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Top cowboys flock to Eugene.

Byline: Chris Hansen The Register-Guard

When the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association eased its restrictions on the number of competitions a cowboy must attend to qualify for the national rodeo, Eugene Pro Rodeo organizers thought their event would suffer.

They were wrong.

Now in its 14th year, the Eugene Pro Rodeo begins competition Thursday at the Oregon Horse Center in the first of two days of roping, riding and bucking, followed by the increasingly popular Firecracker Bullride on Saturday night.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. all three nights, and a fireworks show will precede each night's performances.

"We have a better lineup of contestants than we did last year, and last year was pretty good," said Malcom McRae, the Eugene Pro Rodeo spokesman. "We drew better and are deeper across the board."

That came as a pleasant surprise to McRae, who assumed there would be a decrease after the PRCA changed its format. Previously, cowboys had to compete in at least 100 rodeos a season and finish in the top 15 on the money list to be invited to the national rodeo finals in Las Vegas. Now, cowboys only need 50 rodeos under their belt to qualify, along with a top-15 money-list finish.

With that change, the national-caliber cowboys are being more selective about which rodeos they will attend. McRae figured that Eugene, which doesn't offer a huge purse, would have trouble drawing as talented a field as it has in years past. But that wasn't the case.

"It's a really nice contestant list," McRae said. "We're certainly well-represented by the Columbia River circuit and still have a bunch of national cowboys."

The team roping and bullriding events appear to be most stocked with top-level competitors.

Riding the bulls Thursday will be eight of the top-15 ranked individuals on the Columbia River circuit, including No. 1 JC Bean and No. 3 Shawn Waite of Redmond. Friday night, second-ranked Mason Michaelis and No. 6 Jared Hunter lead the field.

Not to be outdone, the bulls themselves are represented well, as two former PRCA Bucking Bull of the Year winners will be on hand.

Daniel Greene and Kerry Koontz tied the Eugene Pro Rodeo team-roping record last year when they recorded a time of five seconds to win the event. They will defend that title on Friday night

Challenging them will be the team of David Key (ranked fifth in the world) and Clay O'Brien Cooper (No. 7 in the world), as well as the Columbia River circuit's top-ranked team of John Hagler and Chad McDaniel.

"You will again see these guys threaten our arena records," McRae said.

The steer wrestling competition will be headlined Thursday by Lakeview's Shawn Greenfield, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, and Sam Willis of Redmond, who is No. 2 in the Columbia River circuit.

Fred Whitfield heads a strong contingent in tie-down roping (formerly known as calf roping). Whitfield is ranked No. 2 in the world and is a former world all-around and calf-rope champion.

He also owns the two fastest times in the event at the Eugene Pro Rodeo of 18.3 and 18.7 seconds.

Whitfield will be joined by Joe Beaver, another former all-around and calf-rope champion, in Friday's slack session, which starts at 8 a.m.

Thursday's bareback competition will feature Lan Lageunesse, ranked seventh in the world, and Powell Butte's Clint Corey, who holds two of the top-5 scores in the event at the Eugene Pro Rodeo.

In Friday night's saddle bronc session, the top four riders in the Columbia River circuit will compete, and nine of the top-15 overall.

Last year's barrel-racing competition provided the Eugene Pro Rodeo with three new times on the top-5 list. Two of the cowgirls who set those marks will be back for Friday night's session, as will Cindy Woods, the No. 1 ranked barrel racer in the Columbia River circuit.
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Title Annotation:A deeper and more talented field than last year is expected for this week's three-day show; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 2, 2003
Words:650
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