Trevor Brazile and Travis Graves Win Salinas in No-Nonsense Fashion

Brazile and Graves add Salinas to their list of major wins this year.
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Brazile and Graves add Salinas to their list of major wins this year.
Credit: Phil Doyle Photography

Credit: Phil Doyle Photography

So when they roped five steers in 44.4 seconds to win the California Rodeo Salinas and $7,659, they didn’t gush or gloat. They said and did the right things with an air of satisfied pride. Given the chance, they expected to win, so why should they be surprised? Act like you’ve been there before.

What’s funny is that while both of them treated the win like business-as-usual, they each talked about how the California Rodeo Salinas is more like a vacation than business.

For four days, the rodeo gypsy camp stays in one place and the ropers play softball, barbeque, day trip to the beach and rope.

“It’s like a little vacation,” Graves said. “The family comes and we go to the ocean and it’s cool, sixties in the day and fifties at night. You have to wear a sweatshirt in the mornings. There’s four days when we’re not doing anything. You get to recharge.”

Of course, team roping legends of the modern era, from Camarillos on down, are there to compete in the Gold Card roping, so in addition to a vacation, it can feel like a homecoming, too.

“That’s one of the best things about Salinas,” Brazile said. “We’ve been rodeoing hard over the Fourth and after that we’re at Calgary, Casper, Sheridan, and Ogden so to get to slow down for four days in one spot with great weather makes it a great rodeo.”

Then, of course, there’s the unique, unchanging aspects of the team roping that only Salinas affords. The long score, both ropers leaving out of the same box, and a five-head average make it one-of-a-kind.

Despite the romance for ropers on the trail of a gold buckle, Salinas is an objective toward a goal. You win as much money as you can wherever you can. Brazile won it in 2012 with Patrick Smith, so the novelty of a first-time win was not there.

“It was just about the money in Salinas,” he said. “There are two good rodeos that week, but there are only two.”

Graves did allow himself to enjoy the spoils of the win a bit more, but still didn’t lose sight of his ultimate goal.

“As a kid, you always hear about Salinas, the buckles are so beautiful,” he said. “To me, it’s the gold buckle then this one. I have it on right now.”

To get to that point, though, they had to navigate five steers. The first one, a 7.9, was the only one of the first four they placed on, yet they still managed to enter the short go as the high team with a 34.8-second time on four.

“We didn’t have very many that we could place in the day moneys—just our first one—they weren’t great, but they didn’t take us out of it to the back end or anything,” Brazile said. “All in all, we just drew right down the middle.”

On their heels were Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill (36.3 on four) as well as Erich Rogers and Cory Petska (36.9).

Rogers and Petska applied the most pressure with an 8.8-second run, which wound up tying for second in the final round with Jake Barnes and Junior Nogueira. Still, a 10.8-second run would give Brazile and Graves the win. Tryan—who has won Salinas an amazing five times—and Corkill—who has a Salinas buckle himself—could only manage a 9.5-second run.

“That just allowed us to make a solid run and we’d win it,” Graves said. And that’s exactly what the 9.6-second gem did. The win moved them into second place in the PRCA World Standings behind Tryan and Corkill.

“They’re roping good and they’ve done it all year—not just in spurts,” Brazile said of the leaders. “They don’t make many mistakes. We have to try to capitalize on good steers.”

While they do have the leaders to chase, the sentiment is clear that both men are very happy with their new partnership and believe they have a high ceiling together.

“It’s been great,” Brazile said. “He’s ready to go anywhere. It’s as easy as a partnership can get, especially this time of year when everybody has their own idea about how they want to do something. He’s always up for whatever, whenever. I have full confidence he’s going to get his job done.”

Graves, who has roped with three of the best headers in the game (Clay Tryan, Kaleb Driggers and Brazile) over the past three years, was asked to compare their styles. Though unable to rank any above the other, roping behind and competing with each of them gives him a rare perspective.

“I’ve had three really great partners,” he said. “Kaleb is more of a reacher. I won more firsts last year with him than I had ever had. It’s funny, though, Trevor rides the barrier really good and he’s really aggressive, too. It’s a different style, though. He’s got great horses and he relies on his horses more than his roping ability. All year long he’s using his horse, riding the barrier and being aggressive, where Kaleb uses his ability more. With Clay, when it goes on the horns, it happens a lot faster, where sometimes Trevor will sacrifice being faster to make sure he’s taking care of me. That’s the biggest difference between those two, I’d say.

“Kaleb is young and real laid back. Nothing bothers him. Clay is such a competitor, he wants to do good every time and is very intense. Trevor is in between them. He works hard at it and likes to win and when he does bad, he’s mad for five minutes and then it’s over. That’s the key to winning all the time is to have a short memory.”

And he should know. In his five trips to the Wrangler NFR, he’s had three top-three finishes. Not breaking through for a world title with so many close calls doesn’t nag at him, though. True to character, he has a businessman’s approach to his odds.

“If I go in enough times at the top, it’s going to happen eventually,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working at it. That’s all you can do.”