Warm weather is expected this weekend, and the area's rodeo fans respond thus: "It's about time."
The 57th Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo, a prime-time stop on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, gets under way today with barrel racing at 4 p.m. Last year, the event was conducted in a mud bath on the arena floor, the product of what has plagued the rodeo four of the last seven years:
"We need a good year," said Norm Mendenhall, president of the saddle club that does all the rodeo's heavy lifting. "The La Grange rodeo had a good crowd, so we look at them as the thermometer. Judging by them, we'll have a good year."
The field of 458 is 64 fewer than last year due to skyrocketing fuel prices. The decrease is seen mostly in the timed events, where cowboys must travel the roadways in their horse trailers.
That said, four 2007 world champions are scheduled to appear in Oakdale: team roping heeler Walt Woodard of Stockton, bareback star Bobby Mote, Taos Muncy in saddle bronc and barrel racer Brittany Pozzi-Pharr.
Muncy, of New Mexico, arrived in Oakdale last year as a pleasant and talented 19-year-old. He launched his run to a world title that weekend by winning in Oakdale and at the Grand National in San Francisco.
One of the top local entries is Oakdale's Daniel Green, a 10-time team roping qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo. Though he's no longer competing full time on the PRCA trail, Green still can throw his rope. He edged five-time world all-around champion Trevor Brazile to win the Wrangler Timed Event Championship, rodeo's iron man competition, last month in Guthrie, Okla. The event requires cowboys to compete in all five timed events -- tie-down roping, steer roping, team roping heading and heeling and steer wrestling. Green won $57,000.
"The only reason I walked away (from full time on the circuit) is because of my family," said Green, a father of three. "I'm coaching 'em in softball and soccer."
The presence of Woodard, Green and other roping standouts in Oakdale is no surprise. The area always has produced talented ropers. Many will travel to Patterson and the Diamond Bar Arena in Ceres this weekend for other competitions.
Also at Oakdale is 2004 world champion steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, whose older brother Casey won the all-around in Oakdale last year.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.