RENO, Nev. (June 18, 2018) – After the fourth steer of a heated battle during one of the toughest BFI ropings in history, Kaleb Driggers rode up to Chris Francis and told him, “Finish what you started.”
Francis, 40, and his 24-year-old heeler Cade Passig had just moved to the lead in a roping so competitive that a time of 25 seconds on three wasn’t even among the top 15 fastest. And the round had just been won by Max Kutler and Brandon Bates’ time of 4.27 seconds – just six-hundredths off the five-year-old fast-time record.
The Bob Feist Invitational tests the 100 best teams in the world on super-fast steers over an 18-foot head start, making it the most challenging Open roping in the country – as well as the richest, boasting over $700,000 in cash and prizes.
Francis and Passig retained the high-call position by a half-second going into the short round, but watched as the five teams before them – including Driggers and world champion Junior Nogueira – each clocked snappy six-second runs to pour the heat on.
“There’s no doubt to me that Driggers is the best header in the world, and to know he was fourth callback, that meant we had to bear down,” Francis said. “I was never nervous today – until I looked over at Cade.”
Virtually his little brother, Passig has looked up to Francis since the age of 2, when Francis moved into the Passig household. Chris’ father and Cade’s – Shotgun Passig – had grown up together, then Cade grew up with Chris always around.
Both Chris and Cade work for Mathews Land and Cattle in Las Vegas, New Mexico, producing ropings and working cattle for a living. They can finish each other’s sentences; they have driven a million miles together and partnered on a million runs.
“This roping’s been around 41 years and all the greats have won this – and some of the best in the world haven’t,” said Passig. “It’s the most mentally tough roping of the year. We can all rope six steers, but to stay focused all day is another thing.”
The mental tenacity required by the eight-hour roping means it’s as well-known for its heartbreaks as well as its triumphs. Fifth-round misses by veterans Trevor Brazile and Jake Barnes were as tragic to their six-figure hopes as a mistake by young Jake Smith in the fifth round after he’d racked up a 31-second time on four head with Jesse Stipes.
The short round was virtually mistake-free, however. Fans were treated to skills that have made the BFI legendary – 13 of the 15 teams in the finals roped clean. But despite the pressure applied by Bubba Buckaloo and Tyler Worley’s 6.7-second run, Francis and Passig responded in kind with their own 6.7 to give them the BFI win and $122,000 cash. Their collective time of 43.34 seconds was the fourth-fastest in 41 years, and edged Buckaloo and Worley (who also placed fourth last year with Jake Barnes) by just four-tenths.
“I roped him around the neck and tried to jerk him into the stands,” said Francis of that last steer. “But Cade doesn’t miss very many. He’s one of the greatest heelers out there, in my opinion. He’ll get his chance and everyone will know.”
In fact, when Passig was just 14, he’d told Shotgun he wanted to become the best heeler in the world. His dad responded by home-schooling him and buying a bigger horse trailer. They would then be gone jackpotting for months at a time.
In fact, jackpots are so “old hat” to young Passig that when he came tight on $61,000 cash at the 41st BFI, he simply rode out of the building toward his trailer. His only thought was to try to call his father. The arena announcer had to call him back inside.
“He always does that,” cracked Francis. “He leaves me to do victory laps by myself all the time.”
For the record, Cade finally got Shotgun to answer his phone, and thought his dad might cry at the news that his protégés had just won the most prestigious event in their sport.
“I don’t think this has sunk in,” said Francis in the arena after the roping. “I’m so blessed. I’ve been wanting this my whole life; I remember my dad would want me to go do something else besides always watching BFI videos.”
Francis rode a horse he’d purchased from Driggers named Dude, and Passig was aboard his trusty blue roan Doc Holliday. The gelding is by My Blue Warrior, a stallion once owned by NFR header Colter Todd’s family.
“He’s the first horse I made,” said Passig. “I’d let him in the house if he wouldn’t make a mess.”
Both men expressed their gratitude to Mathews Land and Cattle both for sponsoring their entry into the BFI and allowing them to do the work that prepares them for such a roping. And Francis allowed a little help from one book in particular.
“I roped terrible at the [Reno] Rodeo yesterday and I was bummed,” said Francis. “Then I read a Bible verse, the one where Jesus says to Peter, ‘Ye of little faith.’ I thought, I have to keep pushing forward. Let that be yesterday and try not to lose faith.”
The team will enter some summer rodeos around west Texas and Arizona, but will remain close to home as usual, they said. That’s not the case for NFR ropers Coleman Proctor of Pryor, Oklahoma and Billie Jack Saebens of Nowata, Oklahoma, who placed fifth in the roping after their second-place showing in 2017. Saebens again took home the Montana Silversmiths bronze for Heel Horse of the BFI. He won the award last year for his black horse, Kevin, but this time the winner was Jack’s Probably Back.
The gelding was raised and trained by Brad Lund, and is by AQHA Superhorse With All Probability. Saebens had bought him young, then sold him to Mark Fenton, who let Saebens borrow him back with Kevin out on injured-reserve.
