What was the best run ever made in the history of calf roping? Good luck answering that one. Calf roping is one of rodeo’s oldest events and millions of runs have been made in both rodeos and jackpots in calf roping’s century-plus existence.
Conditions have changed a lot in that time too—today’s 7.0-second run is yesterday’s 10-flat, so time alone can’t be the determining factor. Add to these challenges the fact that guys like Cody Ohl, Joe Beaver, Fred Whitfield, Roy Cooper, Dean Oliver—the giants of the sport—made runs nearly every time they nodded that could make a best runs highlight reel. So, how does a list of the best runs ever get put together? Throw out some favorites and let you, the readers, add your own to the list.
THE BEST…BY TIME
5.7 seconds, Lee Phillips, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, 1978
Interestingly, the two-time Canadian champion steer wrestler Phillips once held the world record in steer wrestling, too, but it’s his 5.7-second run that is still on top in the calf roping. The record book notes that Phillips never left the box on the run and Phillips himself called it a bit of a fluke. Phillips made 9 trips to the Canadian Finals Rodeo and served three years as the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) President.
6.3 seconds, Ricky Canton, Strathmore, Alberta, 2005
Call it the Canadian air. Fifteen-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Canton set the bar high with his run in Strathmore just one day before winning the prestigious Cheyenne Frontier Days. He did it all just before his 40th birthday.
6.3 seconds, Tuf Cooper, Calgary Stampede, 2011
Cooper had already knocked one down in 6.4 earlier in the rodeo but pulled out the arena record time with the pressure on in the Championship Shootout to claim the win and $100,000.
6.38 Seconds, Marty Yates, RFD-TV’s The American, 2018
Though definitive records for jackpots and regional rodeos are harder to come by, Marty Yates’ 6.38-second run to clinch his second consecutive RFD-TV’s The American title was seen by the world. Yates was forced to the near record speed by Cory Solomon’s 6.45-second run in the same event.
6.5 seconds, Cody Ohl, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2003
Ohl blows through one in 6.5 seconds, an arena record on its own at the time, to come from behind and beat Fred Whitfield for the PRCA World Championship. It capped a remarkable comeback for Ohl, who missed much of the 2002 season after tearing three tendons in his right knee at the 2001 Wrangler NFR.
6.5 seconds, Clint Robinson, Ryan Jarrett, Riley Pruitt, Shad Mayfield, Marty Jones
Robinson’s run came in Amarillo in 2004, the second oldest of the 6.5-second runs on the list. Jarrett laid his down in Omaha during the Tour Finale event in 2014, while Pruitt’s run came during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo during the first year of its tournament rodeo in 2020. Both Mayfield’s and Jones’ runs came at the Calgary Stampede. Mayfield’s happened in 2021 during pool competition, while Jones posted his in 1993.
THE BEST… IN THE MARATHON WRANGLER NATIONAL FINALS AVERAGE
8.4 seconds, Shane Hanchey, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2013
With a world title and the average on the line, Hanchey calmly tied his last calf of the 2013 Wrangler NFR in 8.4 seconds to win the average in a record setting time of 80.1 seconds. Despite Cody Ohl tying his last one down in 6.6 seconds and winning his fifth round of the week, Hanchey’s average heroics allowed him to clinch the World Championship by $4,105, and his record still stands today.
7.5 seconds, Fred Whitfield, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 1997
One night after setting the new arena record (and holding it only for one run), Whitfield ties his final calf in 7.5 seconds to secure not only the average win but in record time at 84.0 seconds. Whitfield beat the previous record (which he also held) by 7.7 seconds and kept it for 16 years until Shane Hanchey bested it by 3.9 seconds in 2013.
THE BEST…BECAUSE OF THE MOMENT
7.2 seconds, Trevor Brazile, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2018
Needing to win the round to secure the All Around title, his 26th World Championship, Brazile battled back from a tough NFR to tie one down in 7.2 seconds to secure the title. He earned his 74th NFR go-round win during the final NFR run of his career.
6.8 seconds, Jeff Chapman, 9th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 1997
We’re cheating here. This is three runs for the price of one with World title implications to boot. Just 24 hours after Ricky Hyde’s 7.1-second run had set a new standard for the NFR, Blair Burk kicked things off in the second to last performance of the NFR, breaking the new arena record with a run of 7.0 seconds. That record would last only moments as Fred Whitfield stepped to the plate and beat it, stopping the clock in 6.9 seconds, despite holding a lead in the average, also on record pace.
