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Changing face of the world all-around race

Russell Cordoza

As we approach halftime of the 2016 world championship show, there are a few new sheriffs in town vying for the coveted all-around crown. We’re seeing stepped-up efforts to enter and excel in multiple events, and extra pep in the practice pen directed at second, third and fourth events.

Ryan Jarrett—who in 2005 won the world all-around title right before his 22nd birthday to become the third youngest all-around champ ever, behind only Ty Murray in 1989 and Jim Shoulders in 1949—is the current king of the all-around mountain. Jarrett, who’s now 32 and lives in Comanche, Okla., about 100 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, also leads the world tie-down roping race at this time. He’s won $45,323 of his $51,927 to date in 2016 roping calves. The eight-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Polaris RANGER tie-down roper, who also bulldogged at the 2005 NFR, has made a mighty splash at Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots events in 2016.

“The Champions Challenges have been good to me,” Jarrett said. “We’ve had three of them, and I’ve won two firsts and a second. That’s dang sure a big booster. And I won Tucson (Ariz.), second at Logandale (Nev.), and placed at San Antonio and Jackson (Miss.). It’s been really good.”

He’s selective about where he enters the steer wrestling since a 2007 knee injury at Odessa (Texas). “I don’t want to go through another knee surgery, so I’m not going to get out there and run six or eight steers every other day,” Jarrett said. “I probably should try it on a little more and practice more than I do, but I don’t put forth the effort in that event because I’d really dread having to go through that again. I do some checking around before the books close and see what kind of steers they’re going to run and if it’s my kind of setup before I enter. The fast setups are what I grew up doing, so I feel more comfortable at those. But I also get to thinking about the $8,000 go-rounds at places like Cheyenne.”

The plan was to keep this conversation to the current top five—Jarrett, Clayton Hass, Russell Cardoza, Caleb Smidt and Josh Peek—for now. But in visiting with them a couple more all-around cowboy curveballs emerged, including reigning reserve world all-around champ JoJo LeMond, who last year roped at both the NFR and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. 

“You let that young man get on a roll in the team roping and he will blow by me like no other,” Jarrett smiled. “JoJo steer ropes good, too. He’ll be a pretty big threat.”

You have to win at least $3,000 in each event for it to count toward the world all-around title. So, RJ, how critical will qualifying for the National Finals in a second event be in this year’s race?

“Extremely,” he said. “I’m not saying I can’t get that done, but I’m going to have to do good in the team roping and steer wrestling throughout the year and continue to do good in the calf roping. JoJo will for sure be at the NFSR and the NFR. Maybe if I can finish in the top 25 in the bulldogging and the team roping it’d be great, but I’m going to have to dang sure bear down in those events to have a chance.”

Jarrett’s been team roping some with fellow tie-down roper Marty Yates. “It’s tough to enter a second and third event,” Jarrett said. “Another reason I haven’t bulldogged as much as I’d like to the last few years is because I don’t own a steer wrestling horse. With the rodeos back-to-back, there are a few guys in a buddy group on each horse, so getting on a good horse is tough. I will enter the team roping and steer wrestling accordingly—when it works out—but not when it’s too much of a challenge or hassle.”

Jarrett’s been traveling by himself, but plans to enter with Yates and Hunter Herrin this summer. The guy who strings from the belt, which started because as a kid growing up on a dairy he didn’t want to put a piggin’ string “covered in everything from snot to you know what” in his mouth (“I decided to just tuck it in my belt and call it good”), would naturally be thrilled to strap on a second gold all-around buckle.

“I’ve put more thought into the all-around just here lately than I have in a long time,” Jarrett said. “It’s always been on my mind, but at the back of it. I see a little light at the end of the tunnel now. Getting that done would be spectacular—probably something I never thought would have happened, if it does come true.”

Second only to Jarrett in the all-around line at this time is Clayton Hass, a versatile, ranch-raised veteran of the last two NFRs who’s best known as a bulldogger. His top priority for 2016?

“Winning all I can,” he said. “I just try to do my job and win as much as I can. The ultimate goal is to win the gold buckle in the bulldogging. But there is also an opportunity in the all-around, if the cards fall right.”

His buddy group includes Ty Erickson, Tyler Waguespack and Cody Doescher, who heels for Hass every chance he gets and is ranked ninth in the world all-around race himself right now.

“My bulldogging comes first, but if I can work the team roping, too, then I’ll be entered,” Hass said. “It’ll be tougher to team rope over the Fourth (of July run), because it’s so busy.”

Hass enters the tie-down roping on occasion also, but “just sporadically, a little bit here and there if they rope big calves, because of my size,” said the 6-foot-3, 235-pound cowboy from Terrell, Texas. Hass also enters the steer roping when he gets a chance, though “not much, because I don’t have a horse and it’s hard to get mounted out in.

