Mix and Match

For 28 cowboys and cowgirls, the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out will be their first appearance in a Pace Series event and their first shot at a chunk of the $350,000 payout to boost their bottom line.

For 20 other cowboys, the Chute-out in Tulsa, Okla., this weekend will be at least their ninth finale, making them seasoned veterans when it comes to the big events.

But regardless of a cowboy's age or experience at finales, they all have one thing in common — they can't wait for the competition.

"I'm really excited to get a chance to go again," said saddle bronc rider Rusty Allen, who will attend his third Pace event. "They try to screen all the stock, so the odds of having good horses are better and your chances are better. It's such a big opportunity."

For first-timers, the Pace Chute-out promises excitement, the possibility of a big payday and another thing checked off the to-do list.

"That was kind of a goal of mine, to make the Tour finale," said D.V. Fennell, a Pace event rookie in bareback riding. "I'm just having a blast."

Steer wrestler Kyle Whitaker, another Pace rookie, is also looking forward to Tulsa.

"I'm really excited about going," he said. "I'm hoping I can pick up some pretty good checks and move up in the standings. Anybody who goes in the winter spends a lot of time and money trying to qualify (for the finale), so it's really an accomplishment when you do."

The event with the most Pace rookies is barrel racing, where seven of 12 women have never been to a finale, including Mary Burger, who finished second in Tour points. Just one tie-down roper, Caddo Lewallen, is a Pace Series rookie.

The event with the most finale experience is tie-down roping. Four ropers, Trevor Brazile, Cody Ohl, Fred Whitfield and Blair Burk have a combined 55 qualifications between them. Ohl has won one crystal cup, Whitfield has three and Burk has two. Brazile is hoping for his first and has two chances because he also qualified in team roping.

The other veteran-laden event is saddle bronc riding. Four riders, Dan Mortensen, Billy Etbauer, Rod Hay and Glen O'Neill, have a combined 50 Pace series qualifications between them. Mortensen has three crystal cups, Etbauer has earned one, and O'Neill has two. Hay hopes this will be his year to add the hardware to his trophy case.

The bareback riding field is split. Five riders will attend their first Pace event, but three cowboys have at least nine qualifications on their resume, including Will Lowe, who holds the record for most Pace event victories at five.

Despite a relatively young group of bull riders, only two are Pace event rookies — Wesley Silcox, who qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last year, but will make his Pace debut this weekend, and J.C. Bean.

With the clear contrast of finale veterans and rookies, this weekend's action should be an interesting battle.