Penning at Stampede

In saddle, from left, Russell Armstrong of Armstrong, B.C., Bob Armstrong of Armstrong, B.C., and Wallace McComish of Stettler, Alta., won the Calgary Stampede’s 14 Class Team Cattle Penning Competition on Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, splitting a championship cheque of $15,450. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

It’s easy to be awestruck by an accessory like this. Just ask Wallace McComish.

“During my first year of team penning in 2006, my team finished second in the 5 Class final here at the Stampede,” said the affable resident of Stettler, Alta., on Friday. “And when we were waiting in line at the awards presentation, they handed us the champions’ buckles by mistake . . . said, ‘Oops,’ and had to take ’em back.

“I got enough of a feel of it,” added McComish with a chuckle, “that I really, really wanted one. And I’ve tried very hard to get it ever since.”

McComish’s hard work finally paid off at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday evening. McComish and the father-and-son team of Bob and Russell Armstrong, both of Armstrong, B.C., entered the final two go-rounds of the Calgary Stampede’s 14 Class Team Cattle Penning Competition in 12th place overall, but turned in a pair of great runs – including the fastest time of the night – to vault themselves directly into the winner’s circle.

Through four runs, McComish, Armstrong, and Armstrong posted an aggregate time of 123.82 seconds for 12 head of cattle – and will split a championship cheque of $15,450. The trio of Calgary’s Skylar Hansen, Jens Greimeier of Okotoks, Alta., and Chrissy Santangelo of Nanton, Alta., ended up reserve champions, with an aggregate time of 139.84 seconds for 12 head, collecting the runner-up prize of $10,300.

McComish, Armstrong, and Armstrong catapulted themselves into the thick of Friday’s 10-team final with a blistering third-round run of 20.99 seconds, the fastest on the Saddledome floor Friday. And with the last run of the night, they stopped the clock in 33.06 seconds for a comfortable margin of victory, even while being forced to chase a wrong-numbered bovine, or “dirty cow,” back to the herd.

Russell Armstrong, 21, of Armstrong, B.C., and his 12-year-old quarter-horse mare Mary show winning form Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome en route to victory in the Calgary Stampede’s 14 Class Team Cattle Penning Competition. Armstrong and his dad Bob, as well as Wallace McComish of Stettler, Alta., will split a cheque for $15,450. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

For the younger Armstrong, this makes two championships in two years on opening night of Stampede while riding his 12-year-old quarter-horse mare, Mary. In 2010, he won the 14 Class title with Lindsey Thorlakson of Carstairs, Alta., and Pete Molnar of Langley, B.C.

“Pretty sweet. And this one means something extra, because it’s good to do it with Dad,” said Russell Armstrong. “It was a good advantage coming in 12th overall, as opposed to ninth, say, because you come in at the end of the first herd (when the cattle, theoretically, shouldn’t be as frisky).

“And we drew up really good. We got about as lucky as you could get (in the third round). The cows were there, and they just kind of came together.”

Russell and Bob Armstrong have won several regional penning competitions together, including one just last month in Kalispell, Mont., but none with the prestige of Calgary.

The Stampede’s 14 Class featured a prize pot of $51,500 on Friday, including the winners’ share of $15,450. A total of $225,000 in cash and prizes is up for grabs over four nights of competition.

“First time I’ve ever won at the Stampede. It’s my first buckle, and I wanted it bad,” chuckled Bob, whose horse Honey Boy, a quarter-horse gelding, is “a kid like me . . . he’s 19.”

Team Cattle Penning, a race against the clock, gives a team of three riders on horseback 60 seconds to separate three specifically identified cattle from a herd of 30 and direct them into a 16-foot-by-24-foot pen at the opposite end of the arena. Teamwork is key, with all three riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen.

The 14 Class represents the second-highest caliber Team Cattle Penning competition, presented by Calfrac Well Services, held at the Stampede, based on rider skill and experience. The competition began Thursday at the Okotoks Agricultural Society, with 103 teams in the mix, and Thursday’s first two qualification rounds narrowed the field down to 20 as the scene shifted to Calgary on Friday for the third round and the 10-team final.

As for McComish, this might have been his first Stampede crown, but it was old hat for his 12-year-old quarter-horse gelding Mate, which carried Brian Dick of Wetaskiwin, Alta., to a 7 Class title in 2009.

Three teams with McComish on their roster made the final 20. A couple of perennial title contenders, Kurt Robson of Carstairs, Alta., and Jordan Lesh of Morrison, Okla., started the evening with the same great odds, and Lesh, in particular, proved snakebitten in his quest for a Stampede crown. Lesh triumvirates stood first and second entering Friday’s competition, but one scored a no-time in the third round and the other posted a run of 57.94, falling out of contention.

The Saddledome will play host to the third go-round and final in 10 Class on Saturday, July 9, the third round and final of the Open Class on Sunday, July 10, and the 7 Class’s third round and final on Monday, July 11. Start time all three nights is 5:30 p.m.

The Stampede will be webcasting all events being held in the Scotiabank Saddledome and the Big Top this year. Visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/saddledome-ustream-2011 for live streaming of Saddledome action, and http://ag.calgarystampede.com/big-top-ustream-2011 for events under the Big Top.

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