OMAHA, Neb. -- Saddle bronc rider Isaac Diaz had seen MJM Rodeo's Little Stone on television many times over the years and was always impressed by what he saw. She was even better live.
The 16-year-old bay mare from the Barnes/MJM PRCA Rodeo stock of Cherokee and Peterson, and a four-time veteran of the Wrangler NFR, carried Diaz to "the biggest win I've ever had," on Saturday night at the $835,000 Justin Boots Championships in the Qwest Center.
Diaz, of Stephenville, Texas, earned a score of 86 points in the final round to edge J.J. Elshere by a single point to earn the $13,251 final-round prize and a total of $21,523 for the weekend.
A total of $28,650 was won on Barnes/MJM Rodeos saddle broncs at the Justin Championships Tour September 24-26 in Omaha's Quest Center.
Diaz, in the second go-around on MJM 543 Wild Falls tied for second with Shaun Stroh of Dickinson, N.D. on Barnes LV Lights, each winninmg $3,784 with 85 points. In the semifinals, Stroh tied for first on Barnes D8 Cat Power with 86 points, winning $6,160. The first go-around saw Chad Farley of Oelrichs, S.D. on Barnes 1G9 Chain of Command with an 81 score tie for fourth, winning $1,672.
On two of Barnes/MJM horses, two cowboys won $26,979 for a total of 16 seconds.
"Guys dream of just being in this position, and I'm just blessed," Diaz said. "It was a great rodeo, and I was happy to be here. I look at going to the NFR as a win, but as far as a single rodeo win, this is by far my best. I've dreamed of doing this since I was a little kid."
Diaz can safely count this as a double win. He arrived in Omaha in 16th position and leaves safely in the top 10, assured of qualifying for the Wrangler NFR for a second time.
Not that the evening didn't have its nervous moments for Diaz. There was a four-way tie for third place in the semifinals, and Diaz only made it into the four-man finals based on a tiebreaker. He had the second-best two-head average among those who ended up tied, and that got him the last seat in the finals.
That was all the opening Diaz needed, on a horse that took Chad Ferley to the victory stand in Omaha a year ago.
"She always looked like one that, if you stubbed your toe, she'd buck you off," Diaz said of MJM Little Stone, "but if you rode her well, you were going to win first. That's what I needed tonight.
"I felt like it started really well. Right there in the middle, I quit lifting (on the rein) and she dang sure almost had her way with me, but I was thinking about all of that money and had to keep going at it."
Apart from Little Stone, there were only two other repeating champions at Omaha -- the biggest and smallest, who went to the victory stand to pick up their championship buckles.
Lindsay Sears won three of the four rounds -- including the final in 13.85 seconds -- to win at Omaha for the third consecutive year and take away a rodeo-best $32,787.
Two-time and reigning World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho also managed his repeat in truly dominating fashion, winning the semifinals in 3.6 seconds and then coming back to win the final with a 3.4-second run that was six-tenths faster than runner-up Josh Peek.
"I drew a steer that I had in the first round, and I really knew how it was going to behave," Branquinho said.
Ryan Gray, who tied the bareback riding world record earlier this season with a 94-point ride in Eagle, Colo., produced a 92-pointer Saturday on Classic Pro Rodeo's Big Tex to emerge from an all-star field and finish with $32,171 in total earnings for the weekend.
"I'd never been on that horse, but had seen him a lot," Gray said. "They won the $50,000 in Houston on that horse, and Bobby (Mote) tied the arena record at the NFR last year with that horse.
"It's a great horse, but I'd never been on him, so I didn't know what to expect. I just went out there and rode him like I try to ride every horse, and that's to stay close and build your ride. It was fun."
Header David Key, one of the last competitors to get into the field for the Justin Boots Championships, came out of it in first. The pairing of Key and Brad Culpepper finished just sixth in the two-head average, but came on strong Saturday to finish second in the semifinals with 5.0-second run and win the finals in 5.6.
They each won $20,643.
J.W. Harris continued his season-long dominance of bull riding. A 91-point ride on Four L and Diamond S Rodeo Velvet Elvis in the Qwest Center, assured the reigning world champ of his 22nd win in a PRCA rodeo this season and kept alive his longshot hopes of breaking the regular-season earnings record in his event.
With $26,099 in Omaha, Harris has season earnings of $216,728 with the $500,000 Heartland ProRodeo Championships in Waco, Texas, next month still on his schedule. Matt Austin set the record of $228,766 in 2005.
Timed-event hand Trevor Brazile expanded his lead in the tie-down roping world standings with a winning 7.2-second run in the finals.
With earnings of $20,731 in the tie-down roping and another $5,808 in team roping, Brazile pushed his season all-around total to $253,901 as he seeks to win his record-tying seventh all-around gold buckle.