DUNCAN, Okla. – Frank Morton is trying to do something that nobody else has done in a long time.
Since 2012, Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas, has dominated bareback riding in the Prairie Circuit. He’s won four straight year-end championships and owns five overall – he also earned the title in 2006. But Morton is poised to change that in 2016; he will have the opportunity to close out the season at the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20-Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.
Morton owns a $5,100 lead over Riddle heading into the finale; that means Riddle will be hard-pressed to earn enough over the three rounds in Duncan to retain his spot atop the year-end standings.
Morton has earned more than $15,000 this season at rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, and he will arrive in Duncan as the No. 1 man in the bareback riding standings.
“I just had a good year,” said Morton, 28, of Wright, Kan. “I was fortunate to get on some good horses and was able to capitalize on it.
“There wasn’t just one big rodeo that won that much; I just had several of them put together.”
It added up to the Kansas cowboy’s best season so far, and now he returns to the circuit finale for the fourth time.
“I think probably the biggest change I’ve had this year is more confidence,” he said. “I think that’s been a big game-changer for me. I’ve been looking more at what I do right. Even if I get bucked off, pick something out that you did right.”
That positive mindset has put him in the right position as he prepares for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals.
“At the beginning of the summer, my goal was to win the year-end and the average at the finals,” Morton said. “I think I have a chance to do both.”
While Morton is in control of the bareback riding year-end title, there are some outstanding races that will come down to the final three days of the season inside Stephens County Arena, including the all-around race. Trell Etbauer holds a lead of less than $3,000 over his younger brother, Shade.
Trell Etbauer – who has won four all-around crowns, including the last two – will wrestle steers and compete in tie-down roping; Shade Etbauer will need to make up ground in saddle bronc riding, an event in which he owns a $4,400 lead. Trell Etbauer also leads the tie-down roping standings by more than $2,500 over the Nos. 2 and 3 cowboys, Bryson Sechrist and reigning champion Cody Quaney, respectively.
The closest race is in barrel racing, where Emily Miller owns a $510 lead over Mary Burger, the No. 1 cowgirl in the world standings and the reigning circuit finals champion. Miller has been solid all season, but Burger has excelled at the rodeos in which she’s competed.
Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness has been fairly dominant in his discipline, but hometown cowboy Shane Frey of Duncan is within $2,500.
Reigning heading champion Coleman Proctor and his partner, Billy Jack Saebens, have earned more than $15,000 apiece in the circuit and sit atop the standings. Jesse Stipes is within $2,000 of Proctor, while Buddy Hawkins and Gage Williams are within range of Saebens.
Two-time reigning bull riding world champion Sage Kimzey has pocketed $14,717 in the region, but Nate Perry is about $2,600. That money can easily be made up over the three days in Duncan. But Rocky Patterson, a five-time circuit champ and a three-time world champion, has a $6,000 lead over the No. 2 man, traveling partner Chet Herren.
It all adds up to Duncan being the perfect setting for one of the greatest championships in the region.