LAS VEGAS — December 1, 2022 — Wenda Johnson and Steal Money took home the win in Round One of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge with a time of 13.57, worth $28,913.70.

“He loves to go and do,” Johnson said of Steal Money. “It was a little snug somewhere at the second or third. I’m going to have to ask for just a bit more tomorrow night. But other than that, he wants to go do. He’s pretty honest, and I do my best to help him be successful.”

While “Mo” has had success inside the Thomas and Mack Center arena in previous years, taking home the Round Four win in 2021, Johnson says she’s careful not to put unnecessary pressure on the 6-year-old bay gelding by First Moonflash and out of Im Chica Stoli by Stoli.

“I never have expectations,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that’s fair to the horses. You have to take it one day at a time and run at a time. Every moment that comes, then I try to approach it each moment by moment and break it down barrel by barrel.”

Johnson is a three-time NFR barrel racing qualifier and has done so with a group of talented geldings, previously owned by Tres Mesa Horses of Fort Worth, Texas, and all trained by Luis Hernandez. In fact, she joined the WPRA in 2018 specifically with the intentions of campaigning the Tres Mesa Horses for owner Mark Singletary. She traveled to a limited number of rodeos in 2019 and eventually qualified for her first NFR in 2020. Mo, along with her other NFR qualifying mount Macgyver Moonflash, have since sold to Highpoint Performance Horses.

Johnson has built her professional rodeo career with the goal of preserving the longterm well being of the horses she rides. She’s earned a reputation of working on a limited rodeo count — making sure to utilize her horses responsibly and enter in events she knows has the greatest potential for her horses to be successful, and events that will be the most meaningful for her standings position. Johnson has capitalized on those rodeos. She entered this year’s NFR in in the No. 3 position in the world standings race from only 31 rodeos.

“I pick and choose which rodeos I want to go to,” Johnson said. “I could go more, but I’m conscientious of how much I run the horses. I really try to limit the rodeo runs they make and try to minimize the risk of injury.”

Along with her strategic competition schedule, Johnson’s partnership with the horses she jockeys has also always been an unorthodox pairing. The three geldings responsible for her NFR qualifications — Mo, Macgyver Moonflash and Dreams First Flash — were all were trained on the barrels by Hernandez and live at Tres Mesa under his care when they’re not being hauled to competitions with Johnson. All three geldings share the same sire, First Moonflash, and have collectively won close to $550,000 in the barrel pen as of press time and make up three of the top four all-time highest-earning First Moonflash barrel racing progeny, according to EquiStat. Mo made headlines early in his career, winning close to $50,000 with Kassie Mowry during his futurity year.

In August of 2022, the geldings sold to Highpoint Performance Horses, however Johnson says their life and schedule as remained the same, even continuing to stay in the hands of Hernandez when Johnson isn’t taking them down the professional rodeo road.

“Highpoint purchased them in August, but we’ve kept the same arrangement,” Johnson said. “So it’s fantastic. Luis continues to ride them and exercise them, keeps them in great shape, and I get to go jockey them.”

—> 2022 WPRA Top 15 Stats

Speaking of notable partnerships, EquiStat $5 million earner Kassie Mowry put her mark on two horses in this year’s NFR barrel racing Round One winner’s roster — Mo, as well as her own CP He Will Be Epic, whom she rode to the second-place finish in the round. Mowry and “Will,” by Epic Leader and out of Percilla by Dash Ta Fame, turned in a 13.65 to finish second for $22,851.15. The second-place finish gave Mowry a big boost in the world standings, moving her from 10th to No. 6.

Kassie Mowry CP He Will Be Epic 2022 NFR
Kassie Mowry rode CP He Will Be Epic to a time of 13.65 to finish second in Round One of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. Photo by Kenneth Springer

Round One Notable Runs

Round One of NFR barrel racing was a tight race with only 0.34 seconds separating first and sixth place. Among the Round One money earners was first-time NFR qualifier Leslie Smalygo. The Skiatook, Oklahoma, resident ran a 13.80 aboard Justaheartbeatofame to finish fourth, worth $12,125.10. The paycheck moved her from 15th in the world standings to No. 11.