“I think about the all-around. To be an all-around cowboy is prestigious, and to win it you have to be talented in more than one event. You can’t just try to get by. There are a few guys who are sure enough tough. JoJo does well at all three, and so does Jarrett. Josh Peek works two events all the time, and Caleb heads steers extremely well. It’s going to be who bears down the hardest and takes it the most serious. I think those guys are the biggest threats. And hearsay is that Sage Kimzey’s going to enter some saddle bronc riding to try to get qualified for the all-around, too.”

And boom. There it is—that second curveball I promised you. I heard that, too, so I called Kimzey and caught him out on the ranch branding calves. The idea of Sage entering multiple events—and even showing up at both ends of the arena—is no great surprise to me, because I watched him work as a kid at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Gallup, N.M., back when I was there watching my own boys. Kimzey’s bagged back-to-back gold bull riding buckles the last couple years, and has just had $327,178 and $318,631 seasons in his main event.

“I rode broncs in high school,” Kimzey said. “I made high school nationals, but it wasn’t ever my favorite event. But I figured I’d give it another shot for the all-around. I haven’t been on any broncs to speak of since high school, but the all-around is definitely something I have in my sights this year. The all-around gold buckle is the one that means the most to every cowboy. To everybody who grew up in a rodeo family, like I did, the all-around means you’re the champion cowboy—not just the champion bull rider or calf roper. It means you’re a true cowboy.”

I high school rodeoed with Russell Cardoza’s mom, Lynn, and he’s got some bronc riding blood in his veins, too. The cowboy currently ranked third in the world all-around race, who grew up in California but now calls Terrebonne, Ore., home, is best known as a four-time NFR heeler. But by now it surprises no one to see him entered—and winning in—all four timed events.

“Since the all-around is going to be a lot different this year, my goal right now is to try to enter the team roping, calf roping and bulldogging everywhere,” Cardoza said. “To win a gold buckle in the heeling and win the all-around gold buckle would be the ultimate. To make the Finals in the calf roping would be great, but I’ve always done three events, and the other two will be more important than ever this year.”

He’s roping more calves in the practice pen right now, and his horse Raindrop is firing. “I’m going to darn sure try to enter the calf roping everywhere, and the rodeos I normally enter in the bulldogging,” he said. “I’ve never entered all three events year-round before. I usually just enter the (Columbia River) circuit and California rodeos and some of the bigger ones, like Reno. It’s not easy to get up right in all three events. Trying to trade in three events is harder than one, for sure.

“Ever since I won second in the calf roping at Clovis and moved up toward the top in the all-around standings it’s been on my mind. I’ve been steer roping, too. I’ve been practicing all four events, and will enter the steer roping as much as I can without fouling up another rodeo. I’ll enter four events every chance I get, at rodeos like Ellensburg, Pendleton, Lewiston and Walla Walla. I might as well while I’m young enough and have a chance.”

Cardoza is currently second only to Paul Eaves in the world heeling standings. He’s roping with Dustin Bird everywhere but the Champions Challenges, where he’s teamed up with Coleman Proctor. Cardoza considers Jarrett the biggest threat to this year’s all-around throne, and not just because he’s the leader of the pack. 

“I’d have to say Ryan Jarrett, because he’s won the all-around before,” Cardoza said. “He’s got a lot won in the calf roping, and he bulldogs really good, too. He’s ahead of me, so he’s the one I’m looking at. Being an all-around cowboy means a lot to me. When I was younger I always wanted to do all three events. But I was really small back then. I’m going to go at it this year and see what happens.”

When I was sitting there with Joe Beaver watching last year’s NFR team ropers run the steers at the Thomas & Mack Center before the rodeo started, I remember Joe saying how things could have gone differently had Jake Barnes not withdrawn from the Finals so fast after that horse fell with him the week before he was to head to Vegas. Had Jake kept his name in the hat until showtime, there was a possible scenario where instead of JoJo rolling up to head for Junior Nogueira, Junior picked a header already entered in another event at the Finals. Two of the guys in this year’s all-around mix—Jarrett and Caleb Smidt—were on Joe B’s short list of who Junior would have been wise to consider. 

Reigning World Champion Tie-down Roper Smidt says his No. 1 goal for 2016 is to “win another gold buckle. If it just happens to be in the all-around, it’d be great. But we’re still after this calf roping one. I probably won’t team rope much this summer. I’ll mainly be just roping calves. I don’t really have a horse and it’s really hard and expensive to work two events. It’s also hard to keep a partner, because team ropers want to focus on that event. It’s hard without two rigs and drivers, too. I have one calf horse and one head horse.”

