LAS VEGAS — December 8, 2022 — First-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Leslie Smalygo and Justaheartbeattofame picked up the Round Eight check from a time of 13.41 — the fastest time thus far of the Wrangler NFR presented by Teton Ridge.

“It’s a complete dream come true,” Smalygo said. “I thought it was just a pipe dream to make it out here. ‘Gus’ is the only horse I rode all year, and he’s the only one I took with me. He’s been so honest all year and exceeded any expectations I had. I was hoping to be in the [13-second time frame] this week, so to win a round, I never thought we had this in us.”

Smalygo came into the NFR in the No. 15 position with $84,453 in regular season earnings from 50 rodeos. While she’s been making big moves in the standings, it hasn’t been without struggle. The Skiatook, Oklahoma, duo kicked off the NFR picking up a check for fourth in Round One, continued to get faster in Rounds Two, Three and Four but were out of the money. In Rounds Five and Six, they had tough luck with downed barrels, but in Round Seven they turned it around as they moved closer to the top of the ground and finished second in Round Seven.

Leslie Smalygo turns second barrel
Leslie Smalygo and Justaheartbeattofame win Round Eight of the Wrangler NFR from a time of 13.41. Photo by Kenneth Springer

Coming into Round Eight, Smalygo and Gus were the first runners out on the ground and turned a 13.41, but with so many talented horses and riders to follow, Smalygo was hesitant to celebrate too soon. Jordon Briggs and Famous Lil Jet ran second on the ground and turned in a 13.59, while Hailey Kinsel and DM Sissy Hayday were sixth on the ground and ran a 13.52. Emily Beisel and Namgis D 33 were 10th out and clocked a 13.43, and Lisa Lockhart and Promise Me Fame Guys were last on the ground and turned in a 13.49.

—> 2022 WPRA Top 15 Stats

“This proves to me that I can do it,” Smalygo said of her first round-win of her first NFR. “It’s intimidating going up against Lisa, Emily and Brittany. For him to prove we can do it, and I can ride him right and make it happen, it just gives me the confidence that we belong.”

In general, Smaylgo says Gus is a rate-y style runner, due in part to Smalygo’s previous experience training reining horses. She says he listens closely to her body language, and when she sits to turn a barrel, it often results in him rating too soon before a barrel, especially in small setups like the Thomas and Mack Center. This means Smalygo has to be on top of her game with her body positioning and how she rides him. Yet, his speed and explosive style is what Smalygo credits with Gus’ success on the barrel pattern.

The 2010 gelding by Justaheartofawarrior and out of Yawl A Fame Maker by Dash Ta Fame has led Smalygo to more than $79, 539 in EquiStat reported lifetime earnings. The pair won multiple pro rodeos in the 2022 rodeo season, including Cody, Wyoming, and the reserve title at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Smalygo says typically Gus isn’t a fan of small, indoor setups like the Thomas and Mack Center arena, however having collected $73,889.95 in NFR earnings and moving from No. 15 to No. 7 in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings, it’s safe to say Gus is learning to embrace new interests.

“He hates small pens and he hates indoors,” Smalygo said with a laugh. “He has exceeded all my expectations of being here. He has shocked me. He has been a trooper through the whole thing, and he will never understand what he means to me.”

NFR Standings Update

Only two barrel racers have not hit barrels in this year’s NFR so far. Those two ladies now lead the aggregate race after Round Eight. Shelley Morgan and stalwart HR Fameskissandtell lead the aggregate with a time of 110.30. Morgan also sits in the No. 8 position in the world standings.

Shelley Morgan
Shelley Morgan and HR Fameskissandtell lead the aggregate race with a time of 110.30 after Round Eight of the Wrangler NFR. Photo by Kenneth Springer

—> 2022 Wrangler NFR First-Timers

Rookie of the Year Bayleigh Choate sits in the No. 2 position in the aggregate with a time of 111.53 from the help of two horses — Hail To Be Famous (Dash Ta Fame x Itty Bitty Boon x Flaming Talent) and TJR Stinson Blue, the 5-year-old Eddie Stinson gelding out of YO Threatnin Frost by Pat Cowan. It will be a race to the end to determine who can keep the remaining two barrels up for the aggregate title.

