postheadericon Playoff time for rodeo’s elite

American Royal a big stop for top contestants on final weekend of regular season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The scramble is on.

The last week of the 2015 ProRodeo regular season has begun, and contestants are scripting their plans for the mad rush that comes with trying to finish the campaign among the top 15 in the world standings in order to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the year-end championship that takes place in December in Las Vegas.

It’s a mixture of “Last Man Standing” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” as those cowboys and cowgirls battle for all the money they can muster. In rodeo, dollars not only pay bills but also stand as championship points; the contestants in each event who earn the most money will be crowned world champions.

Andy Stewart

Andy Stewart

There are more than 20 sites designated for this week, with the American Royal PRCA Rodeo being the most prestigious. Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26.

“This is almost like a wildcard game in the NFL or Major League Baseball,” said Andy Stewart, the event’s announcer. “These guys might have one shot left to make it to the NFR. It’s so important, because I have seen guys that go to rodeos like Kansas City that have that much money in the purse and being at the end of the season that they can win enough money and get to the NFR.

“That’s the difference between ending your season and having a shot at winning the NFR average title or winning the world title.”

Bareback rider Luke Creasy is one of those cowboys scrambling over the final few days of the regular season. Last week, he was at a rodeo every day, crisscrossing several states in the process: Iowa to Texas to New Mexico to Oregon. Flights and all-night drives are just part of the game, especially when he needs to earn thousands of dollars in order to move up from 20th into the top 15 on the money list.

Luke Creasy

Luke Creasy

“In Pasadena (Texas), I made a little money there on a little horse that didn’t have a day, but getting a check in the bank always helps boost the mind a little,” said Creasy, a native Canadian now living in Lovington, N.M. “All the other rodeos that I’m going to, I’m hoping to cash in.

Creasy has been near the top of the standings most of the season. In fact, he was among the top 10 when he suffered a broken fifth metacarpal bone in his right (riding) hand over the summer and had surgery to repair the ailment. Once he was released by doctors to ride again, he’s been going ever since. As of last Friday, he needed to make about $25,000 in the final 10 days of the season if he had any hope of qualifying for the NFR for the first time.

“There’s a lot of money out there,” he said. “It’s all vital. It’s going to be a held-breath kind of week. I’m hoping and trying my best to make it. All roads have led me here.”

ProRodeo features thousands of contestants, with hundreds battling for the coveted world championships. Only the best 120 in the game get the chance to compete at the NFR, which features the largest purse in the sport over 10 nights in Las Vegas. There are dozens of contestants on the bubble who need big checks at all the rodeos taking place on the final weekend.

“I was in the top five a lot of the year, then things happened,” said Creasy, who has finished among the top 25 three times in the past five years; he finished the 2014 campaign 17th in the standings, just two spots out of qualifying. “Now I’m in a very familiar spot. I just need to do the best I can and have a little luck come my way.”

That makes Kansas City an important stop for rodeo’s elite.

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