Rookie barrels her way to fine first-time finish

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

Savanah Reeves couldn't have scripted her Calgary Stampede debut any better.

The rookie blazed around the barrels in 17.83 seconds yesterday, pocketing $5,500 in the opening go-round of her first trip to the world-famous rodeo.

"This is my first time coming to Canada, my first time coming to the Calgary Stampede, so it's great," Reeves said. "I honestly didn't think I would win the first round.

"It's a great way to start."

Seated atop a 10-year-old gelding named Thunder, Reeves enjoyed a nearly flawless trip around the barrels, setting a speedy standard on the second ride of the day and upping the ante for a pair of former Stampede champs waiting for their numbers to be called.

Not a bad way to introduce herself to the Canadian fans, especially after hemming and hawing about whether to accept her invite to The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Reeves, who married pro steer wrestler Matt Reeves three days after graduating from college in December, is also trying to score a berth in the season-ending National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and was worried a four-day sojourn up north would cost her valuable points in the Women's Professional Rodeo Association standings.

She's sitting in 10th spot with US$35,650 in earnings, with the top dozen racers cashing tickets to Sin City.

"(The Calgary Stampede) is a great rodeo, but it doesn't count for the world standings and I'm trying to make my first NFR, too, so you're missing other rodeos," Reeves said.

"But, at the same time, I look at this like it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You know, they only take 20 (barrel racers) so it's a pretty big accomplishment just to get invited."

Gaylene Buff of Westwold, B.C., cashed a cheque for $4,500 after crossing the line in 17.96 seconds. The only other barrel racer to crack the 18-second barrier in yesterday's go-round was Suzanna DePaoli of Longview, Alta., who completed the course in 17.99 but was assessed a five-second penalty for knocking over a tub.

Kendra Edey of Longview settled for third spot with a clocking of 18.23 seconds, edging 2005 Stampede champ Molly Powell (18.27) of Stephenville, Tex., and 2004 winner Deb Renger (18.28) of Okotoks.

Buff was the pace-setter yesterday, but her opening run didn't hold up for long.

Reeves was the second racer out of the gates in the sun-soaked arena, clocking a time none of the other cowgirls could match.

By the time the dust settled, some horses were having trouble with their footing around the barrels.

"I think being at the top of the round really worked to my advantage," Reeves said.

"A lot of times, the ground gets more dug up toward the end, so normally it's an advantage to be at the beginning. It's normally faster."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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