Organizers of the Tops In Texas PRCA Rodeo delivered, and delivered big, on their promise to assemble a top-shelf cast of cowboys for the 51st edition of the Jacksonville rodeo that opened Wednesday night at the Jacksonville Rodeo Arena.
At least a dozen of the nation's premier riders and ropers were included in Wednesday's line up, with a slew of others scheduled to appear tonight and Saturday (7 p.m. nightly).
The somewhat muddy conditions at the arena, courtesy of a steady afternoon rain, made the going tough for some of the competitors, while others seemed to handle it with ease.
“When it's wet its harder on the cowboys than it is the animals,” Justin Maass, a team and tie-down roper who finished second in the world standings last year, said. “Things get sticky and messy out there when its wet. It's much like in football, teams usually play better on a dry field than on a wet one.”
The wet dirt didn't seem to bother the Giddings, Texas cowboy that much. Maass' 8.0 led the standings in tie down roping after the first night.
Maass and partner Caleb Smidt of Yorktown, Texas joined forces to finish third in team roping (7.3).
Rowdy Rieken (Arp) and Will Woodfin (Marshall) led after round one, with a score of 5.5.
Another rodeo hot shot, Cody DeMoss of Heflin, LA., finished second in saddle bronc riding, earning a mark of 82 for his ride aboard Pete Carr's Classic Pro Rodeo Company's “Handsome Jack.”
Moss finished in first place at the 2012 Wrangler National Final's Rodeo in Las Vegas and has nearly $1.7 million in lifetime earnings.
Only one man was ahead of DeMoss in the nightly rankings and that was one of the circuit's hottest saddle bronc riders, New Zealander Curt Garton.
Garton was given an 84 by judges Dewitt Forrest and Glenn Sullivan for his eight-second whirl on top of “Primetime.”
Garton has won saddle bronc riding titles in rodeos in Starkville, Miss, Lake City, Fla., Indiantown, Fla. and at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City this year.
Almost as if scripted, the night's most breathtaking performance perhaps came on the last ride of the evening.
That's when 26-year-old Austin Meier rode “Rainbow” for a score of 87, which was the best effort of the evening in bull riding.
“Rainbow” had only been ridden once in the past three years, according to rodeo announcer Racer Botkin, prior to Wednesday.
The highly accomplished Meier had total winnings north of $311,000 in 2012.
In other action, Morgan Grant from New Waverly, Texas recorded a sizzling time of 3.9 seconds to take the early lead in steer wrestling.
In bareback riding, Evan Jayne of Marseille, France had the highest score of the session, a 79 for his ride on “Angel Eyes.”
Last, but certainly not least, eight lovely ladies entertained the crowd by making their way around the cans in barrel racing, with Hallie Bradford of Kountze, Texas completing the cloverleaf configuration in a time of 16.60 ticks, which was the fastest time of the night — Frierson, La. cowgirl Morgan Montello was a close second, finishing in a time of 16.85.
Veteran rodeo clown/funny man Lecile Harris kept the crowd's collective tickle boxes turned over for much of the night as he exchanged barbs with the witty Botkin while also giving patrons a taste of his so-called magic tricks.
Prior to the first ride, a colorful grand entry took place featuring many members of the Jacksonville Riders Club, including president Randy Berry, Byron Underwood, president of the Jacksonville Rodeo Association and the group's vice president, Charles Dickerson, who were riding along side various rodeo company operators and personnel.
Fans also were treated to an impactful and informative video of the history of “America's Original Sport”, rodeo.
The clip reflected back upon many of the sport's greats such as Chris LeDoux, Larry Mahan, Lane Frost and Trevor Brazile.