Of the seven events that are part of the competition, three were won contestants who have won multiple titles in their respective disciplines – three-time steer wrestling world champion Luke Branquinho, three-time barrel racing world champion Sherry Cervi and two time saddle bronc riding world champion Cody Wright.
“It’s really important to get off to a good start,” said Wright, of Milford, Utah, who rode the J-Bar-J Rodeo horse Sweatin Bullets for 82 points to take the first-round lead in bronc riding. “It seems like the more momentum you get built up throughout the rodeo, the better you do.”
That works quite well in the RNCFR’s format. Each competitor will compete in two go-rounds – only half the field performed Thursday, so the others will ride during the second performance, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday. The second round will take place over two performances on Saturday, beginning at 1 and 7:30 p.m. The top eight in the two-run aggregate in each event qualify for the semifinals, which will open the final performance, set for 1 p.m. Sunday.
At that point, the scores are thrown away, and the top four from the semifinals round advance to the championship round. The scores are removed again, and the best score or time in the final round will be crowned the national champion. Branquinho knows the format quite well; he won the title before on his main horse, Spiderman.
“I won the 2010 Ram finals on him,” said Branquinho, of Los Alamos, Calif., who posted a 4.2-run to take the top honor in steer wrestling. “I brought him back here in Oklahoma City to hopefully win another title on him.”
Branquinho actually made two runs Thursday night. On his first, his steer sprinted out of the chute and put up a good fight with the big California cowboy before falling to the ground; but Branquinho suffered a foul in the chute area, so he was awarded a re-run.
“The second steer was slow and stopped hard and was pretty good on the ground, so I went from one extreme of the pen to another,” he said, noting the difference between the two animals.
Sometimes a world champion has to call upon his or her experiences to make the best of things. Sherry Cervi has had that in her 10-year-old palomino mare, Stingray. The two posted the fastest barrel racing run, a 15.46.
“This is a good barrel race,” Cervi said. “There are a lot of tough horses here.”
That’s true. Of the top six leaders in barrel racing, four competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this past December. Carlee Pierce of Stephenville, Texas, sits second with a 15.52, while Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D., is fourth in 15.58 and Christina Richman of Glendora, Calif., is sixth with 15.61.
“There are a lot of horse functions here,” Cervi said. “Oklahoma City is a horse community. There’s a lot of horse people in Oklahoma. It is fun to be back here running barrels and competing in Oklahoma City.”