Fans who attended the 45th annual Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic at the world-famous Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma were treated to the tightest short round in BFI history. And it was Sooner State cowboys Jake Cooper Clay and Billie Jack Saebens who came out kings of the 126-team BFI from third high callback to take the sweet $150,000 victory lap after roping six steers in 47.11 seconds.
“The BFI is the most prestigious roping there is, in my book,” said Clay, 23, who calls Sapulpa home. “I’ve watched the BFI forever. You can’t look away from the money, and there are so many people watching. Even people who don’t team rope know what the BFI is. What means the most to me is to look at the list of all the guys who’ve done good at this roping, and now I’m on that list.”
“The money’s good, but the confidence that comes with a win like this one might be even better,” said Saebens, 33, who lives in Nowata with his fellow Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier wife, Ivy. “I know I work hard at it, and have good horses. But you go to ropings, and you drive— I live dang near in Kansas, and I drive to Texas every week—and sometimes it feels like you get your butt kicked over and over. Capitalizing at a roping like this helps a guy forget about all the losing, all the driving and roping in the cold in Nowata.”
Oklahoma’s Jake Cooper Clay and Billie Jack Saebens kept $152,000 in the Sooner State with their big win at the 2022 BFI.
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On top of the $152,000 payday, which also included $2,000 for fourth in the first round, Clay and Saebens were awarded Coats Saddles, Gist Buckles, YETI Luggage, Resistol Black Gold Hats, Best Ever Pads, Justin Full-Quill Ostrich Boots, HATPACS and B&W Trailer Hitches.
Finishing just one-tenth of a second behind Clay and Saebens’s 47.11 were James Arviso of Seba Dalkai, Arizona, and Josh Patton of Shallowater, Texas, who stopped the clock six times in 47.21. The team earned $103,000, including $100,000 for second in the average and $3,000 for second in the short round. Arviso and Patton also took home Lazy L Saddles, Best Ever Pads, Justin Smooth Ostrich Boots and B&W Trailer Hitches.
The twists and turns at the 2022 BFI were wild. Arviso’s the 18-year-old nephew of Derrick Begay, and won the Hooey Jr BFI Open earlier this BFI Week with Oklahoma’s Landen Glenn, who’s also 18. Fast forward to BFI Day, and Glenn won the Rickey Green Award for the Overall Fast Time at the BFI behind Aaron Tsinigine with a 5.47-second winner in Round 3. Tyler Wade and Saebens won the inaugural RG award in 2019, by the way.
The Wrangler and Priefert Short Round winners were Bubba Buckaloo and Joseph Harrison with a 6.95-second run, which was good for $4,000. That put them fifth in the average for another $30,000 after roping six in 48.33. The third-place team of Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler were 47.35 on six for $70,000. Chad Masters and Cory Petska finished fourth in 47.92 for $50,000.
If Jake Cooper Clay rings a bell, yes—Julana and Dwayne Clay DID name their son after roping legends and 1988 BFI Champs Jake Barnes and Clay Cooper (who also won the 1982 BFI behind Bret Beach). “They’re Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper, and I look up to them so much,” Jake Cooper Clay said. “They’re awesome.”
If the head horse Clay just won BFI ’22 on looks familiar, there’s good reason for that, too. Zac Small won the 2016 BFI with Wesley Thorp riding Streakin Sun Dew, who’s Sun for short, and also qualified for and rode him at the 2016 NFR before leaving the rodeo trail to become a veterinarian.
Jake Cooper Clay’s Sun was voted Montana Silversmiths Head of the BFI in 2022.
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Sun was named the Head Horse of the BFI, which came with the coveted Montana Silversmiths bronze and a $500 bonus check.
“Kaleb Driggers bought Sun from Zac Small; then Jake Cooper bought him from Driggers; then Driggers bought him back; then I bought him from Driggers about a month ago,” Clay said. “Sun’s 17 now, and still going strong.
“Horsepower’s the biggest thing, because the score’s so long and the steers run so hard. Good horses make all the difference here.”
Clay also rode the 2021 Head Horse of the BFI. Kevin Williams let him ride RC Shining Freckles, aka Leroy, and he, too, caught the judges’ eyes.
The Other Horse Hero
Harrison was deeply touched to take Heel Horse of the BFI honors with his horse The Governor, who like Sun is a sorrel. The Governor is 10, and his registered name is Freckles Instant Coffee.
“This award is a bucket-list thing for me,” Joseph said. “I’m a horse trainer, and this is a very prestigious roping. We don’t get very many horses like this one in a lifetime.”
Back to Clay and Saebens, Clay placed 10th at last year’s BFI with Rance Doyal, and has cashed a few go-round checks on the heeling side since he first entered in 2017. Clay’s planning to put his $76,000 half of the big BFI win toward horsepower and rodeoing.
“This money is going to help out so much, especially now that everything’s costing so much,” he said of fuel prices, which are pushing $5 a gallon, even in Oklahoma.
