DENVER - Some say getting a big win early is a key to successful season.

Joey Bell Jr. agrees with that statement after collecting $16,777 Sunday at the conclusion of the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver.

Bell, of Malakoff, Texas, was the rodeo's top money-winner, after placing in all three rounds and winning the average. He turned in a three-round time of 12.2 seconds.

"It was great. I had a great finals and I just carried that momentum over to the beginning of the year," he said. "I placed at Odessa, and turned around and came up to Denver and placed in the rounds and won the average."

Bell wasted no time getting started. He dropped his first steer in 4.2 seconds to finish in a tie for second with Clay Cowan of Highmore, S.D.

Bell, who originally hails from New Jersey, had the quickest run in the second round, stopping the clock in 3.7 seconds. He entered Sunday's Tour Round on top with a two-head total of 7.9 seconds.

In the final round, he turned his steer in 4.3 seconds to finish in a three-way tie for third place, but enough to give him the overall lead and the title.

"The horses worked great and Shawn (Mulligan) hazed for me and he hazed for me at the finals, and everything just fell together and it just worked out," he said. "They drew me some good steers, and I took advantage of them - and that's the hardest part, is taking advantage of them when you get them."

Bell is excited about his fast start and plans on keeping after it during the winter run.

"Anytime you can jump out like that it's great," Bell said. "It puts me a quarter of the way to the Finals already."

Doug and Brittany Pozzi-Pharr, a husband and wife team, took home some big cash as well. The Victoria, Texas, couple earned more than $20,000 at Denver, as Brittany won the women's barrel racing, while Doug picks up a second place finish in the calf roping.

Tate Stratton from Stanley, N.M., was another big winner Sunday. He cashed in on the bull riding and $15,419.

Stratton, one of four riders to have qualified rides on three bulls, is the 2004 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association bull riding champion.

Veteran bareback rider Cleve Schmidt tops the field in his event with a three-round score of 250 points. The cowboy from Belle Fourche, S.D., took home more than $11,000.

Team roping winners were John Robertson, Augusta, Mont., and Dustin Bird, Cut Bank, Mont., with a time of 17.9 seconds over three rounds to take $6,680 each.

Bradley Harter, Weatherford, Texas, won the saddle bronc riding for $11,412; and Jake Hannum, Ogden, Utah, calf roping, 27.9 seconds, $13,968.

Denver's rodeo was the second stop on the ProRodeo Tour. The next stop is in Rapid City, S.D. Then, contestants will head south to San Antonio.

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Butch Thurman of Pendleton has covered professional rodeo for 27 years.

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