Does Tuf Cooper have the 2023 NFR Made or Could Luke Potter Upset with Sioux Falls?
With 12 rodeos left in the regular season, the pool of money available to calf ropers trying to make something happen and break into the Top 15 is shrinking.
Tuf Cooper at the National Finals Rodeo.
Tuf Cooper rode "Roanie," at two National Finals Rodeo appearances. Image by Dan Hubbell Rodeo Images.

The race for the calf roping Top 15 is going to go down to the very end, with the No. 15 cutoff higher than ever and athletes like Tuf Cooper and Luke Potter pulling out all the stops.

There will be more heroics before the ProRodeo regular season concludes on Saturday night, September 30, and the final tabulations of who qualifies to this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) are done.

Who will have the nerves to succeed? Will World Champ Tuf Cooper pull off the huge, late season upset and hold off the challengers? Or will 2020 Rookie of the Year Luke Potter earn his first trip? Could Zack Jongbloed come back to the Finals for the second year or Kincade Henry finish 15th twice in a row?

Clutch Performances

Tuf Cooper provided one of the biggest performances during the season’s second-to-last weekend. On the outside of the bubble looking in, and without the benefit of the Cinch Playoffs Governor’s Cup on the final weekend, the three-time World Champ hit the road to ensure he didn’t miss his first Wrangler NFR since 2016, crisscrossing the country and picking up better than $10,000 to vault to 15th.

Ranked 17th a week ago, Cooper won three rodeos, Springhill, Louisiana and Poway and San Bernardino, both in California. He also placed in Sonoma, California and Omaha, Nebraska to keep hopes of a 15th Wrangler NFR alive.

On the ‘safe’ side of the bubble, Blane Cox and Caleb Smidt are breathing a bit easier after the weekend. The latter, the reigning and four-time World Champ, picked up two wins in his home state of Texas at Amarillo and Stephenville. He won nearly $5,000 to move off the bubble at 13th and settle just inside the top ten.

Sioux Falls and Luke Potter’s opportunity

All eyes on the final night of the regular season, September 30, will be on The Cinch Playoffs Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the Young Living’s Last Chance Rodeo in Mona, Utah.

The Saturday night perf in Mona will be the last gasp for Tuf Cooper and Zack Jongbloed. The latter is $9,537 behind Cooper and neither has qualified to Sioux Falls. Cooper will try to stay red-hot as he rolls from Pasadena (Tex.) to Cumberland (Maine) to Edmonton (Alberta) and finally Mona while Jongbloed has two bullets left, Pasadena and Mona.

Cooper and Jongbloed are definitely at a disadvantage in terms of potential prize money compared with the contestants who will compete in South Dakota, but they also won’t be going head-to-head against top competitors like Webb, Haven Meged, Mayfield and Shane Hanchey, who thrive on high-pressure, big money moments.

Two others qualified for Sioux Falls are 16th ranked Luke Potter and 14th ranked Henry.

Twelve guys will compete there in two long rounds on Thursday and Friday. Here’s the payout for each night:

  1. $10,000
  2. $7,500
  3. $5,000
  4. $2,500

That kind of money alone could make an impact but remember that nine of the ten best in the world right now, according to the standings, are competing so winning a check, let alone the first place one, will involve surviving the knife fight that’s sure to take place inside Denny Sanford Premier Center each night.

Following the first two rounds, the top eight in the two-head average will advance to the final night where they will compete in the usual eight-man, four-man shootout, all sudden death rounds for the championship. Those who don’t survive the eight round will be paid $2,555.55 on Saturday while the final four will move on to rope for this payout:

  1. $25,000
  2. $19,000
  3. $12,000
  4. $6,000

All of it counts toward the standings.

The Governor’s Cup is just one of a dozen rodeos on the final weekend but the reality is that winning all of the other rodeos would likely barely match what the one round win in Sioux Falls will pay.

Here’s who will be in Sioux Falls (with the current world ranking):

Riley Webb 1st

Haven Meged 2nd

Shad Mayfield 3rd

Shane Hanchey 4th

Ty Harris 5th

Cory Solomon 6th

Blane Cox 7th

Westyn Hughes 8th

Caleb Smidt 9th

John Douch 11th

Kincade Henry 14th

Luke Potter 16th

There are four ropers who own gold buckles in the group include Smidt, the four-time and reigning champ. The group represents 50 Wrangler NFR qualifications and seven average titles. Potter is the only roper in the bunch who has not yet experienced the Thomas & Mack Arena in Vegas.

Potter needs $8,800 right now to catch Cooper so he’ll need to be aggressive from the start in South Dakota plus he’ll take a shot at Mona in the Wednesday slack. With less than a go round win at the Governor’s Cup separating sixth through fifteenth in the standings, there could be a lot of shuffling without much change up in who actually stays inside the top fifteen.

Apart from Potter, Cooper and Jongbloed, World Champ Marcos Costa is the only other roper in the top 20 who is entered up to try for the last ditch run but he may not have enough on the table to win, despite several rodeos still on his schedule.

Calf roping world standings

RankAthleteHometownEarningsDistance from 15th
1Riley WebbDenton, Texas$278,621.80 
2Haven MegedMiles City, Montana$191,753.01 
3Shad MayfieldClovis, New Mexico$167,853.81 
4Shane HancheySulphur, Louisiana$154,877.02 
5Ty HarrisSan Angelo, Texas$139,681.50 
6Cory SolomonPrairie View, Texas$119,408.58$9,706.59
7Blane CoxCameron, Texas$118,334.28$8,632.29
8Westyn HughesCaldwell, Texas$117,447.44$7,745.45
9Caleb SmidtBellville, Texas$117,133.14$7,431.15
10Beau CooperStettler, Alberta$116,881.96$7,179.97
11John DouchHuntsville, Texas$115,054.18$5,352.19
12Brushton MintonWitter Springs, California$114,596.68$4,894.69
13Hunter HerrinApache, Oklahoma$112,536.68$2,834.69
14Kincade HenryMount Pleasant, Texas$111,735.84$2,033.85
15Tuf CooperDecatur, Texas$109,701.99 
16Luke PotterMaple City, Kansas$100,873.08$8,828.91
17Zack JongbloedIowa, Louisiana$100,165.41$9,536.58
18Michael OteroCollinsville, Texas$96,570.66$13,131.33
19Jake PrattEllensburg, Washington$94,836.55$14,865.44
20Marcos CostaIretama, PR$93,675.61$16,026.38