cup is the crowning event of the Wrangler Pro Tour, a series of 10 select regular season rodeos plus the championship-naming Copenhagen Cup Finale. A total of 95 cowboys qualified for the event, 12 in each of six individual rodeo events (bareback riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, and bull riding) plus 12 pairs of team ropers. The action took place as part of the Texas Stampede, a four-day rodeo and concert event held at the new American Airlines Center. All told, $700,000 in prize money was awarded to the rodeo competitors, making the Copenhagen Cup the biggest regular season rodeo in the history of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the second largest rodeo of the season behind the $4.6 million National Finals Rodeo, slated for December in Las Vegas.
While the drama in the calf roping was high, it was matched in nearly all of the events. In the bareback riding, as in the other events, the cowboys were not only vying for shares of the huge prize purse, but for berths at the Olympic Rodeo, a special event that will be held in conjunction with the 2002 Winter Olympiad in Salt Lake City. A win at the Finale meant an automatic qualification. Hoping for a spot was 1999 champ Lan Lajeunesse, who slipped into Sunday’s finals with a credible shot at joining his two travelling partners, Kelly Wardell and Rocky Steagall, both of whom have already secured spots on the Team USA Olympic squad.
In the finals, Lajeunesse of Morgan, Utah, marked an outstanding 87-point ride on his bronc, but it wasn’t enough to stave off a hard-charging Larry Sandvick, who topped the legendary horse Khadafi for 89 points and the win. Khadafi first made his debut at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1988, carrying five-time world champ Bruce Ford to victory there. Now a senior bronc with many NFR trips to his credit, Khadafi didn’t disappoint Sandvick, who at age 36 might also be considered a senior citizen in the young man’s sport of bareback riding.
Sandvick of Belle Fourche, Wyo., waxed reminiscent of the "good ol’ days" before big money events like this could make a break a cowboys year. "It’s great for the cowboys, great for the stock contractors, and great for the audience," said Sandvick of the Copenhagen Cup Finale, which is only in its second year. "But for us cowboys who grew up in the old system, it’s difficult to adjust to, especially when it comes down to how world titles are decided."
Despite these minor misgivings, Sandvick was pleased to collect his $20,000 check, which has put him in contention for the top spot in the PRCA world standings as the world-championship deciding National Finals looms on the December calendar. Sandvick has yet to claim a world championship, despite having come close numerous times in past seasons.
In steer wrestling, the rodeo was bitter sweet for Rope Myers of Athens, Texas. Definitely the favorite to win after leading the four-round average, Myers was penalized by the winner-take-all format in the concluding round, where all scores from previous rounds are abandoned and everyone begins with a clean slate. Myers was edged out of the competition in the semi-finals, forcing him to watch from the side lines as Oklahoman Jeff Babek of Granite dropped his steer in 3.8 seconds to capture the Cup. Babek left Dallas $27,000 richer, but Myers also left town a winner: the $12,000 he won in the prelims moved him out of the 27th spot in the PRCA world standings and into the top-15, making him a definite contender for an NFR berth as the season winds to a close in a few weeks.
In saddle bronc riding, four-time world champ Dan Mortensen outfoxed the field to steal the win from the clutches of Canadian Ben Morrow of Olds, Alberta. Mortensen of Dillon, Mont., topped the Sankey Rodeo’s horse Surprise Party for 89 points and the win, besting Morrow’s 88 point effort. The other two finalists, Shane Lyon and Scott Johnston, both failed to complete their rides.
"There were four world champion bucking horses in the final round. Everyone of ’em had a saddle and a rein, and we all had an even chance to win. You knew going in the some weren’t gonna get rode," said Mortensen. "It was exciting to be a part of that. It was great winning here." Mortensen earned $13,500 in the final round, and $23,500 total.
Another world champ, bull rider Cody Hancock of Taylor, Arizona, won a tough battle in his event. Riding in the final round, the cowboy scored 93 points, then looked on in worried anticipation as a red-hot Mike Moore crashed on his first bull and then was awarded a re-ride. But Moore failed to make the whistle, and the bout went to Hancock. Still, it was Moore who will likely be remembered long after the dust settles: in the semifinal round, the Chicago-born bull rider topped the previously unridden Durango of the Rafter G Rodeo Co. for a Finale-record 96 points.
"Man, I wish the rodeo would have ended right then," said Moore, who now calls Colorado home. "But I can’t say I am unhappy with the way things worked out." Moore earned $21,500 for the four-day rodeo, while Hancock parted town with $18,500 and the Copenhagen Cup.
Also having a fine finals were world champion team ropers Rich Skelton and Speed Williams. After being blanked at the previous three Copenhagen Cup events, the duo finally struck paydirt in Dallas. The partners, who rodeo out of Llano, Texas, drew their steer tight in 4.1 seconds to ice the final round.
"We’ve never even made it to the finals in the previous three Copenhagen Cup events. So we were unaggressive in the early rounds, trying to stay up in the average. But then, we just decided to go at it in round four, and it worked out. We won. And that gave us a lot of confidence in the semis and the finals," said Williams. "I thought this arena and this event were outstanding. Unlike other big events like Houston, the arena was fast, small, and intimate. The Texas Stampede did a great job of putting on a world-class rodeo and sports event."
In the barrel race, Kelly Yates had similarly been defeated in previous Cope Cup events. At the previous contest held in Las Vegas this summer, Yates was the sole barrel racer to make clean runs in every round. However, she lost the Cup title to another rider in the final round due to the sudden-death format. This time, Yates and her quarter horse Firewater Fiesta peaked at just the right time.
"The crowd was so great. I could hear them cheering and see them all on their feet. I felt like a real star," said the Pueblo, Colo., barrel racer, who won the closing round in the time of 12.4 seconds. Yates, who led the world standings going into the competition, has increased her margin by $28,000 with the Dallas win.