Richest Run: Morgan and “Kiss” Earn Single Biggest Payday at The American

The adrenaline-charged setting of Arlington's AT&T Stadium was no match for American Champion Shelley Morgan’s confidence in her equine partner, HR FameKissAndTell.

Action Photographs by Carolyn Simancik

The adrenaline-charged setting of Arlington's AT&T Stadium was no match for American Champion Shelley Morgan’s confidence in her equine partner, HR FameKissAndTell.

On Sunday March 6, The American brought the finest rodeo talent in the world to one of the most palatial stages in all of sports, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The American holds a unique place in the rodeo landscape as the richest single-day event in Western sports with a total purse of more than $3 million in 2022. Acquired from RFD-TV by Teton Ridge, The American brings together top-ranked professional rodeo athletes who are challenged by the qualifier athletes that make it to the winner-take-all showdown.

One of the rodeo athletes who reaped life-changing rewards was professional barrel racer Shelley Morgan of Eustace, Texas, who won $100,000 riding her gritty mare HR FameKissAndTell (CEO x Fames Fiery Kiss x Dash Ta Fame), aka “Kiss.” Morgan, a multiple National Finals Rodeo qualifier, says the richest one-day rodeo represents the opportunity of a lifetime for her.

“Obviously, the money that you’re able to win at The American is life changing. That’s definitely the most money I’ve ever won in my life at one event in one single day,” she said. “The money they add and the opportunity to run here is amazing. The money you can win now, it’s come a long, long way through the years.”

Even though Morgan was among the Top 10 in the 2021 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings, in a twist on The American format from previous years, she still had to make it through the Contender Round at Cowtown Coliseum on March 4 against 10 top qualifiers as well as the other nine seeded WPRA athletes in order to get to AT&T. The American semifinals began with 294 qualifiers from across the country converging on Cowtown Coliseum at the Fort Worth Stockyards, all with the goal of making it clear to Arlington.

The 10 barrel racers who completed the arduous test of getting to The American then gunned it out for a spot in The American Shootout Round for the top four on Sunday afternoon. Those who made it as qualifiers rather than seeded were eligible for the bonus millions. Seeded athletes aimed for $100,000 first-prize checks in their respective events. Following The American’s first round, which got underway on Sunday at noon, the field of four qualifiers was set and stacked as anticipation for the Shootout Round built.

Running according to the order in which they had placed in round one meant that 15-year-old phenom Devin Young and Jettin To Docs Bar would go first. In a prior interview with Barrel Racing Magazine, Young said, “My plan at AT&T Stadium is to push him as hard as I can because I know he’s going to turn.” Young did just that, and after topping round one with a fast time of 14.691, she followed up with an outstanding 14.767 in the Shootout Round. The teen, who earned an exemption to Cowtown via her 2022 JR NFR championship, had set the bar high and placed herself in million-dollar contention.

At age 15, Devin Young was the youngest American qualifier.

Jordon Briggs and her 2021 AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year Famous Lil Jet, aka “Rollo,” who had finished second in the preliminary round with a 14.909 were second to run in the Shootout. The reigning WPRA World Champion drew thunderous approval from the crowd with a picture-perfect 14.612 to overtake the No. 1 spot.

Running third in the order by virtue of her third-place first round run of 14.941, Morgan knew she had an adjustment to make from her previous performance in round one if she wanted to win it all.

“Believe it or not, I don’t get nervous with Kiss,” she said. “You prepare at home, and you can’t change anything. So, I got in her way in the first run—I really got in her way a lot. The first barrel had a weird approach and I tried to fix it for her, and she’s like, ‘I got this, would you just leave me alone!’”

Morgan took her final pivotal trip down the alley with an adjusted mindset that gave her just the extra edge she would need to overtake the top spot.

“For the second run I told my husband, ‘I need to get out of her way and just release the beast, and so that’s what I did, and look what happened. She’s the bomb, she really is, she’s like, ‘Mom, shut up and sit up there, I got this,’” laughed Morgan.

Charlie Johnson (Maass) and Phoenixonthecimarron (Popular ResortFigure x Special Dashing Lady x Bully Bullion) followed Morgan, and although Johnson was a qualifier making her first run in “Jerry’s house,” her horse was not. Johnson’s husband, eight-time NFR qualifier, Justin Maass, competed in 2021 on the mare at The American in the tie-down roping.

Johnson told Barrel Racing Magazine that hard work and perseverance is what it took to mold “Phoenix” into the world-class barrel horse she is today, adding, “My husband taught me how to be a winner. Having him and God in my corner is a feeling like no other.”

The Bastrop, Texas, barrel racer hit the alley with tension mounting as the announcer called attention to the fact that she would be the last barrel racer eligible to run at the $2 million. When Johnson, the only lefty in the field, exited the arena leaving a downed third barrel behind, her fast time of 14.609 was adjusted to 19.609 due to the heartbreaking plus-five penalty.

As a result of no barrel racers having cashed in on the two million-dollar bonus, the door was opened for Brazilian bull rider and 2018 Professional Bull Riders World Champion Kaique Pacheco to ultimately earn $2.1 million with an 89-point effort.

$2.1 million dollar cowboy Kaique Pacheco.

In her post-rodeo interview, a jubilant Morgan said she in large part attributes her success on rodeo’s biggest platforms to the support she receives from her husband Rex.

“My husband, everybody in this industry knows that my husband goes everywhere with me,” she said. “I really honestly wouldn’t probably be where I am without him. I know I get all the interviews and the credit and the pictures, but he deserves to be right here with me.”

Shelley Morgan joins fellow champions as they field media questions following The American.

Morgan added that working out is another factor that helps her maintain her competitive edge.

“I really do believe working out makes a difference, it honestly does,” she said. “Last summer I was doing Camp Gladiator before I left for the summer and we were having a lot of trainers change, so when I came back, I went to CrossFit. I’ve been doing CrossFit since September, but I was working out before that. It’s hard sometimes, but I love it.”

Morgan appreciates the sponsors who help her get down the road: Rock N Roll Denim and Panhandle Slim, 5 Star Equine, Eagle Security Systems, the Muffler Shop in Canton, Texas, Bluebonnet Feeds and Stride Animal Health.

The American Rodeo Shootout Round Results:

  1. Shelley Morgan and HR FameKissAndTell, Eustace, Texas, 14.609, $100,000
  2. Jordon Briggs and Famous Lil Jet, Tolar, Texas, 14.612, $25,000
  3. Devin Young and Jettin To Docs Bar, Rosanky, Texas, 14.767, $10,000
  4. Charlie Johnson and Phoenixonthecimarron, 19.609, $5,000

The American Rodeo Preliminary Round Results:

  1. Devin Young and Jettin To Docs Bar, 14.691
  2. Jordon Briggs and Famous Lil Jet, 14.909
  3. Shelley Morgan and HR FameKissAndTell, 14.941
  4. Charlie Johnson and Phoenixonthecimarron, 15.087