Broken Bow native Clay Smith might be the best roper in rodeo
GUTHRIE — As a cattle rancher and a rodeo announcer for the past 30 years, Justin McKee of Lenapah knows good stock when he sees it, in the cattle pen and the rodeo arena.
His opinion of Broken Bow native Clay Smith, the two-time defending Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world heading champion?
“Now that Trevor Brazile has retired, arguably he is the best roper in rodeo today,” McKee said of Smith, one of 20 cowboys competing in this year’s Timed Event Championship at the Lazy E Arena. “The sky is the limit for Clay Smith.”
Smith, 29, was born to be a roper. His father, Mark, is a horse trainer and roper in Broken Bow.
“I was roping on a horse when I was 5,” Smith said. “That’s all I have ever known. I love the rodeo. Traveling gets hard but I love the competition, I guess, of going to rodeos and competing. To me, that’s a lot of fun.”
Clay, who now lives in Bowie, Texas, was named after legendary team roper Clay O’Brien Cooper who won seven world titles in heading. Clay’s younger brother, Jake, was named after Cooper’s partner, Jake Barnes, who won seven world championships in heeling.
Those are big boots to fill, but the Smith brothers have done their part. When Clay was 7, he and Jake already were such acclaimed ropers they were invited to appear on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
“They won every dummy roping championship when it was first getting started,” McKee said. “They went out there and roped on stage for Jay Leno. Their parents have a VHS of it. I’ve seen it. They were cute as can be.”
In 2009, Clay and Jake won the U.S. Team Roping Finals in Oklahoma City and earned $141,000. Clay was winning pickups at big roping events before he was even old enough to drive, McKee said.
Clay and Jake still rope together at team roping jackpots, but Clay chases the PRCA gold buckles with other partners. He has qualified for the last five National Finals Rodeos in heading and won the 2018 title with heeler Paul Eaves. In 2019, Clay teamed with Jake Long and Jade Corkill during the season and won his second gold buckle in heading. He finished second in the all-around standings.
However, he was disappointed that Corkill, his roping partner for most of the season, fell just short of having enough winnings to claim the world championship in heeling.
“It was a split world title and that’s never good,” he said. “The first one is always the sweetest one. The second is great, but it being a split world title kind of took away from it, I thought.”
McKee said because Clay comes from a family of horse trainers, his experience and knowledge of horses is a cut above most other cowboys.
“He’s probably rode more horses over his lifetime than anybody here,” McKee said Friday at the Timed Event Championship. “Maybe than anybody in rodeo. And anybody at this level knows the more horses you ride, the more experience you get riding different horses, the better you are able being a rider.
“Even among his peers, there is another level, and that is where he is at with horsemanship. Plus, he’s got the greatest head horse in the world in Marty, the gray horse that he ropes on. He’s the greatest horse in team roping today, in my opinion.
“He’s got a chemistry with that horse. That horse can adjust on the fly. That horse can adjust to what Clay is doing. They’re one, I’m telling you. That horse knows what Clay is going to do before Clay actually does it.”
There is no telling how many world titles are in Clay Smith’s future, but he would also like to add a Timed Event Championship to his resume. A Timed Event title is second only to a PRCA world championship, he said.
He has competed in the event since 2012 and was among the top 10 after Saturday’s third round. The final round is Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie.
“It’s something I always wanted to be in, not just to be in, but do good in,” he said of the Timed Event. “I hadn’t got it done yet.”