Many of professional rodeo’s top performers traveled from all over the country for this weekend’s Central States Fair Range Days Rodeo. An most of them went away empty-handed as Badlands Circuit Dakota cowboys not only claimed four of the seven event titles but dominated the top five in all of the events.

As the last big rodeo of the Badlands Circuit season, the Range Days has particular significance for circuit performers hoping to assure a top-12 spot in circuit standings and thereby earn a trip to the October circuit finals in Minot, N.D., and possibly to the Ram National Finals in Oklahoma City in the spring.

So much for a little extra pressure, as Chason Floyd (Ludlow, steer wrestling), Cole Elshere (Faith, saddle bronc), Abe Dillman (Grassy Butte, N.D., bull riding), and Britany Fleck (Mandan, N.D., barrel racing) turned in winning performances. They joined Justin Maass (tie-down roping), Kyle Brennecke (bareback), and Dustin Chohon and Matt Kasner (team roping) as event winners.

“Making the circuit finals is a huge goal for me,” said Troy Crowser, a Whitewood saddle bronc rider who came into the weekend fifth in the Badlands Circuit and 20th in the world. “There are a lot of great South Dakota saddle bronc riders who have never made it to the national circuit finals, so that would be special.”

While Crowser was victimized by a bucking horse not similarly motivated, traveling partners Elshere (No. 1 in Badlands, No. 15 in world) and Chuck Schmidt (No. 4 and No. 27) solidified their Badlands standings while pocketing money toward a possible trip to the PRCA National Finals in December.

That so many of the PRCA’s best were on hand this weekend -- among them former world champion steer wrestlers Luke Branquinho and Jason Miller and 2007 bull riding titlist Wesley Silcox -- spoke volumes about the growing prestige of the Range Days Rodeo.

“It’s a good rodeo with some good money added,” Silcox said. “I came here with Ardie and Corey Maier and Steve Woolsey, and I need to play catch-up to make the NFR and win a lot of money in a short amount of time. So this is a good stop for me.”

For many Dakota cowboys, a top-five finish was a win in itself. Bareback rider Casey Breuer (Mandan, N.D.) used a second-place finish to vault past Agar’s Joe Gunderson into the top spot in the circuit standings. Highmore’s Clay Cowan used Saturday night top-five finishes in steer wrestling and tie-down roping to climb into the top 12 in current circuit standings and a possible spot with one rodeo remaining to qualify for the circuit finals.

For Gunderson, the 2010 Range Days winner and NFR qualifier currently 19th in the world standings, a fourth-place finish did more than simply contribute money toward a possible National Finals Rodeo berth.

“We have to go to 15 Badlands Circuit rodeos to qualify for the circuit final, and this is my 15th,” Gunderson said. “But it’s a rodeo I would have come to anyway. It’s got good horses and it pays well, just the kind of rodeo you look for.”

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