EDITOR’S NOTE: This story on the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and Sherry Cervi’s world championship that appear in the January 2014 edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA.
As Sherry Cervi and MP Meter My Hay rounded the third barrel during their final run of the 2013 season, all the emotions overwhelmed the Marana, Ariz., cowgirl.
“I was relieved; it was a lot of emotions,” said Cervi, who had just secured her third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average championship and her fourth world champion’s gold buckle. “This whole year has been one of the most fairytale years, and everything has gone right. They don’t come around that often.
“Enjoy it while it lasts and appreciate it. I wouldn’t be here without my horse.”
Cervi’s voice cracked again. It’s that special bond between the 16-time Wrangler NFR qualifier and her 11-year-old palomino she calls Stingray, the same beautiful, little horse that guided her to the 2010 world title.
“It’s very, very special to me,” she said of the two rodeo golds she owns with Stingray. “I had a chance to do that on Hawk and Troubles and screwed up at the finals. I think it’s really cool to come back, because she deserves it. I know she’s a special horse, and there (are) 14 other horses here that could win it any time.”
She was talking about the Wrangler NFR, which paid out the biggest checks in the sport over 10 December nights in Las Vegas. But the cream rose to the top. In all, Cervi placed in all 10 go-rounds, including three victories, and left Sin City with $155,899 earned inside the Thomas & Mack Center, home of ProRodeo’s grand championship for 29 years.
In fact, the Arizona cowgirl became just the fifth in Wrangler NFR history to have placed in each go-round. That’s something quite special.
“My year’s been awesome, and she’s been great all week,” she said of Stingray, who ran her slowest time of the week on the final night, a 14.16, primarily because Cervi was being extra cautious around the barrels. “It was a tough barrel race. She’s a consistent horse, and I’m just glad I stayed out of her way and let her work.”
In 2010, Cervi had secured the gold buckle prior to the start of the 10th round. She led the average heading into the final night, then she and Stingray tipped a barrel; Jill Moody won the average title.
“(That) was a good year, but I could’ve won the average and the world championship,” Cervi said. “I just sat down too early and hit it. Today … I don’t know what happened at the first, but she kind of stepped by, I just told myself, ‘Just ride your horse and maybe go a little wider than you had been.’ ”
It worked just fine.
“Stingray is getting older and (is) consistent,” she said. “She’s just so solid and loves her job. I wanted to win the average. I wanted to get around the barrels 10 times. I really didn’t think about it until tonight, and it was, my gosh …
“I’ve been doing this my whole life, and you make this run in your mind a million times. She worked great. She deserved the award.”
Cervi might’ve been talking about the average title, but she also might’ve been talking about Stingray being named the Horse with the Most Heart, an award voted on by the top 15 contestants.
“She is an awesome horse that gives 110 percent every time, so she deserves it,” said Cervi, who set a Wrangler NFR average record by rounding the pattern 10 times in a cumulative time of 138.15 seconds, bettering the mark of 138.26 set by Moody. “But all the girls love their horses. I can’t describe how it feels for them to give Stingray this award.”
The Arizona cowgirl went into Las Vegas as the No. 1 cowgirl in the standings. She had a little more than a $10,000 lead over the 2012 champ, Mary Walker of Ennis, Texas. But there were six of the top 15 who had earned more than $100,000, and all were within range of catching Cervi in Vegas, which boasts of the largest purse of any rodeo this season.
Walker followed a marvelous rookie NFR with a solid run in 2012, earning more than $92,000. She finished as the reserve world champion while riding her great horse, Perculatin, a 9-year-old gelding she calls Latte. Though they didn’t win a round, Walker and Latte placed seven times.
A funny thing happened in Vegas, though. Only two other ladies – rookie of the year Taylor Jacob on Honor Thy Frenchman and Lisa Lockhart on An Oakie With Cash – won Wrangler NFR go-rounds. Lockhart, who was second best in Wrangler NFR earnings with $102,163, won the fifth, ninth and 10th nights on Louie, a 9-year-old buckskin gelding.
Jacob, though, was the talk of Sin City. She won the third, fourth, sixth and seventh goes on Bo, an 8-year-old Grulla gelding, and set a new record with a 13.37 on the sixth night, bettering Carlee Pierce’s 13.46 set two seasons ago on Rare Dillion.
“When they came to get me for the victory lap, someone said I needed to try and breathe because I just couldn’t believe what had just happened,” Jacob said that night, Dec. 11. “I had never said it out loud, but that was one of my goals for this finals.”
How is this for fast? Of the four rounds Jacob won inside the Thomas & Mack, she posted three faster than 13.50. She also finished in a three-way tie for third place in the fifth round, finishing her first qualification to the Wrangler NFR with more than $82,000. She also finished her rookie campaign with $164,484 as the No. 4 cowgirl in the ProRodeo world standings.
Lockhart, who entered the championship ninth in the standings, utilized her run to finish the season third – it is the highest finish of her career, the seventh straight time she’s qualified for the finals.
This season, though, belonged to Cervi.
“This week has been awesome and a great ending to a really great year,” she said. “I had a really good month of July and won about $70,000 in three weeks. Coming into the finals, there was no lead that was good enough.”
No, it’s not. Go-round winners earned $18,630 each night. That’s why it was vital for her and Stingray to put an exclamation point on the season with a strong Wrangler NFR. The big check she collected also warranted another big prize, the Ram Top Gun award, given to the contestant who had the most earnings in a single event. It was the fourth year for the award – a Ram pickup given to the winner – and was the second time a barrel racer won it; Walker won it a year ago, bareback rider Kaycee Feild won in 2011 and all-around champion Trevor Brazile won the inaugural year before the rules changed to recognize those with the best earnings in individual events, not overall.
“I don’t really know how I’m going to get it home, but I will find a way and I will drive it,” Cervi said.
It might just be the perfect vehicle to carry her and Stingray back to the City of Lights next December. They’ve done quite well there over the years, so why not make the Thomas & Mack their December home.
“My horse does do good the more runs you make on her, and I knew that,” she said. “This year I wanted to be mentally focused and stay hooked and finish.”
How do they get back to Las Vegas? Maybe the 2013 season was a road map.
“I don’t feel like I did anything different; I just won at the big rodeos,” Cervi said. Stingray is “definitely very special because we did raise her. I rode her dad, and her mom was a three-fourths sister to Hawk, so there’s history with Stingray. She just has a real unique personality, and her and I kind of have a special bond.
“Now I have two gold buckles on her, so that’s pretty cool.”
Yes, it is.