On Sunday afternoon, March 2, seven cowboys and cowgirls did something that no one else has done outside of bull riding in Western sports . . . they competed for a $1 million in one day’s competition. RFD-TV's The American set out to change the face of rodeo, producing an event they promised would be the richest one-day rodeo in history.
In front of a huge crowd at the AT&T Center, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, The American wowed in the first of what many hope will become an annual event. The concept of The American was to pit the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls against selected legends as well as qualifiers, contestants invited from across the country to compete for the chance to come to Arlington.
The American partnered with various organizations to host qualifying events, allowing competitors to punch their ticket to the semi-finals held in Mesquite, Texas on February 22-23. The top contestants from Mesquite advanced to The American itself.
Along with the top ten in the 2013 World standings and the qualifiers, exemptions were offered to World Champions in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA), Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR).
At The American, all competitors were given one round to advance to the Shootout round; the top four competed in the Shootout for the first place prize of $100,000. Any qualifiers or exempted legends who came through to win the event were promised at least a share of $1 million as well.
It’s hard to imagine but huge rodeo stars like Charmayne James, Dan Mortensen, Ote Berry, Joe Beaver, Speed Williams, Clay O’Brien Cooper, Jake Barnes and Fred Whitfield – who have 59 world championships between them and were all granted exemptions – did not know what it felt like to compete for $1 million before March 2.
Now they do along with seven qualifiers who punch their way to the Shootout Round on Sunday.
Only one cowboy knows what it feels like to win that much, however. The aptly named Richie Champion scored the win in the bareback riding, posting 90 points on the great bucking horse Assault from Rafter G Rodeo after splitting third in the opening round.
Champion is a college student at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas and finished 25th in the 2013 PRCA World standings. The tough competitor has already had a tremendous start this season, winning the National Western Stock Show in Denver and moving to fifth in the World standings. He attended a qualifying event in Gillette, Wyoming and then won the semi-finals in Mesquite to earn his way to Arlingotn.
In fact, Champion attempted the 2013 Bareback Horse of the WNFR during his competition at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo; the big buckskin won that round but the attempt gave Champion the confidence he needed to best the final four in Arlington which included three-time and reigning World Champion Kaycee Field and WNFR qualifiers Steven Peebles and Caleb Bennett.
Peebles was second with his 87.5 point effort on Showstopper.
Champion knew immediately he had won $100,000, a Polaris Ranger, Cactus Saddle, Browning rifle and a host of other awards. He also knew he had at least a share of $1 million.
If any other qualifiers won their events, Champion would have to share. Probably never before has a bareback rider so intently watched the steer wrestling, team roping and barrel racing, the events in which qualifiers had made it through to the Shootout.
Champion eased by the team roping when exemption contestant Jake Barnes, a seven-time PRCA World Champion header, missed the win by .23 seconds. Instead the win went to Kaleb Driggers and two-time World Champion Patrick Smith.
The bareback rider breathed another sigh of relief after steer wrestlers Wyatt Smith and Dru Melvin ran into trouble. The win in that event went to reigning PRCA World Champion Hunter Cure, who’s 3.75 seconds beat Dean Gorsuch’s 4.28 seconds.
The next event with a qualifier in the Shootout was the tie down roping. Young Brazilian Marcos Alan Costa roped the ears of his calf after watching the first guy to rope, Tyson Durfey, stop the clock in 6.95 seconds. Durfey would go on to win first.
Champion now had just two barrel racers to sweat through and knew he was guaranteed at least $500,000. That was nearly what he won when qualifier Robyn Herring scorched through the pattern on her great stallion Firewaterontherocks, aka Happy, in 13.991. Unfortunately, Herring brushed the third barrel, dropping it slowly to the ground and leaving half a million with it on the table.
When Lisa Lockhart piloted her tough WNFR gelding Louie, An Okie with Cash, to the win at 14.038, Champion began the first one-day millionaire in rodeo history.
”What’s a 21 year-old do with a million dollars?” said Champion in his post-event interview. “What Randy and RFD-TV has done for rodeo, it’s changed my life.”
Champion reference Randy Bernard, the CEO of Rural Media Group and the father of The American. The cowboy walked away with $1.1 million in total earnings for the day.
The rest of the champions at The American earned $100,000 each while second place winners earned $25,000.
In the saddle bronc and bull riding, no qualifiers advanced to the Shootout round.
Crowd favorite Wade Sundell swept through the day, winning the opening round with 90 points on Lynx Mountain before lighting up the stadium with 92.5 points on Stampede Warrior from the Calgary string in the Shootout.
“Words can’t express how I’m feeling,” said Sundell on the arena floor after winning. “There’s going to be a party tonight!”
In the bull riding, reigning PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney squeaked into the Shootout round with 87.5 points on Big Tex “Rocks,” putting him fourth. He rode first in the Shootout and put the pressure on with a 90.5 effort on Cowtown Slinger. The other three finalists were unable to make eight seconds.
“Being able to tell them I was at the first American and I won the bull riding, that’s even better,” said Mauney, who originally noted he was proud to tell his kids one day he competed in the first The American.
Lockhart was emotional after her win, noting the absence of her husband Grady and three kids.
“It’s a team effort, me, my family and my horse,” she said. “A lot of people are behind what’s happened today and I just wish they could have been here.”
Durfey took to his Facebook page after the event:
“All the broken bones, sweat, miles and tears are all worth it. What a great feeling to win the American tonight with a 6.95. If I can do it anybody who is willing to put in the work can do it. Thanks to all my sponsors and all the fans that came out tonight. You are what make Rodeo so much fun!”
"I knew that that was a really nice honest steer, I took an aggressive start. It worked out today and got him to hit clean, so I'm very excited," said Cure, of his $100,000 run.
Trevor Brazile, the 19-time PRCA World Champion and PRCA’s first cowboy to earn $5 million in his career was awarded the All-Around after winning second in the tie down roping and competing in the team roping.
“I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t sleep before an event,” said Brazile. “It’s special and it’s fun.”