Bayleigh Choate
Bayleigh Choate moves to No. 2 in the aggregate race after Round Eight of the Wrangler NFR. Photo by Kenneth Springer

In the WPRA world standings race, Hailey Kinsel moves back into her lead after finishing fourth in Round Eight and adding $12,125.10 to her total, bringing her world standings earnings to $237,349.60. Kinsel also sits in the No. 8 position in the aggregate, which will pay $6,995 if she holds onto that position. Jordon Briggs sits in the No. 2 position in the world standings with $232,082.40 and sits in the No. 4 position in the aggregate, which will pay $34,976 if she holds that placing.

Wenda Johnson is still No. 3 in the world standings but has moved to No. 6 in the aggregate after hitting a barrel in Round Eight. Lisa Lockhart moves into the No. 3 position in the aggregate race and moves to No. 4 in the world after finishing Round Eight with a third-place time of 13.49.

NFR Barrel Racing Round Eight Results

Place, Name, Horse, Time, Money Won

  1. Leslie Smalygo, Justaheartbeattofame, 13.41 seconds, $28,914
  2. Emily Beisel, Namgis D 33, 13.43, $22,851
  3. Lisa Lockhart, Promise Me Fame Guys, 13.49, $17,255
  4. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 13.54, $12,125
  5. Kassie Mowry, CP He Will Be Epic, 13.56, $7,462
  6. (tie) Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, 13.58, $2,332
  7. (tie) Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Babe On The Chase, 13.58, $2,332
  8. Jordon Briggs, Famous Lil Jet, 13.59
  9. Stevi Hillman, Sand In My Socks, 13.60
  10. Shelley Morgan, HR Fameskissandtell, 13.65
  11. Bayleigh Choate, Hail To Be Famous, 13.67
  12. Margo Crowther, Shes Packin Fame, 18.54 *
  13. Sissy Winn, A R Dash Ta Flame, 18.71 *
  14. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, 18.85 *
  15. Wenda Johnson, Steal Money, 18.89 *

* denotes penalty

2022 WPRA World Standings

Rank, Name, Hometown, Earnings

  1. Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, TX, $237,349.60
  2. Jordon Briggs, Tolar, TX, $232,082.40
  3. Wenda Johnson, Pawhuska, OK, $206,676.62
  4. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, SD, $199,566.48
  5. Emily Beisel, Weatherford, OK, $198,866.98
  6. Dona Kay Rule, Minco, OK, $164,956.44
  7. Leslie Smalygo, Skiatook, OK, $158,342.95
  8. Shelley Morgan, Eustace, TX, $156,369.87
  9. Kassie Mowry, Dublin, TX, $150,121
  10. Margo Crowther, North Fort Myers, FL, $149,774.91
  11. Stevi Hillman, Granbury, TX, $138,063.82
  12. Sissy Winn, Chapman Ranch, TX, $136,564.71
  13. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, TX, $135,972.96
  14. Bayleigh Choate (R), Fort Worth, TX, $118,147.76
  15. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, SD, $111,319.95

Aggregate Standings on Eight Runs

Rank, Name, Aggregate Time

  1. Shelley Morgan, Eustace, Texas, 110.30 seconds on eight runs
  2. Bayleigh Choate, Fort Worth, Texas, 111.53
  3. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., 114.41
  4. Jordon Briggs, Tolar, Texas, 114.91
  5. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, Texas, 115.39
  6. Wenda Johnson, Pawhuska, Okla., 115.44
  7. Sissy Winn, Chapman Ranch, Texas, 116.03
  8. Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, Texas, 119.37
  9. Leslie Smalygo, Skiatook, Okla., 119.55
  10. Margo Crowther, North Fort Myers, Fla., 120.03
  11. Kassie Mowry, Dublin, Texas, 120.25
  12. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D., 120.98
  13. Emily Beisel, Weatherford, Okla., 123.49
  14. Dona Kay Rule, Minco, Okla., 126.47
  15. Stevi Hillman, Granbury, Texas, 130.67

Kailey Sullins is editor of Barrel Horse News, and an avid barrel racer and breakaway roper. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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