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8:48 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

And they're off! Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo starts Monday

The Daily Courier/file<p>
A rider surges forward at the 2007 rodeo.

The Daily Courier/file<p> A rider surges forward at the 2007 rodeo.

PRESCOTT - It's time for boots and chaps and cowboy hats and the roar of a Prescott crowd: The 122nd annual Prescott Frontier Days "World's Oldest Rodeo" busts out of the chute Monday.

"We've got more than 600 contestants this year, and that's about 100 more than we had last year," J.C. Trujillo, Frontier Days general manager, said. "And we're doing back-to-back timed events."

Trujillo, 1981 bareback World Champion, first tried the back-to-back system for timed events in 2008. He attributes the system to attracting the increased number of competitors.

In timed events, such as calf roping, riders compete twice. The first ride is "slack." Both rides are timed and the cowboy with the best average time wins the purse.

Rodeos that do not use the back-to-back system leave cowboys hanging around for a day or two before their second ride is called. While a cowboy waits around, he misses other rodeos and loses the chance to compete for more prize money.

"The cowboys love it," Trujillo said from his office, surrounded by photographs and Western art and mementos he collected during a lifetime competing in professional rodeos. "They can do their roping or wrestling event and slack in one day, and go on out of town to their next rodeo. They don't have to wait around for a couple of days for their second ride."

The weeklong shindig starts June 29 and ends July 5. However, it is not only about bulls and broncos or cowboys and cowgirls. The week includes parades, dances, arts and crafts shows, cowboy church services and the rodeo royalty.

Miss Frontier Days Rodeo Queen Jordan Anderson oversees the royal court, which includes Alex Anderson as senior court and Bailey Gonzales as junior court. Grand Marshals are Katie Hill, former Miss Rodeo Arizona, and five previous Frontier Days queens.

This year's rodeo once again is part of the 2009 Wrangler Pro Rodeo Tour.

"We are one of the top 40 rodeos in the country," Trujillo said. "This year we've got more than $200,000 in prize money."

The Prescott rodeo does not call itself the World's Oldest Rodeo as an advertising gimmick. Historians credit a group of Prescott merchants and businessmen with organizing the world's first "cowboy tournament" on July 4, 1888.

Fans may recognize some familiar faces in the arena this year.

World-famous bullfighters Quirt Hunt and Mike Matt return. Bullfighters dress as clowns but their job is deadly serious - they keep mad-as-hell bulls away from the cowboys that just rode them until the riders are safely out of the arena.

"The bullfighters are the most vulnerable athletes out there," Trujillo said. "Their job is to protect and save the cowboys. They aren't there to be funny, but a good bullfighter can make the fans laugh."

Specialty acts include Slim Garner, barrel clown and trickster. Garner has clowned at rodeos for 15 years, but this is his first year at Frontier Days. His acts include stunt driving his cowboy Cadillac, exploding barbecues and "gone fishin'."

The Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls make their first appearance at Prescott this year. The girls rope and trick-ride their way around the arena dressed in dazzling outfits.

It would not be a Frontier Days rodeo without the famous Diamond Z English Shire Horses waltzing across the arena and marching in the July 4 Frontier Days Parade.

The Frontiers Day Parade starts at 9 a.m. Fans line the Courthouse Plaza early and front-row positions fill quickly. This year's theme is "Soaring Spirits."

For fans who want to meet some of the rodeo cowboys and kick up some dust with them, the Frontier Days Rodeo Dance is July 2, 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. in the M&I Bank parking lot, 303 N. Montezuma St., in Prescott. July 2 is family night.

Cowboy Church is a non-denominational service July 5 at 8 a.m. in the rodeo grandstands.

In July 2008, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame inducted the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo into its Hall of Fame. In 1992, ProRodeo inducted Trujillo into its Hall of Fame. He and other Prescottonians traveled to Colorado Springs in July for the rodeo's induction.

"The Hall of Fame is the highest honor you can get as a bareback rider," Trujillo said. "So for me, to get the rodeo in there also is a very big deal. I've been on both sides of the fence as a competitor and now on the management side. It is a very big deal for me personally and for all the people who make our rodeo a success."

More than 600 volunteers help make Frontier Days a world-famous event, Trujillo said.

"We'll never be as big as Cheyenne or Houston rodeos," he said. "But we will always be the most famous for our claim as being the world's first and oldest rodeo in the country."

Tickets are available on the Internet at worldsoldestrodeo.com, or by calling 928-445-4320, or in person at the rodeo grounds ticket booth, 840 Rodeo Drive.