“King of Cowboys” and world’s best female among contenders
“Gunners” – or the first team out at the 44th edition of the Bob Feist Invitational (BFI) on March 14 – will be two of the wiliest veterans in the game. Not only has each man already won the BFI, but each has also ridden at least one horse awarded as the best of the event. Hall-of-Famer J.D. Yates, a 21-time NFR roper who won the BFI in 2010 with Jay Wadhams, will turn the first steer for eight-time NFR heeler Cody Cowden, who won “the Feist” in 1997 with Bobby Hurley.
The world’s richest Open roping rides into Guthrie, Oklahoma, that day for the second straight year but in March instead of June, thanks in part to Covid-19 restrictions in the BFI’s traditional home of Nevada. This time, the BFI will showcase exactly 133 of the world’s best professional teams competing over six rounds – including top-ranked female heeler Whitney DeSalvo – and will again anchor Wrangler BFI Week presented by Yeti, March 15-18.
The second team out, by the way, is BFI Fast Time record holder – in heeling – Dakota Kirchenschlager, heading for nine-time NFR heeler Cesar de la Cruz. That one will stun onlookers at the annual calcutta and cowboy reception, scheduled for March 13 at 1 p.m. at Edmond’s Hilton Garden Inn.
This year’s BFI roster is filled with interesting matchups, including veterans bringing young partners. Two-time world champ Walt Woodard – with at least 40 BFIs under his belt and one victory – will heel for International Finals Rodeo heading champ Zack Kilgus. And Hall-of-Famer Rich Skelton will try to extend his record as BFI all-time high-money winner with 22-year-old Tanner Green (grandson of legendary cowboy Phil Lyne). Also, eight-time NFR header Derrick Begay is packing 18-year-old Jaylen Eldridge, while two-time world champ Matt Sherwood will head for 23-year-old Kycen Winn. Arizona is sending even more talent, too, in brothers Dawson and Dillon Graham, 21 and 19 (snowbirds from Alberta), and in recent Rodeo Rapid City champs John Gaona, 21, and Trevor Nowlin, 22.
The 2021 BFI will see some faces it has missed in recent years, including Brandon Beers (partnering with Russell Cardoza), Keven Daniel (partnering with Morgan Jones) and Martin Lucero (partnering with Ty Arnold). That list also includes rodeo’s only $7 million cowboy, who retired from rodeo but has decided to heel at the BFI for the first time in more than 20 years.
Trevor Brazile is one of only seven cowboys to have ever qualified for rodeo’s Super Bowl both heading and heeling, and he won the BFI heading in 2013. He likes heeling better, even though many of his record 26 gold buckles were possible thanks to his heading talent.
“I heeled more than I headed growing up,” he told The Team Roping Journal in 2019. “We didn’t have an arena when I was a kid, but I could always heel something. I heeled more goats as a kid than I ever roped steers.”
Brazile’s record seven Timed-Event Championships of the World came in this arena, courtesy of his heeling talent, as well, and he figures he’s earned roughly a million dollars in the Lazy E Arena. This year, he’s heeling for fellow horse trainer Miles Baker.
Former BFI champions Chris Francis and Cade Passig are in the mix, plus last year’s champion heeler, Reagan Ward, is teamed with former world champion header Nick Sartain. Good bets in 2021 will include 2016 BFI champ Wesley Thorp teamed with NFR average champion Cody Snow, as well as reigning NFR average champs Erich Rogers with Paden Bray, fresh off a six-figure win at RFD-TV’s The American. Former reserve BFI champ Lane Ivy is heading for former BFI champ Ryan Motes, while you can never count out the gold-buckle team of Smith and Corkill or past BFI winners Tryan and Long. Great money would be on fast-time king Tyler Wade with NFR average champ Trey Yates. Also, don’t count out world champ Chad Masters, who has won everything except a BFI title in his 20-year career, with Joseph Harrison, or the freshly reunited Kaleb Driggers with Junior Nogueira.
These world-class teams are featured in the BFI’s annual cowboy auction on March 13 in Edmond, which is open to the public, free of charge, and sells roping training aids in addition to the BFI’s entered teams. The event raises tens of thousands of dollars for charities like Wounded Warriors Project.
The BFI itself begins Sunday morning and is streamed live on www.WranglerNetwork.com. It’s followed on Monday by the 12.5 Oil Field Showdown and 11.5 Businessman’s Roping; Tuesday by the 10.5 Over 40 and 9.5 Over 40 ropings, and Wednesday by the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Challenge – again expected to be the highest-paying women’s roping in America. Wrangler BFI Week will wrap up Thursday with the Hooey Jr. Championships.
Every event except the BFI is free of charge. BFI tickets are available in person at the Lazy E box office, by phone at 405-282-RIDE, or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Visit www.BFIWeek.com for more information. Reservations with special roper rates are available at Edmond’s Hilton Garden Inn.