There were thousands of dollars in prize money up for grabs during last week’s Alberta Barrel Racing Association (ABRA) Finals in Ponoka.
Held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre, the finals featured over 1,000 barrel racers — there were about 790 in the open and over 237 youths and 73 peewee entries — who were vying for bragging rights, a saddle and prize money.
Speaking to the experience and why the finals have such a strong following was ABRA office manager Jill McDougall, who said the prestige of the organization and the finals is the fact that racers know that the prize money and saddles are guaranteed for the winners.
“It’s the largest race in Canada and probably the third largest race in North America,” said McDougall. “Especially for payout and prizes.”
Racers from across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan take part in races throughout the year with the hopes of competing in the finals. It’s a premier event. “The money is actually going to be there at the end of the day.”
“Because it’s five divisions deep, there’s a chance for everyone to win money,” said McDougall.
There’s a 7/10ths of a second separation between each of the five divisions, which gives racers several opportunities at equal amounts of money.
“You can ride at your level and try and win,” said McDougall.
Friday night’s youth short go at 4 p.m. is one of those events that McDougall says electrifies the arena. Everyone’s there to cheer on the youth racers and they don’t mess around, said McDougall.
“They’re dressed up. They’re electric and fast!” she stated.
“It’s insane how amazing our young competitors are, she added, pointing out that there have been several racers who have landed spots at the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
The event is so large, a trade fair is also held during the busy week with about 50 different vendors.
Many of the racers are also familiar with the Calnash Ag Event Centre as they race jackpots in Ponoka. “These barrel racers, they support this town and this arena.”
The ABRA Finals have become so big that McDougall says there are not many places left in Alberta that can hold this many racers. Just one look at the arena and the Ponoka Stampede Association grounds during the finals showed a sea of horses, trailers and racers.
Racing started on Aug. 22 with the open short go running Aug. 26.
• High Point: Jenny Traub
• 1D: Kareen Warren
• 2D: Mandy Davidson
• 3D: Gail Tubbs
• 4D: Morgan Burgmeister
• 5D: Delane Peck
Check out the ABRA website www.albertabarrelracing.ca for results.