Smidt, who lives in Bellville, Texas, headed for B.J. Dugger this winter, and Will Woodfin this spring. “But I won’t be team roping much this summer, just here and there,” Smidt said. “Maybe at a few big rodeos, if somebody wants to rope with me. Calf roping is No. 1, and my wife (Brenna) and kid (baby boy Cru) are going to go with me after the Fourth. 

“I always think about the all-around, I just don’t think I’m in a position to do it right now. To do that I’ll have to do it to the full extent, and I don’t think I have heading figured out yet. I have a lot of work to do so I don’t embarrass myself and lose.”

He’s obviously harder on himself than everybody else is. Smidt says it’s too soon for him to name one name as the favorite in this year’s all-around race. 

“I think it’s between a lot of guys,” he said. “It’ll have something to do with whoever spends the most money getting around everywhere in multiple events. All it takes is $3,000 in a second event to have a chance, so there are a lot of guys with a chance. Sage Kimzey’s only going to be at the Finals in one event, but he wins $300,000 in the bull riding every year. So making the Finals in more than one event is a big deal, but it won’t be everything. It’ll be good watching.”

Peek rounds out the all-around contenders top five at this time, and he’s hardcore in two events. Armed with his bay bulldogging horse, Ace, a couple of sorrel tie-down roping horses, Rio and Thumper, and an ultra-positive buddy group in Dirk Tavenner and Jason Lahr, Peek’s taking aim at three world titles in 2016. 

“The all-around has been a goal of mine forever,” said Peek, who with his wife, Kori, is expecting a baby in September to join their 6-year-old twins, Emry and Keagan. “Going into this year, my goal was to be in the top five of the steer wrestling and tie-down with a chance at a world title in both events. The way I’ve always thought about the all-around is if it came around it was a blessing. I’ve been strongly going at it this year to be the best bulldogger and the best calf roper in the country. I’m really wanting to focus on individual calf roping and steer wrestling titles. I work hard at both of my events, and my goal is to win the world in both of them.

“Most guys practice one event a lot, then kind of play at the second event. I faithfully put the same amount of time into each event. You have to be prepared to be successful. This winter, my roping was more of a trial because my horses are young and a little green. But I’ve been hitting it hard in the practice pen at both events to stay sharp. When I practice hard I expect to win.”

Pueblo, Colo.’s Peek sees this year’s all-around field as pretty full and wide open to all sorts of heirs apparent. “There are a lot of two-event guys who have a shot at the all-around this year,” he said. “Ryan Jarrett, Russell Cardoza, Caleb Smidt, Rhen Richard (who’s seventh right now), Marty Yates, Trell Etbauer (the four-time Linderman Award winner)—you’ve got a substantial amount of two-event guys who are really working to develop that second event now. Getting to the Finals in two events is going to be the ticket.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I can’t make myself cut this thing off at the top five. Cowboy contender No. 6—JoJo LeMond—is just too dangerous in the team roping and steer roping not to be a tall factor.

“I’m focusing on the team roping more than ever this year,” said four-time NFR header and two-time NFSR steer roper LeMond of Andrews, Texas. “I think I’ve got the best horses I’ve ever had and one of the best partners I’ve ever had a chance to rope with.”

LeMond is heading for 20-time NFR heeler Kory Koontz in 2016. “I’m really going to concentrate on my team roping and steer roping. I don’t have the rigs and the people to help me that some people have, so I’m just going to go where I can and hopefully do good. I’m going to start entering the calf roping a little bit along the way, too. I don’t have a horse, but a friend of mine’s going to lend me a couple horses. I don’t think I rope calves good enough to make that a priority, but I’ll do it when I can.

“I think about the all-around, but not as much as an individual title. I started out the year wanting to win the all-around world championship, but it seems like with the horses that are in my life and the partner I have, I’m being directed more to the team roping. So many things have to go right in two or three events vs one to win a world all-around title. I would love to win it, but a lot of things have to go right to have a shot at that.”

LeMond predicts this year’s all-around crown will basically be won in the postseason. “The world all-around championship will be won from October to December,” he said. “The end of the year is going to make the difference. I don’t think guys getting a little bit ahead right now will be able to take down a multiple-event Finals cowboy, and I don’t think there are going to be too many of those this year. It’s too early for serious predictions, but you have to go with the top few guys with a chance to get there in more than one event. Everything’s just got to go right, and only time will tell. I’d like to think I’ll be a threat, but there are more guys trying to win the all-around this year, for sure. Ryan Jarrett, Josh Peek, Caleb Smidt, Russell Cardoza, Clayton Hass—there are a lot of good cowboys out there. Making it in two events will be the difference this year, and you’ll have to have a good Finals when you get there, too. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ involved here.”

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