“He watches a cow but he stays free and doesn’t measure them up as much,” Saebens said. “This is really cool for me, because I put a lot of pride and work into these horses. For it to be recognized means a lot to us.”
On the other end, the Head Horse of the BFI award went to Bronze Dude, a sorrel gelding registered as a Paint but with only a strip down his face. J.D. Yates of Pueblo, Colorado, said “Turbo” is one of his sister’s barrel horses.
The former calf roping horse has no running blood, but is super quick and ran hard enough at the BFI to place Yates eighth with Kyle Lockett of California. The feat meant Yates is now the fifth-highest money earner in BFI history.
“I’ve used him at Pendleton and Cheyenne,” Yates said. “He was the one that felt the best last week, so I brought him instead of the buckskin I brought last year.”
Despite being one of the world’s most awarded horsemen, Yates said the BFI Horse prize is special.
“For me to make the short round takes an exceptionally good horse, since I’m roping against guys half my age,” he said. “Turbo ranks right up there with the bay I rode when I won this roping, and that horse won the award that year, as well.”
Yates had a 5 a.m. plane to catch from Reno so that he could ride 12 horses at a big show in Lincoln, Nebraska. Despite the fact Yates has already roped at 21 NFRs and earned 34 world championships showing rope-horses, and despite his jam-packed schedule, the BFI is the one timed event he moves mountains to enter every year.
“I like the long score and that the cattle run hard; I like to get ready for it,” he said. “I like everything about it.”
Wrangler BFI Week continues for three days following the 41st BFI. For more information, visit www.bfiweek.com.
Complete results from the 2018 Bob Feist Invitational:
First Round: 1. J.D. Yates and Kyle Lockett, 6.23 seconds, $8,000; 2. Jeff Flenniken and Jake Minor, 6.32, $6,000; 3. Bubba Buckaloo and Tyler Worley, 6.73, $4,000; 4. Jake Stanley and Bucky Campbell, 6.75, $2,000.
Second Round: 1. Calvin Brevik and Kory Bramwell, 5.61 seconds, $8,000; 2. Dustin Bird and Paden Bray, 5.72, $6,000; 3. Garrett Tonozzi and Joe Mattern, 6.27, $4,000; 4. Tyler Wade and Tyler McKnight, 6.66, $2,000.
Third Round: 1. Lane Ivy and Blaine Vick, 4.53 seconds, $8,000; 2. Brock Hanson and Ryan Motes, 4.75, $6,000; 3. Blake Teixeira and Tanner Luttrell, 5.15, $4,000; 4. Cale Markham and Jake Cooper Clay, 5.21, $2,000.
Fourth Round: 1. Max Kuttler and Brandon Bates, 4.27 seconds, $8,000; 2/3 (tie). Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp/Dustin Bird and Paden Bray, 4.93 seconds each, $5,000 each; 4. Rhen Richard and Quinn Kesler, 5.17, $2,000.
Fifth Round: 1. Hayes Smith and Justin Davis, 4.72 seconds, $8,000; 2. Jr Dees and Cody Cowden, 4.75, $6,000; 3. Garrett Rogers and Russell Cardoza, 5.01, $4,000; 4. Jeff Flenniken and Jake Minor, 5.16, $2,000.
Wrangler/Priefert Short Round: 1. Andrew Ward and Reagan Ward, 4.96 seconds; 2. Garrett Tonozzi and Joe Mattern, 5.70, $3,000; 3. Billy Bob Brown and Hunter Koch, 5.77, $2,000; 4. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, 6.23, $1,000.
Aggregate: 1. Chris Francis and Cade Passig, 43.34 seconds on six, $122,000; 2. Bubba Buckaloo and Tyler Worley, 43.79, $89,000; 3. Clay Smith and Paul Eaves, 44.98, $51,500; 4. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, 45.56, $33,500; 5. Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens, 45.66, $21,500; 6. Andrew Ward and Regan Ward, 46.06, $16,500; 7. Garrett Tonozzi and Joe Mattern, 46.58, $14,500; 8. JD Yates and Kyle Lockett, 46.96, $12,500; 9. Billy Bob Brown and Hunter Koch, 46.98, $9,500; 10. Cody Mora and Cord Forzano, 47.77, $8,500; 11. Kade Smith and Casey Chamberlain, 49.34, $7,500; 12. BJ Campbell and Joel Bach, 49.89, $7,500; 13. Randon Adams and Jory Levy, 51.72, $6,500; 14. Rhett Anderson and Coleby Payne, 53.56, $6,500; 15. Tyler Wade and Tyler McKnight, 40.83 on five, $6,500.
About the BFI: The Bob Feist Invitational was founded by Bob Feist in 1977 to showcase and reward the world’s best professional team ropers, and is owned today by Ullman-Peterson Events. Annually the top 100 teams in the sport are invited to the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center in Nevada, where they compete over six rounds for a cash-and-awards package worth more than $700,000.