Steamboat Springs For the past nine weeks the top saddle bronc riders have battled for a position in the Steamboat Springs Professional Rodeo Series.
This Saturday night, the top-six finishers in that season-long battle will earn the right to compete for $2,000 and a Winchester Rifle as part of the annual Pat Mantle Memorial Saddle Bronc Ride.
"The top six have all won checks in the past two weeks," rodeo board member John Shipley said. "I think the cream of the crop is rising to the top at the right time."
Shipley thinks most of those top riders are in good shape to make the finals, but because of the nature of this event the field of riders will not be determined until a few minutes before Saturday night's final ride. At that time the top six riders who are available will be pitted against the top six bucking broncs.
If a cowboy is not in Steamboat Springs, the next cowboy on the list will be moved into contention.
The winner of the event will take his place on an elite list of riders who have captured the title since Marty Forster first did it back in 1992.
"Pat (Mantle) was like a second father to me," Brent Romick said. Romick, longtime rodeo director, was instrumental in getting the Pat Mantle Memorial together shortly after the cowboy legend died.
"Pat contributed to this rodeo every year and it's only fitting that we have a saddle bronc ride in his honor."
Shipley was confident that this year's field would live up to Mantle's tough as nails western reputation.
He expects season leader Chet Johnson, the current second-place rider Sandy Bob Forbes and third-place rider Jeremy Mallette to qualify and take a shot at this year's title.
Dan Latham, who has come on strong the past few weeks, and Marc Dickinson are holding onto the final two spots at this time.
But there future could depend on the guys who are coming up from behind them.
Will Berg of Kaycee, Wyo. is just $3.40 from bumping one of those riders out in the final week and local favorite Mitch Walz of Craig also has a shot to make the final cut. He has won the Pat Mantle three times including the last two events.
But Shipley warned that with just $97.49 separating the No. 6 guy from the No. 9 guy, anything could happen in the final week of saddle bronc riding this season in Steamboat. He said that Brandon Munn, who is a couple hundred dollars off the pace, still has an outside shot at making the cut.
But the Pat Mantle will not be the only title decided this Saturday on the sandy floor of the Romick Rodeo arena.
In addition to the Pat Mantle the Steamboat rodeo series will also hand out end-of-season belt buckles in bull riding, calf roping, bareback, saddle bronc, steer wrestling, barrel racing and No. 7 roping. The pee wee barrel champion and all-around cowboy will also be honored at a post-rodeo celebration, which is scheduled at the Ore House at Pine Grove restaurant shortly after the curtain drops on the 2002 season.
Through week nine Jarrod Ford is winning the bull riding, but is being followed closely by Josh Johnson from Elizabeth.
Other close races will include the ladies barrel race where Maybell's Julie Haskins holds a slim lead over Hotchkiss cowgirl Belinda Brownell.
Ron Boettler of Eckert is setting the pace in the No.7 roping event. But Pake Younger of Grand Junction could make it a race on the final weekend of rodeo. Team roper Paul Beckett of Laramie and Leroy Milligan of Torrington are in first place. Robbie Crowder of Arvada and Rick Harris of Loveland are hoping to close the gap in the final week.
Calf roper Chris Downey, of Cheyenne, bareback rider Gary Burgener of Douglas, and steer wrestler Jimmy Alen of Fruita all have a solid lead headed into the final week, Saddle Bronc rider Chet Johnson of Gillette, Wyo. Also seems to have a firm grip on the lead headed down the stretch.
In the pee wee barrels Casey Barns, 6, of Maybell is trying to chase down a second straight title.
The final rodeo performances of the year are scheduled for this weekend at the Romick Rodeo Arena. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights.
"It's been a very successful year for the rodeo here in Steamboat," Romick said.