The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has circuits including the California Circuit, and Hemet bull rider Eli Necochea is the 2020 circuit Bull Riding champion.

“I’m not really too happy about it because it wasn’t really a full season and I was hurt at the circuit finals and couldn’t ride,” Necochea said.

The circuit finals rodeo was held Oct. 9-10 at Frank Moore Arena in Red Bluff. Necochea did not compete due to his recovery from a broken arm.

“I’ve been hurt the whole year,” he said.

The rodeo season for purposes of qualifying for the circuit finals is from September to August. In September 2019, Necochea took the 2020 standings lead with an 85-point ride, which won the Sept. 6-8 Banning Stagecoach Days rodeo. He also placed in other September and October rodeos in California.

“Those rodeos count to the new year,” he said.

Necochea broke his arm at the Will Rogers Days Xtreme Bulls competition Nov. 2, 2019, in Claremore, Oklahoma. His last California rodeo of the season was the Nov. 9-10 Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo.

“I had to get on left-handed because my arm was still broken in a cast,” Necochea said.

In February, he rode at the La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson but did not stay on his bull for the eight-second minimum. Necochea was also in the chutes, March 1, at The American semi-finals in Fort Worth, Texas. His most recent rodeo was the March 6-8 Parada Del Sol rodeo in Scottsdale, Arizona, where his 75-point ride on Boss Baby didn’t place.

“I was riding through it at the beginning of March,” Necochea said.

The coronavirus quarantine resulted in the cancellation of all PRCA-sanctioned California rodeos between March and September.

“The corona kind of helped me,” Necochea said. “If corona never happened and they had the full season I probably would have got beat.”

His arm had broken at the plate, which made healing difficult. Necochea aggravated the injury on one of his rides.

“I got on. I felt it break again,” he said. “Eventually it just snapped all the way through.”

The plate had to be removed and replaced, and Necochea had six holes drilled in his arm.

The problems resulted in a dislocated shoulder.

“It popped out again,” Necochea said.

The top 12 earners in each event at the end of the season qualify for the circuit finals. Necochea led the circuit standings with $8,546.46 of circuit earnings entering the finals. Some of the circuit finals participants were alternates due to cowboys in the top 12 not entering for medical or other reasons. Normally competition in at least 15 California Circuit rodeos during the year is required to qualify for the circuit finals, but the PRCA waived all minimum participation requirements due to the cancellation of numerous 2020 rodeos.

Necochea entered the circuit finals, but an Oct. 3 practice resulted in a dislocated shoulder.

“I got on the practice bull and my shoulder fell out,” he said. “I’m not good enough to ride bulls right now.”

The shoulder injury forced Necochea to turn out.

“I was so bummed,” he said.

Necochea still attended the circuit finals.

“I was helping out my friends Dalton, Corey, Justin. Really everyone out there I was helping out,” he said.

Dalton Shepard lives in Norco. Corey Rickard and Justin Rickard are Nuevo residents. Justin Rickard was an alternate, and the withdrawal of Necochea and others gave Justin Rickard entry into the circuit finals.

The Bull Riding qualifiers also included Menifee’s Tommy Denny.

“I was just real happy to qualify,” Denny said.

Miss Rodeo California Morgan Laughlin presents Eli Necochea with his circuit championship buckle in September. Valley News/Tre Hosley photo

Necochea was also hoping to collect his circuit championship buckle.

“We ended up not getting to. We took pictures of a paper buckle because they didn’t come in,” he said.

Valinda cowboy Jesse Flores entered the circuit finals with earnings of $8,189.43, which was only $397.03 behind Necochea.

“I thought that Jesse was going to stay on both his bulls that weekend,” Necochea said. “I was rooting for him, but I was a little nervous.”

Flores was bucked off both bulls. No rider remained on his bovine for the required eight seconds during the first go-round Oct. 9.

“Everyone fell off,” Necochea said.

Necochea expected three to four bull riders to have a score during the first performance.

“It honestly surprised me,” he said of no riders having qualified rides.

Stock was used from Bridwell Pro Rodeo, Flying U Rodeo, Four Star Rodeo and Rosser Rodeo.

“The bulls there are really good, really cool,” Necochea said

Jake Peterson of Livermore won the second go-round and thus the average aggregate on one head with a ride of 85 points on Long Branch. Garrett Crist, who lives in Reno, Nevada, but declared California his circuit, had the second-place score of 79 points. Shepard was third with a score of 78 points. The other nine riders were bucked off.

Denny stayed on Omaha for about two seconds Oct. 9, and Blackish for about five seconds Oct. 10.

“I didn’t have any luck,” he said.

The qualified rides and position payouts moved Peterson from seventh to fourth in the final standings. Crist moved from ninth to fifth. Shepard, who was an alternate and 16th in the earnings before the circuit finals, finished the season eighth among circuit bull riders. Corey Rickard had been in sixth place with earnings of $1,917.13 and finished the finals in ninth place. Denny entered the rodeo with $1,044.30 of earnings, which was 10th in the standings, and he finished the season 11th in the final earnings.

“I was happy for Eli to win the circuit finals,” Denny said.

Necochea was born in Hemet, and after moving to Romoland during his early childhood he returned to Hemet when he was 12. He graduated from Hemet High School in 2017. When a cowboy begins his career in the PRCA he does so as a permitholder, and Necochea obtained his PRCA permit in October 2017.

A cowboy fills his permit, allowing him to obtain a PRCA card and have full PRCA membership, once he has earned $1,000 from PRCA-sanctioned rodeos. The money to fill a permit does not need to be earned in the same event. A 73-point ride at the June 2019 Jurupa Valley Pro Rodeo gave Necochea his first PRCA win along with $1,403 in prize money.

A permitholder can compete in the circuit finals. Necochea accumulated $2,516.40 of Bull Riding earnings for the 2019 season to place 18th in the California Circuit. He competed as an alternate at last year’s circuit finals, which were held in Lancaster and had three go-rounds. In the third go-round Necochea stayed on his bull for the required eight seconds and received a score of 77 points, which placed second and gave Necochea $1,759 for the go-round position. Only one bull rider last year had more than one qualified ride and Necochea had the third-highest score among bull riders with only one qualified ride, so 77 points on one head placed him fourth in the average and provided an average position payout of $791.

Necochea was still on a permit for 2020.

“My rookie year technically starts next year, but I’m going to hold off because of surgery,” he said.

His current plans are to purchase his full membership for the 2022 season.

“I should have a shot for the rookie of the year,” Necochea said.

A permitholder who fills his permit in his first year can apply for a permit in his second year, but after the second year if the $1,000 earnings threshold has been met a cowboy must buy a PRCA card. An allowance for an extended permit is made if a cowboy is still in college.

Necochea would thus have to be a full cardholder and ride as a rookie if he competes during the 2021 season.

“I want to hold back on getting my card so I don’t waste my rookie year,” he said.

The date of Necochea’s surgery is to be determined. He is hoping for late November or early December.

“I’m shooting for as soon as possible,” he said.

If his arm heals faster than planned, Necochea may ride in 2021.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.