Saebens thinks BFI ’22 was his seventh, and he’s made the short round five times and placed fifth twice. He often wears the reserve BFI buckle he won in 2017 with Coleman Proctor.
Clay and Saebens roped six steers in 47.11 seconds to edge the 126-team field by a mere tenth of a second at BFI ’22.
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“I think my success at the BFI has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve had two Heel Horses of the BFI,” said Saebens, who plans to reinvest his half of the windfall win into more horses and the house he and Ivy built a couple years back. “My black horse Kevin was Heel Horse of the BFI in 2017 when we won second. Kevin got hurt a couple years later, so I borrowed a bay horse I trained named Hank back from Mark Fenton in Missouri and he was the Heel Horse of the 2019 BFI.”
Team Clay and Saebens is full steam ahead on the rodeo trail. They joined forces right after the Fourth of July run last summer, and are rolling again in 2022. When the two teams behind them failed to pass them, Clay and Saebens were sitting side-by-side at the back end. Brenten Hall—who shared in a memorable $150,000 day heading for Jake in the #15 roping at the 2016 World Series of Team Roping Finale in Vegas when they were both 17—tackled Clay to kick-start the celebration.
“When we won fourth in the first round, I thought, ‘This is going to be a good day,’” Clay said. “We weren’t in the top six in the average going into the fifth round, then we were third high call. You never know at the BFI. I just wanted to catch that last steer, and let the rest take care of itself.
“The BFI is the most prestigious event I’ve ever won. I think the Lazy E is an awesome spot for this roping, because the arena’s big, the score’s longer and it really tests us. My next goal is to make the NFR, and try to win a gold buckle.”
Clay wore his Ellensburg Rodeo buckle on BFI Day. Saebens wore one from the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. Both plan to wear their shiny new Gist Silversmiths BFI buckles.
“I hate to mess up such a beautiful buckle, but I don’t think I can keep myself from wearing this one, especially after they put my name on it,” Clay said.
“I wouldn’t normally wear a second-place buckle, but I do wear the one I won with Coleman in 2017,” Billie Jack said. “It’s hard to win second at the BFI, let alone first. I will absolutely wear this one for winning it.”
Billie Jack rode his 7-year-old sorrel horse Metallic Twist a.k.a. Milo, that he bought from Max Kuttler last February.
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“You’re not going to get through this roping without a good horse,” Saebens said. “Milo’s a great horse. I rodeoed on him last summer, and he’s been my #1 all winter. I feel like Jake and I roped pretty good today, and we drew decent. Everybody ropes good, but I think our horses were what made the difference for our team. Jake never reached one time, and I never took a crazy shot.”
Tackling the tightest short round in BFI history—less than a second separated the top seven teams, and there were only 2.78 seconds between 15th and first—took hard-earned self-discipline for Saebens.
“I paid zero attention to the times,” he said. “Whenever they would start announcing times, I would think about something else. I was thinking, ‘If I draw a steer that makes me win fifth, I’ll win fifth.’ I rope for a living. If I try to press too hard, I mess up. I’ve done that enough that I know better.
“The way I think of it now is that I just let the roping come to me. When the shot presents itself, I take it. I wasn’t planning on throwing fast on that last steer. Things just opened up, and it happened. I used to have a bad habit of thinking I had to be fast when somebody made a good run in front of me. I’d throw whether I was ready or not. It’s taken a lot of work to get out of that, but it’s coming together now.”
Clay and Saebens live about an hour apart, and rope together a lot. Work ethic is this team’s heartbeat.
“We put in the hours,” Billie Jack said. “I know everybody works hard at it, and we do, too. When we aren’t practicing together, I can guarantee you Jake Clay is scoring and roping. It’s what we do.”
It seems unanimous that the 440-foot-long Lazy E Arena is the perfect place for this roping.
“I love it here,” Saebens said. “I like that they can put the barrier out there longer. The ground’s really good, and that makes my horses feel better and work better. It’s two hours from my house, and the fans who come here to watch love roping. That’s awesome. The payout and long score set this roping apart. And there are no other arenas where you can have a scoreline like this one that’s climate-controlled and comfortable year-round.”
Saebens set his alarm for 5 a.m. on BFI Day. He woke up at 3:50, and was so excited that he jumped up and left early.
“This win is #1 in my career for sure,” he said. “We just beat 125 of the best teams in the world over six head. I’ve made the Finals a couple times, and have had some success rodeoing. But I’ve never had another win like this one.
“I grew up in Eastern Missouri, and when I was a little kid, rodeoing and roping for a living was the pipe dream. I told myself, ‘I just want to make a living roping and riding horses.’ Everybody says they want to be a world champion. I would love to say that, and that’s what I want to be. But I’m not going to say that’s my goal, because my goal has never changed. I want to make a living roping and make good horses. What a day.”