While Smalygo was the only first-time qualifier to take home a paycheck in Round One, the entire newbie field turned in qualified runs. Margo Crowther rode Shes Packin Fame to a 13.92, Bayleigh Choate rode TJR Stinson Blue to a 13.97 and Sissy Winn turned in a 14.19 aboard Chewingthehotwire.

—> 2022 Wrangler NFR First-Timers

For the second consecutive year, the PRCA and Las Vegas Events have upped the purse money for the Wrangler NFR, bringing it to a record-setting more than $10.9 million. Based on the updated purse, the increase will see round winners take home $28,914 and average winners earn $74,150. Each round will pay a total of $93,270, while the average will pay $279,811 per event. Each qualifier also receives $10,000 for their qualification to the NFR, and it’s added to their world standings total at the conclusion of Round One.

Payout Per Round, Per Event

1st: $28,914

2nd: $22,851

3rd: $17,255

4th: $12,125

5th: $7,462

6th: $4,664

Total: $93,270

Aggregate Payout, Per Event

1st: $74,150

2nd: $60,159

3rd: $47,568

4th: $34,976

5th: $25,183

6th: $18,188

7th: $12,591

8th: $6,995

Total: $279,811

NFR Barrel Racing Round One Results

Place, Name, Horse, Time, Money Won

  1. Wenda Johnson, Steal Money, 13.57, $28,913.70
  2. Kassie Mowry, CP He Will Be Epic, 13.65, $22,851.15
  3. Jordon Briggs, Famous Lil Jet, 13.70, $17,254.95
  4. Leslie Smalygo, Justaheartbeattofame, 13.80, $12,125.10
  5. Emily Beisel, Namgis D 33, 13.82, $7,461.60
  6. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, 13.91, $4,663.50
  7. Margo Crowther, Shes Packin Fame, 13.92
  8. Bayleigh Choate, TJR Stinson Blue, 13.97
  9. Lisa Lockhart, Promise Me Fame Guys, 13.98
  10. Shelley Morgan, HR Fameskissandtell, 14.04
  11. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, RC Black In Famous, 14.09
  12. Stevi Hillman, French Zone, 14.17
  13. Sissy Winn, Chewingthehotwire, 14.19
  14. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, 14.40
  15. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 18.89 *

* denotes penalty

2022 WPRA World Standings (after Round One)

Rank, Name, Hometown, Earnings

  1. Jordon Briggs, Tolar, TX, $205,034.10
  2. Wenda Johnson, Pawhuska, OK, $160,507.97
  3. Dona Kay Rule, Minco, OK, $142,105.29
  4. Stevi Hillman, Granbury, TX, $130,602.22
  5. Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, TX, $129,389.58
  6. Kassie Mowry, Dublin, TX, $125,404.45
  7. Shelley Morgan, Eustace, TX, $120,460.92
  8. Sissy Winn, Chapman Ranch, TX, $111,848.16
  9. Emily Beisel, Weatherford, OK, $111,426.36
  10. Margo Crowther, North Fort Myers, FL, $106,870.71
  11. Leslie Smalygo, Skiatook, OK, $106,578.10
  12. Bayleigh Choate (R), Fort Worth, TX, $100,892.81
  13. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, TX, $98,431.79
  14. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, SD, $96,863.10
  15. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, SD, $94,870.91

2022 WPRA World Standings (Prior to NFR)

Rank, Name, Hometown, Earnings

  1. Jordon Briggs, Tolar, TX, $177,779.15
  2. Dona Kay Rule, Minco, OK, $127,441.79
  3. Wenda Johnson, Pawhuska, OK, $121,594.27
  4. Stevi Hillman, Granbury, TX, $120,602.22
  5. Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, TX, $119,389.58
  6. Shelley Morgan, Eustace, TX, $110,460.92
  7. Sissy Winn, Chapman Ranch, TX, $101,848.16
  8. Margo Crowther, North Fort Myers, FL, $96,870.71
  9. Emily Beisel, Weatherford, OK, $93,964.76
  10. Kassie Mowry, Dublin, TX, $92,553.30
  11. Bayleigh Choate (R), Fort Worth, TX, $90,892.81
  12. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, TX, $88,431.79
  13. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, SD, $86,863.10
  14. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, SD, $84,870.91
  15. Leslie Smalygo, Skiatook, OK, $84,453

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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