Through the spring and the early part of the summer, the team roping duo of David Key and Clay O'Brien Cooper were an unstoppable force.
They dominated the Winter Wrangler ProRodeo Tour and advanced to the finals of the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out in Las Vegas in May, which earned them an automatic berth in the season-ending Pace Classic in Dallas in November.
Key and Cooper climbed to No. 1 in the Jack Daniel's World Standings and appeared to be the team to beat. Cooper, 43, (Glen Rose, Texas), a ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee, appeared on the verge of making ProRodeo history, becoming the first team roper to win eight world titles.
But the ups and downs that every cowboy experiences every year in ProRodeo caught up to the ropers, and it's taken them a while to regain the form that made them so formidable early in the season.
Key was quick to point out the reason for the team's fall from No. 1.
"Basically, it boils down to I haven't roped very well," said Key, 35, (Caldwell, Texas), after the duo won the Wrangler Tour round and the aggregate at the Puyallup (Wash.) Rodeo on Sept. 12. "I've missed a lot of opportunities. This is our sixth Tour rodeo [where they've made the final round]. We did well at Reno, the first one, and then I messed up the next four.
"I missed four in a row that cost us $10,000 to $12,000. Those big chances cost us. We've won a little bit along the way this summer. We just haven't had a great summer. We didn't do very good over the Fourth of July."
That stretch of bad luck dropped Key and Cooper from No. 1 to No. 3 in the heading and heeling world standings, respectively, but it didn't drop them out of contention for a world title.
The team of Steve Purcella (Hereford, Texas) and Britt Bockius (Claremore, Okla.) lead the heading and heeling world standings with $83,892 and $82,156, respectively. Sitting No. 2 is the team of Frank Graves (Poplarville, Miss.) and Brad Culpepper (Ashburn, Ga.), both of whom have won $77,945.
Key and Cooper follow at $77,026, followed by Speed Williams (Amarillo, Texas) and Rich Skelton (Llano, Texas), who have won the past seven world team roping titles. They have won $54,547 each.
With the $500,000 Pace Challenge and the $500,000 Pace Classic still on tap, the world title is still up for grabs. Any of those above-mentioned teams could win it. In fact, there are probably 10 or 12 teams who could muster a late-season run to win a world title.
Key and Cooper appear to be positioning themselves for one of those runs, thanks to their victory in Puyallup. They roped their Wrangler Tour round steer in 4.8 seconds to finish with a three-head time of 15.9 seconds. The win moved them from No. 7 in the Wrangler Tour standings to No. 2.
"We finally got to make good runs," Key said. "This week it felt like everything was coming together. I was confident we could come back and start winning again. It's picking back up at the right time."
The ups and downs are something every cowboy experiences during a season. Key and Cooper are hoping they are back on the upswing and that it lasts through the Wrangler NFR.
"That's the hardest thing, to stay up all season," Key said. "It never happens. You've never seen anybody just stay on top all year long. Unfortunately our down time was through the heart of the season."
To win a world title, it will be important to do well at one or both of the Pace Series events. Last year Williams and Skelton used a big payday at the Pace Challenge to separate themselves from the field en route to setting a ProRodeo record by winning their seventh straight world title.
"Someone's going to do well at those events," Key said. "The Finales [Pace Picante Series event] will have a big say in who wins the world title this year. Hopefully, we'll do well there."
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