LAS VEGAS In 1985, team roper Clay O'Brien Cooper started a historical run of world titles when he and Jake Barnes won the first of their seven championships together. Twelve years later, Speed Williams began his quest and, by the time he and partner Rich Skelton were done, the tandem had won eight consecutive world titles and set a new standard.
This year, Williams and Cooper joined forces, and halfway through the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, both are setting a course for more history. On Monday, the tandem roped its Round 5 steer in 4.0 seconds, sharing the title with Nick Sartain and Shannon Frascht.
On a night when Wrangler made history by presenting a check for $1 million to the Tough Enough to Wear Pink initiative in the fight against breast cancer, it seemed fitting that a team roping pair with 15 world titles between them the most among partners in Wrangler NFR history had both shot to the top of the world standings by the night's end.
The team has earned an event-best $39,666 in the first five rounds. Williams (De Leon, Texas) holds a lead of some $7,200 over regular-season earnings leader Matt Sherwood, while Cooper, who hails from Morgan Mill, Texas, has a tenuous $3,500 over three-time world champion team roper Allen Bach, whom Cooper replaced at the top after Monday's run.
"I was really wanting to win a go-round to redeem ourselves" Cooper said. "I was telling Speed that we needed to get into a rhythm and put four or five runs together, and it felt good. We had a good, smooth run and it was fast. I would like to put some more together like that."
Regular-season steer wrestling earnings leader Dean Gorsuch (Gering, Neb.) echoed Cooper's sentiments. On Monday, Gorsuch was the only bulldogger to break the 4-second barrier, stopping the clock in 3.9 seconds to claim the round victory. In doing so, he widened his lead atop the world standings to $18,400 and temporarily kept hard-charging Luke Branquinho (Los Alamos, Calif.), the 2004 world champion, at bay.
"I want a run at every steer, and I want to throw every steer as good as I can," Gorsuch said. "I'm not looking at anything else."
While Gorsuch was celebrating his round-winning run, Ronnie Fields, the 2004 Wrangler NFR steer wrestling average champion, was hobbling on a right knee that sustained a torn ligament during his run. His return for the rest of the event is questionable.
Besides team roping, Monday's Round 5 featured ties in all three roughstock events.
Reigning and two-time World Champion Bareback Rider Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas) scored 87 points on Carr Pro Rodeo's River Boat Annie, matching the score recorded earlier in the evening by Jess Davis (Payson, Utah), who rode Carr's Real Deal. Lowe, who leads all contestants in Wrangler NFR earnings with $62,407, further extended his lead atop the world standings to nearly $80,000.
Saddle bronc rider Chad Ferley (Oelrichs, S.D.) and eight-time Canadian champion Rod Hay (Wildwood, Alberta) also registered 87-point rides on Bar T Rodeo's Miller's Wheel and Stace Smith's Big Jet, respectively.
The fourth tie of the night came in bull riding when Jarrod Craig (Hillsboro, Texas) celebrated his 21st birthday in style with an 86-point ride aboard Spin Dippin of Rumford Rodeo and Circle A Ranch and was matched by another 86 by J.C. Bean (Goldendale, Wash.) doing so on Russell Rodeo's Rough-N-Ready.
Tie-down roper Scott Kormos (Teague, Texas) recorded a time of 8.5 seconds to win the round, while barrel racer Kelly Maben (Spur, Texas) took a victory lap for the third time tying Lowe for the most among the event's 118 contestants by stopping the clock in 13.77 seconds.