One cowboy has always loved this place, another horse decided it was time to love this place and both will be back in this place for today’s short round finale of the Ellensburg Rodeo.

Isaac Diaz rode Korkow Rodeo’s Feather Fluffer to 90 points in saddle bronc and Stevi Hillman’s horse ran a 17.27-second pattern around the barrels. While there were plenty of good storylines to come out of Sunday’s performance those two garnered some of the biggest smiles.

“He’s been running so hard,” Hillman said of her horse. “This hasn’t been his favorite pen in the past, but the last few days we’ve had late night and early morning slacks and he’s just gotten stronger and faster. Today, I was excited because I finally nailed my first barrel in this pen. It felt really good and he tried hard so I was proud of him.”

Hillman’s second round time was just .03 off Destri Devenport’s 17.24, and she picked up second place money in the round for $2,188. She’s fifth in the average with a 35.06 on two.

Devenport’s week has been incredible. The California barrel racer won both the first and second rounds for $5,104 already this week. With another $1,800 up for grabs for winning the short round and $4,000 going to the average winner, today will be a lucrative day for barrel racers.

Two-time Ellensburg champion Nellie Miller (2016 and 2017) is third in the average, winning money in both rounds for $3,403 in the bank thus far.

Diaz pocketed a bit more than that with his monster ride of Feather Fluffer. Diaz’s score was one off the arena record – his own, by the way – and earned the Texas saddle bronc rider $3,649 and a three-point cushion in the two-round average today.

“The last three times that horse has been out all the guys I travel with have had it,” Diaz said. “Brody (Cress) was 89.5, then Shorty (Garrett) was 84.5 and now I had him.”

Former world champions Ryder Wright and Jacobs Crawley earned first-go money and look to add to that today. Last year’s average winner here, Cort Scheer, snuck into the 12th and final hole to make the short round. Scheer might not win the average, but go-round money is still at stake.

Diaz and Scheer are 19th and 18th in the world standings coming into Ellensburg, about $13,000 out of the top 15 needed to make the National Finals Rodeo.

“Last month was just OK and I’m coming off an injury so when I got that horse I said, ‘thank you Jesus’ because that’s what I need right now,” Diaz said.

What Sage Kimzey needs is more Ellensburg’s on his schedule. The five-time world champion from Oklahoma covered two bulls in Saturday’s Xtreme Bulls World Finals (winning yet another year-end title) and then scored 84.5 on Big Bend’s Insane Hurricane on Sunday. The ride split fifth place three ways with Brady Portenier and Cole Melancon. The check was just $644 for each cowboy, but it puts them in the thick of things for average money.

Aaron Williams is the bull rider to beat, however. Williams – who won Ellensburg last year – won the round with a 90 for $3,621. Williams is on the outside looking in from an NFR qualifier perspective, but the cowboy is on a roll. Including his winnings in Saturday’s Xtreme Bulls, the cowboy has won nearly $14,000 in two days here.

Cooper Martin already has the NFR wrapped up, but he needs to do some work to make up the gap in the tie-down roping average. Martin’s 9.5-second run didn’t win second go money on Sunday, but it put his 18.3 on two runs right in the middle of the average race in sixth, but it’s nearly a second behind Rhen Richard’s 17.4. Richard earned go-round money in both rounds for $2,982 already and clearly has the inside track at the Ellensburg buckle. It’s not intimidating anyone though.

“I think a lot of guys might go for it,” Martin said without hesitation. “It depends on the calves. If I get the right calf then it probably wouldn’t be tough to beat, but (Richard’s) got almost a second right now. I’m more playing defense for the long run for the NFR. Second pays really good, so does third. I’m kind of a ‘knock ‘er down’ guy and let it all play out.”

Jule Hazen will find himself with a target on his back today. The bulldogger’s 4.3-second steer didn’t win any money in steer wrestling’s second round, but it did put Hazen at the top of the average standings heading into today’s short round. Hazen’s 8.2 seconds on two is a tenth of a second better than Tucker Allen’s 8.3. The similarities don’t end there either. Both are barely inside the top 50 in the world standings (Allen 43rd, Hazen 50th) and money here will help keep them there. Staying in the top 50 in the world helps a cowboy to be able to enter big rodeos throughout the year.

On the flip side is bulldogger Cameron Morman, who is 16th and $400 out of the top 15 needed to make the National Finals. Morman is fourth in the average for Monday.

Clayton Biglow’s 87.5 on Saturday weathered the storm of Sunday’s bareback riding pen. In fact, the top five rides in the long go all came prior to Sunday’s performance. Sunday’s top ride – Zach Hibler’s 81.5 – tied Caleb Bennett for sixth-place money and $628. Biglow’s score earned the cowboy $4,185.

In Sunday’s team roping, both Dustin Egusquiza/Jake Long and Tanner Green/Jake Clay will go into today’s short round leading the average on two with 10.8-second times.

Ellensburg Minor brothers barely made the short round with an 11.5 on two for the 12th and final spot. While jumping 11 spots to No. 1 to repeat last year’s historic average win is unlikely, day money and a small average check could be a possibility.

Today’s short round begins with the 11:45 a.m. Grand Entry.

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