Jake Barnes: Getting It Strait

The George Strait Team Roping Classic is legend
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The George Strait Team Roping Classic is legend

It’s springtime, and we’re all gearing up for one of the greatest team ropings of the year: the George Strait Team Roping Classic (March 13-14). From California to Florida, people come from coast to coast to rope at the highest paying team roping of all time. With the trucks, the trailers and the cash, it’s just a great roping. George’s roping is unique in that there are nearly 700 open teams, so they have rotations. Everybody ropes two steers, and the top teams from each rotation come back the second day. You might be 11 on two and not make it back, then be 14 on two in a different rotation and make it back, so there’s that twist. I think that’s one of the reasons so many guys go, because you’re not really competing against 700 teams to make it back. Fifty teams come back on the second day, and it starts over. Everybody ropes three steers. They pay three go-rounds. They also have 10 or 12 red-wrap steers. If you draw one of those randomly chosen steers and win the round, it’s an extra $10,000. If nobody wins the $10,000 in the first round, the money doubles and the second round is worth $20,000, if you win it on a red-wrap steer. That triples to $30,000 if it goes to the third go-round. The trucks, trailers and big checks go to the average winners on three. Garrett Tonozzi won first and second last year, and won over $183,000 in cash plus the truck and trailer. The producers take a big cut out of most ropings, but George and the Strait family are incredible. For $1,500 you can enter three times, and that kind of return and odds on your money is amazing.

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We start each year off with a second partner, because most of the ropings we go to are go twice. But at the Strait you get a third shot at it. Just like your first and second partners, you pick your third one based on the guy you think you can win with.

The cattle are fresh at the start of the roping. A lot of them don’t really start, then take off and run. So it’s a big scoring contest, and you need a horse that scores really well and can also run. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s always a huge advantage to ride a horse that scores and runs.

Because the cattle are small and fresh, you have to handle them pretty soft at this roping. It’s a roping contest, but in those short-score conditions it’s going to be a really tough three-steer. The guys who draw good steers have the upper hand, as always, but don’t underestimate the importance of horsepower.

The hardest part of the Strait is making sure you get your team—or better yet teams—back to the finals. It’s a great feeling if you get multiple shots at it. There are hundreds of steers that first day, then they sort them and bring back 50 steers that have been hand-picked to be even for the finals.

There are different strategies to use at this roping. You can take some chances and try to blitz three head and win it outright. Or you can be conservative, and up your odds at good money. They pay a lot of places, and the payoff all the way to the bottom is incredible. Three solid runs of smart roping usually get a good check. A lot of times the bottom holes are a little easier because so many guys run over themselves trying to be really fast.

I hope lightning strikes three times. I’ve won the Strait two times (the first time with John Paul Lucero, and the second time with Allen Bach) in the 25 years or so I’ve gone to it. What some people might not remember is that way back when only Texas residents could enter. Going to the Strait is such a huge payday. We all look forward to it every year. Winning this roping sets your year up financially. The (Wrangler) National Finals (Rodeo) on the rodeo side, and the Strait, the Wildfire, the BFI and US(TRC) Finals on the jackpot side are our majors and the open ropers really appreciate them and the people who work so hard to put them on. Anytime you win one of the big ones it’s such a financial blessing.