Riding Burk’s horse, Chapman followed as the next to rope and still in the hunt for the World Championship, as was Whitfield. Chapman coolly beat them all, shaving yet another tenth off the newly minted Finals record after putting 6.8 on the board to the standing cheers of the capacity crowd at the Thomas & Mack.
Often dubbed the greatest night of calf roping, Chapman’s time stood up as the best at the Finals for several years and was significant in that it came in the era before 6-second runs were common.
8.0 seconds, Roy Cooper, 10th Go, National Finals Rodeo, 1984
Cooper clinched his sixth gold buckle in the calf roping by tying the Myriad Arena record and winning the round during the final NFR to be held in Oklahoma City.
9.4 seconds, Brent Lewis, Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Pocatello, Idaho, 2001
Though Lewis owns Wrangler NFR go round wins and even an average title, it may be this 9.4-second run, which did not win first, which many cite as his most memorable. Riding his 2000 AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year, Kid Taurus, aka “Grumpy,” Lewis decided to showcase just how awesome his horse was when the moment was about as big as it could be: during the final four round at the DNCFR with a national title and tons of prize money on the line.
Lewis pulled the bridle and tie down from Grumpy’s head, backed in the box with nothing but the neck rope, and brought the crowd to its feet with a roar when he threw his hands in the air after making a smooth, beautiful run. It remains one of ProRodeo’s most incredible celebrations of a horse who loved his job and a roper with enough trust and faith in him to let his light shine on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
THE BEST…BECAUSE OF THE ADVERSITY
40.9 seconds, Cody Ohl, 9th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2001
With a record 52 Wrangler NFR go-round wins, a run of 40.9 seconds does not, on its face, seem like it belongs in a “best of” list, particularly when associated with Cody Ohl, one of the giants of the sport.
The run began with a rare miss, forcing Ohl to his second loop. When he roped the calf off the back corner and stepped off his horse, that’s when the legend was sealed. Ohl blew out his knee as he dismounted but quitting wasn’t an option for the uber-competitive Ohl, who needed the qualified run to secure his first All Around World Championship and third tie down title. He gritted his way through the flank and tie under the time limit, making the run was one of the most significant in his Hall of Fame career. Ohl accepted his gold buckles 24 hours later on crutches.
7.2 seconds, Stran Smith, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2008
Smith throws a wrap-and-a-half on his final calf to win second in the round and the average en route to his first World Championship during his 10th trip to the NFR. But first he’d survived a deadly head on-crash, which killed his friend and fellow roper Shawn McMullan in 1996, as well as a stroke in 2003 that led to the discovery of a rare heart condition which required surgery.
9.5 seconds, Joe Beaver, 10th Go, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2000
When Joe B. tied up his final calf of the 2000 Wrangler NFR, he clinched an epic comeback. After missing most of 1999 with injuries, Beaver returned to the Finals but trailing in the All Around race by $75,000. Roping with Bret Gould in the team roping, plus tie down, he marched all the way back to win his third All Around World Championship. The 9.5-second final tie-down run did not draw a check but allowed him to win fifth in the average.
THE BEST…BECAUSE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES
10.1 seconds, Dean Oliver, 9th Go, National Finals Rodeo, 1969
Oliver won his seventh calf roping championship in 1964, tying him with Toots Mansfield for the record. He then took home two straight Reserve World titles including a heartbreaker in 1966 when he, Junior Garrison and Ronnye Sewalt began the NFR separated by just $120. Oliver won four rounds that year and appeared headed to the record eighth gold buckle, but had his rope break in both the final two rounds, costing him the title by just $95.84.
In 1969, after turning 40, Oliver finally got his eighth title after tying up the final calf in 10.1 seconds, winning second in the round. He banked $38,118 that year, setting a new single season earnings record for any event.
11.8 seconds, Dale Smith, Tucson, Arizona, 1967-68?
Roping in the rain on slick ground conditions, Smith stops the clock in 11.8 seconds to win the go round and the average for $1,337. Making the win even more special is that Smith was riding Poker Pot, a grandson of his Hall of Fame horse Poker Chip Peake.
11.0 seconds, Dean Oliver, Houston, Texas, Short Go, Year Unknown
“I drew a calf that had outrun two or three other guys, partly because of the small arena. I caught it just past the middle of the arena and flanked it down. In that 11 seconds, I won $3,000.” As told to Hooves and Horns, April 1968 edition.