When amateur team ropers drive hundreds of miles and spend thousands of dollars for the chance to win six figures, they don’t need to get outrun just after the preceding team had a loper.
That’s according to Bob Feist Invitational Week producer Daren Peterson, whose 46th Annual BFI is happening on April Fool’s Day this year in Guthrie, Oklahoma (tickets go on sale Feb. 1). That means all the ropers entering the Hooey Jr. BFI, the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl, the BFI Legends, the 15.5, 12.5, 11.5, 10.5-Over and brand-new 9.5-Over-40, 8.5 and 7.5, on March 29 through April 4, know a few things.
First, they can win paydays like last year’s $180,000 in the 12.5, for instance, but also, they can expect plenty of first-class stalls onsite with no hauling required, plus full RV hookups. They can expect ample warm-up space to lope circles. And most importantly, they’ll nod their heads for honest, even cattle.
“At some big ropings, the cattle have already been used a lot,” said Scott Gage of 3 Point Productions, who with Jeff Smith will bring up to 600 head to Guthrie. “But we break steers in and get steers ready only for BFI Week.”
An Oklahoma native, Smith had the cattle at the USTRC Finals for some 20 years.
“As long as steers haven’t had many runs, they’re fairly similar,” he said. “We pride ourselves on honest steers, and we like the BFI ropings and want great cattle there.”
Smith puts on three other ropings annually at the Lazy E Arena, including one just a week prior to BFI Week.
“After we break in the BFI cattle, we put two runs on them at that jackpot behind that barrier, and sort every steer there, so they’re programmed for that arena,” Smith said. “It works out great and when BFI Week starts, we don’t worry because we saw them all last week.”
Kenny Brown’s confidence in the steers and scoreline at Guthrie brings the veteran heeler to the Lazy E each year, despite it being a thousand miles from his Maryland home.
“Those ropings are roper-friendly and it’s set up for you to catch,” said Brown, who will enter the brand-new 9.5-Over-40 with his wife, MaryAnn, and also plans to find a header for the 12.5. “It doesn’t feel like the producer is trying to beat you. He’s giving you a chance. Also, even though it moved, it’s a very prestigious roping. It’s still the Bob Feist.”
Peterson knows that Gage and Smith do more than put eyeballs and sorting sticks on every single steer before it comes up the alley at the Lazy E Arena.
“Throughout the week, their crew sorts every steer all day, every day,” said Peterson, who owns BFI Week with Corky Ullman. “And Doug Clark, our line judge, also has input into setting the score and managing cattle. The reason we hire 3 Point and Jeff Smith Productions is that they use our same philosophy – to take the time to do it right and make it as roper-friendly as possible.”
It’s an intricate science, deciding which steers need more runs and which need culled. That kind of attention to detail is what makes gals pull into Guthrie to try for another thirty-thousand-dollar payday like Lari Dee Guy had in 2001, or teenagers show up to gun for $25,000.
“I’ve been going to BFI Week for I don’t know how many years for that 11.5 Businessman’s roping,” said Texan Belo Wiley, whose son Chase has been an annual BFI contestant for years. “The steers and the conditions are very consistent, and that’s hard to do, as a producer.”
This year, he’s also planning to enter the 10.5-Over-40, and the new 9.5-Over-40 and 8.5, which will utilize slower steers also sorted and brought specifically for those ropings. Gone are the days when a producer would let Open teams break in a herd and then run those steers all week in other ropings, said Smith. He was even asked to put seven or eight runs on the steers he brought to Cheyenne Frontier Days last summer, because rodeo’s elite don’t want unpredictable steers – roping just costs so much now.
“At BFI Week, we have guys sitting at the back end watching, and if a steer doesn’t fit, he’s out of there,” said Smith. “It’s easy to do. Steers cost a lot of money and it’s a lot of work sorting, but it’s not hard. If you want them to be good, that’s the way you have to do it.”
That means ropers in BFI Week’s traditional 11.5 Businessman’s and 10-Over-40, plus the brand-new 9.5-Over-40, 8.5 and 7.5 ropings, can rest assured of an even playing field. Similar cattle means everyone has a fair chance – from the BFI itself down to the 7.5.
“Things have changed,” Smith pointed out. “It doesn’t matter if your fees are a thousand a man or $150 a man, people won’t go rope uneven cattle.”