Fans watched the greatest jackpot team roper in history extend his record of wins at the world’s richest pro roping Sunday night in Oklahoma.
Kory Koontz, 49, of Stephenville, Texas, clinched victory at the Wrangler Bob Feist Invitational (BFI) presented by Yeti for the record third time, riding a horse he raised and nursed back to health after a horrific auto accident a year ago. Exactly 25 years after Koontz won back-to-back BFI titles with Rube Woolsey and Matt Tyler, he and Manny Egusquiza Jr. roped six steers in 46.48 seconds to earn the first-place check worth $150,000 plus epic prizes. They bested 132 teams at the 44th BFI, held this year at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie three months prior to its traditional June date.
“It felt like there was a lot of energy in this building for me and Manny to win this,” said the characteristically humble Koontz, who’s a grandfather now and has earned $2.5 million with his rope at rodeos alone. “I’m just a guy trying to rope for a living. In my career, I’ve truly been blessed.”
The championship at the 44th BFI brings to a whopping 12 the number of career “grand slams” at which Koontz has taken the victory lap over his 30-year career. He won the Wildfire Open to the World a record five times, took home three trailers from the George Strait Team Roping Classic, won the US Open and now, his third BFI. It puts him far ahead of Clay O’Brien Cooper and Travis Graves, who’ve won seven “majors” each. The only other heeler with three BFI titles is Hall-of-Famer Rich Skelton, whose all-time earnings record was smashed by Koontz’ new BFI total of $241,514 and Clay Tryan’s new record of $256,111.
“When I won this roping in 1995, it paid $25,000,” marveled Koontz, who took home $77,000 cash on Sunday, plus a custom trophy Coats saddle, Gist buckle, Yeti cooler, Resistol hat, Heel-O-Matic training machine and more. “I feel like the things I won later have meant more. So, making the NFR in 2017-18, winning the Wildfire the fifth time and now the BFI the third time… I’m almost 50 years old, so I appreciate it more. In the old days, I was supposed to win. But I felt like when I walked in here today, there was no person that thought I was going to win. So it’s just such a blessing. It’s taken a lot of hard work.”
The BFI is the most lucrative but challenging team roping event for pros in America. The typical format has the hundred-plus best teams in the world invited to rope six steers that have a 20-foot head start, for a purse of $700,000 in cash and prizes.
Koontz and Egusquiza, both from Stephenville, Texas, maintained their high callback position after a rare miss by veteran header Riley Minor in the fifth round. Roping last in the Wrangler/Priefert Short Round, they needed just a nine-second run to win the aggregate. Instead, Egusquiza and Koontz won the short round with a quick 7.16 to earn another $4,000 and seal the deal over Andrew Ward of nearby Edmond, Oklahoma, and Buddy Hawkins, a Kansas native also of Stephenville now. The reserve champs – who raked in $54,000 for placing fourth last year – split $101,000 cash plus similar prizes.
“I was so focused today,” said Egusquiza, who at 44 is the older brother of 25-year-old Dustin Egusquiza – Koontz’ partner from 2017-19 and the current world No. 2 header. “I almost feel like I cheated because I get to compete so often around my little brother. He’ll see something I didn’t see and we help each other throughout the roping. We’re always pulling for each other. It’s peaceful.”
Koontz, a 22-time NFR heeler who has won every major rodeo and the ten-round NFR back in 1997, has been in so many roping spotlights that he doesn’t get nervous nor think of anything except “roping the cow.” As for Egusquiza, he kept his mind off the pressure by checking in with his wife, Candis, and son and daughter who were competing over the weekend, themselves.
Egusquiza and Koontz felt like their roping styles would fit the BFI perfectly. They often practice together and have been entering area rodeos since last fall. Egusquiza grew up in Florida, heeling, and switched ends about a decade ago. While he’s had success, including a fourth-place finish at the 2012 BFI heading for Brad Culpepper, this marks his biggest win to date.
“This is life-changing money,” said Egusquiza. He plans to use the windfall to finally purchase the horse he’s been riding for three years. “Sleepy” is registered as Ty’s Luck Star and owned by the Wiley family of Pleasanton, Texas. Formerly, he was a professional barrel racing horse owned by Ivy Hurst.
“He rode the hell out of him and made it look easy,” said Koontz of his partner.
Koontz’ dun horse “Remix” is better than he’s ever been after years of being “an outlaw” and months of rehabilitation stemming from the January 2020 accident that totaled Koontz’ truck and trailer and killed his other horse. Over Koontz’ illustrious 30-year-career, his former mounts Iceman, Jackyl and Switchblade will go down in history as the best heel horses ever. Remix was a gift as a yearling a dozen years ago from Joe Braman, and Koontz nicknamed him in hopes he’d feature attributes of all three great horses. On Sunday, 13-year-old Remix won the Heel Horse of the BFI trophy. It didn’t surprise Koontz.
“I thought he outshined every horse there,” he admitted. “He let me throw fast and he let me have another swing when I wanted it. He did everything a heel horse needed to do.”
The Head Horse of the BFI award went to a little 7-year-old buckskin gelding called “LeRoy” ridden by Oklahoma’s Jake Cooper Clay, who placed ninth in the roping with Rance Doyal for $13,000. Registered as Shining Freckles, the horse was trained and is owned by Kevin Williams of Arkansas.
“He scored awesome every time; ran hard, pulled and faced,” said Clay, who’s dating Williams’ daughter.
Finally, Canadian header Levi Simpson and his Arkansas partner Tyler Worley took home the annual Rickey Green Overall Fast Time award for their 5.53-second run that won Round Three (the pair also won the second round to split $16,000 total).
Several more competitions are on tap in Guthrie as Wrangler BFI Week continues. For more information, visit www.bfiweek.com.
BY JULIE MANKIN