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California Rodeo Champions keep Wrangler National Finals Rodeo dreams alive

Few titles in pro rodeo are as coveted and prestigious as that of Champion of the California Rodeo in Salinas. A rodeo with a rich heritage forged over 100 years ago, the California Rodeo (pronounced ROE-day-OH) not only offers a huge purse to its champions but also one of the prettiest buckles given in the sport. With the rodeo events held in the arena while other events, including the women's barrel race, run simultaneously on the track, Salinas has an atmosphere like no other pro rodeo.

Nebraska cowboy Dru Melvin used a big win in Salinas to shoot from 20th to 11th in the World standings, giving him a shot at his first WNFR since 2006.
Nebraska cowboy Dru Melvin used a big win in Salinas to shoot from 20th to 11th in the World standings, giving him a shot at his first WNFR since 2006.Photo courtesy of Jolee Jordan
Nebraska cowboy Dru Melvin won big in Salinas, boosting him from 20th to 11th in the World standings.
Nebraska cowboy Dru Melvin won big in Salinas, boosting him from 20th to 11th in the World standings.Photo courtesy of Jolee Jordan

Held the third week of July every year since 1910, the California Rodeo is positioned at a critical point in the calendar of pro rodeo. Although the pro rodeo regular season does not close out until September 30, the rodeos held from the Fourth of July until the end of the month often make--or break--a contestant's season as some of the biggest purses are given out in those 30 days.

Four competitors who found themselves outside of the top 15 in the World standings entering Salinas were steer wrestler Dru Melvin, bronc rider Jesse Wright, WPRA barrel racer Christine Laughlin and bull rider Elliot Jacoby. Only the 15 highest money winners in each of the six Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events and the Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) barrel racing on September 30 will qualify to compete in pro rodeo's SuperBowl, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).

After huge performances during Salinas July 17-20, 2014, all four have jumped on the right side of the top 15 bubble as July closes out.

Making the biggest jump in terms of money during the $402,385 rodeo was Laughlin. The Pueblo, Colorado cowgirl dominated the competition, winning three of the four rounds including the short go on Sunday afternoon, July 20. Her average time of 64.04 was an astonishing eight tenths better than the second place cowgirl. Laughlin and her tough grey horse, Guys Six Pack to Go, earned $14,562 while in California.

She needed every penny; Laughlin came to Salinas trailing the 15th ranked cowgirl by more than $13,000. She moved from 17th in the WPRA World standings to 14th and gave herself a great shot to make her first trip to Las Vegas for the WNFR.

In the timed events, Salinas is famous for its long score, 30 feet for the steer wrestlers and team ropers and 25 in the tie down roping. Adding to the challenge, the team ropers both come from the header's side of the roping box, as do the tie down ropers.

Steer wrestler Dru Melvin made the biggest jump in the standings by virtue of his win in Salinas. Melvin moved from 20th to 11th after earning $8,051 for the win in Salinas. Melvin is looking for his second WNFR; the first came back in 2006.

Melvin had a busy weekend. After downing two steers in 6.7 seconds each on Saturday, Melvin jumped a plane to Nampa, Idaho for the short round of the Snake River Stampede. He earned $1,055 in Nampa before returning Sunday for the final day of the California Rodeo.

In the short round, Melvin threw his steer in 8.9 seconds as the steer caught a horn in his jeans, nearly ripping them off. Undaunted, Melvin collected his buckle and did interviews while holding the pants together with one hand. His average time of 22.3 seconds on three head was just one tenth better than Dakota Eldridge whose 6.8 won the short go.

2012 PRCA World Champ Saddle Bronc Rider Jesse Wright came to Salinas as the reigning champion but in a much different position than when he won here a year ago. Wright was ranked 16th when the rodeo began, about $2,500 from a WNFR qualifying position.

Wright erased the gap with the first horse he rode. Winning the long go with 82 points, Wright narrowly survived Flying U Rodeo's Hat Stomper in the final round. Posting 84 points on the horse whom Wright's brother Spencer had won the short round on in 2013, Wright took home the buckle again with 166 points, five better than Cody DeMoss.

Wright earned $8,046 for the win, jumping up to 11th in the standings.

Like Melvin, Elliot Jacoby is chasing his second WNFR, the first coming last season when the Texas cowboy was just a rookie. Jacoby came to Salinas ranked 18th but just a scant $600 from 15th. He dominated the competition in Salinas, sharing the long round win aboard Western Rodeo's No. 39 with an 88 point ride and winning the short round with 90 points on Don Kish's Two Aces.

With a two-ride score of 178 points, Jacoby banked $8,575 for his 16 seconds of work in Salinas. He moved to 10th in the standings.

The 2014 California Rodeo's other champions mostly fell on the opposite end of the top 15. All Around and team roping champion Trevor Brazile is already ranked first in the All Around, hoping to extend his own record of 19 World titles with at least one more this December. Brazile earned $7,659, all of it by virtue of his win in the team roping with partner Travis Graves.

Brazile stayed second in the team roping-heading standings while Graves moved up one spot to second in the team roping-heeling standings. The duo roped five steers in 44.4 to capture the title.

Likewise, tie down roping champion Hunter Herrin was ranked high, comfortable in his chase for a seventh WNFR. He added to his season total with a victory in Salinas, roping three calves in 34.5 seconds. He earned $8,943 to move up to third in the standings.

Bareback rider Steven Peebles may well have considered his victory at the California Rodeo as the biggest of his career although it did not budge him from his position, ranked third in the standings. He lives in Redmond, Oregon but Peebles grew up in Salinas and had many friends and family on hand as he won the buckle he said he coveted almost as much as a world title.

Peebles split the long round with his 83 point ride on Rafter G's Black Orchid, then drew Black Ice from Four Star Rodeo Company in the short round. His 82 points secured the round win and the average with a two-horse total of 165 points. He earned $9,452.