Well rodeo fans, it’s championship week. While the National Finals Rodeo still has two more weeks before it descends upon us, this weekend’s National Finals Steer Roping generates buzz as well. Will it garner the same spotlight as the NFR? No, but count me among a strong contingent of steer roping fans in the Kittitas Valley.

Steer roping — often called steer tripping, or “the tripping” as I’ve referred to it — isn’t offered at many rodeos around the nation, including our Columbia River Circuit members. Besides Ellensburg hosting it during slack in the week leading up to Labor Day, there are probably just five or so sanctioned rodeos in the Northwest which include the tripping in its payout. Pendleton in fact adds the event in its performances, which I believe is a great tradition. I’m not saying Ellensburg has to do that, as I’m thrilled the event has continued to thrive here in town.

Well, for the top 15 steer ropers in the world, it’s definitely thriving and for many of them it’ll be lucrative. With more than $9,155 going to the go-round winner every night and sixth in the round paying nearly $1,600, plenty of cowboys will leave with some coin in their pockets and that’s before the average-winning payout of $27,347 is handed to one lucky roper.

So, who’s going to be there this year? Well, the event winner here in Ellensburg — Mr. Tuf Cooper — will be looking for his first steer roping Gold Buckle. Cooper has three tie-down and one All-Around buckle, and this just would just add to his growing legacy. Cooper won $3,310 by winning the first round and average here during Labor Day, but also won Lewiston’s event with $2,552, won a round in Pendleton for $2,673 and $4,571 in winning Amarillo. So, it’s safe to say if he has the same amount of success in Mulvane, Kan., this weekend as he did during September’s steer roping events, life might be good for the Texas roper.

Cooper is third in the world standings with $55,850 on the season. He’s $4,000 behind second place Vin Fisher Jr., and everyone trails six-time steer roping world champion Trevor Brazile. The King of Cowboys has $71,850 to lead the standings. The 24-time world champion semi-retired this year, so he only made the NFSR. My guess is (like everyone else in the event’s top 15) he’s been dialed into just practicing for the tripping for the past couple of months. But unlike everyone else, he has a cushion in the standings that might be the difference.

This will be Brazile’s 22nd trip to the steer roping finals, surpassed only by four-time world champion Rocky Patterson (25 qualifications) from this field. Fellow four-time world champion (including the last two buckles) Scott Snedecor has 18 qualifications. The three ropers are the only trippers to win the last 14 straight world titles.

Knocking on that door is Fisher Jr., (second in the standings) as is his younger brother J. Tom Fisher (fourth).

Fisher, Jr., will be making his 16 appearance at the NFSR, while last year’s average champion, Cody Lee along with Chet Herren, will both be competing for the 14th time.

So, who do we pick in our household? Well, the sisterly duo of Delaney and Adelyn picked Tuf, while Brittany went with Trevor. For me? I keep bouncing between the Fisher brothers and Trevor as well. Clearly Trevor is a heckuva roper even in retirement – or whatever you want to call his 2019 season – and had he come into the NFSR out of first, I’d probably go with Fisher, Jr. However, with the tripping being Brazile’s sole focus and leading the world in that, I’m picking him to get world title No. 25 and his seventh in the discipline.

We’ll find out in less than a week who’s right in our house, what about yours?

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a weekly rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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