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Steer wrestling chamion Luke Branquinho faces unique challenge to his physical abilities

COURTESY PHOTO: HOOT CREEK - Luke Branquinho earned first place in steer wrestling at the St. Paul Rodeo, overcoming a hamstring injury that has hampered his performances over the past several weeks.

As if rodeo season didn't face enough uncertainty throughout the pandemic, Luke Branquinho dealt with an additional challenge en route to his championship in St. Paul. The steer wrestling champ was competing with a hamstring tendon detached from the bone, a serious injury that will eventually require surgery but one that Branquinho was able to push through to compete.

Branquinho, from Los Alamos, California, is a five-time world champion in the event and his runs at St. Paul were each 4.2 seconds, good enough for a championship-caliber 8.4-second time on two head.

"He had suffered the hamstring tendon injury at a rodeo in Weatherford, Texas, in June and took off about three weeks to rehab it," a release from the St. Paul Rodeo said. "But there's no time for surgery, with Branquinho ranked in the top 20 in PRCA world standings, so he's rehabbing and stretching it, hoping to put off surgery until after the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December, in hopes of competing at the pinnacle of the pro rodeo world for the 15th time in his career."

Branquinho plans to "keep rolling and see how things go," with the injury, the release said. He claims it isn't causing him any pain and that a tight wrap before competition is sufficient.COURTESY PHOTO: HOOT CREEK - Zeke Thurston, a two-time PRCA world champion, finished first in St. Paul with a total of 88 points on a horse named Broken Camp.

"This is probably the least number of rodeos I've gone to" over Cowboy Christmas, Branquinho said. Cowboy Christmas is referred to as the days before and after the Fourth of July. Those include competitions in Montana, Wyoming and Oregon during the first few days of the month.

This is the third championship for Branquinho at St. Paul, his previous ones coming in 2006 and 2015. According to the release, Branquinho had one of the best horses possible for the competition.

"Baby, an American Quarter Horse whose registered name is Babysgonecountry, is owned by Sam Dixon of Lockesburg, Arkansas," the release said. "Four cowboys are riding the mount this year: Branquino, Jacob Talley, Justin Shaffer and Tucker Allen; all four traveling partners. In part because of the horse's exceptional ability, Talley finished as reserve champion in St. Paul and is ranked first in the PRCA world standings."

One of the other world champions in attendance who also won at St. Paul was Zeke Thurston in the saddle bronc. Thurston — a native of Big Valley, Alberta, Canada — is a two-time PRCA world champion and finished first in St. Paul with a total of 88 points on a horse named Broken Camp.

"That horse really bucks," he said in the release. "She's bucked some guys off, but they won lots on her. I was just lucky to draw her and lucky to make a good ride on her."

Thurston marveled at the spectacle of the St. Paul Rodeo, which drew some sellout crowds thanks to Gov. Kate Brown lifting COVID-19 restrictions on opening day, June 30.

"This is an iconic, prestigious rodeo," Thurston said. "It has some of the best horses and some of the best cowboys at it. It's very unique, with trees in the arena. The crowd is amazing. I'm tickled to death to win it."

Among the other champions at St. Paul were bareback rider Austin Foss from Terrebonne (87.5 points); 2019 world champion tie-down roper Haven Meged of Miles City, Mont. (15.9 seconds on two head); bull rider JC Mortensen from Paulden, Ariz. (87 points); team ropers Kaleb Driggers from Stephenville, Texas, and Junior Nogueira from Presidente Prude, Brazil (10.4); and barrel racer Stephanie Fryar of Waco, Texas (17.37).

For more information on the 2021 rodeo and to look ahead to 2022, visit

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