The countdown to the 76th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo & Parade is officially underway.

Even though work goes on year round, everything needs an official start and for the Santa Maria Elks Recreation Committee, the clock began ticking last Saturday when the Elks introduced this year’s four Rodeo Queen candidates to the community.

You don’t have to wait until Thursday, May 30, to catch some exciting local rodeo action.

There are two competitions coming up in April — both involving junior rodeo cowgirls and cowboys.

The first, the annual Minetti Mini Rodeo qualifier, will be held on Sunday, April 14, at the Elks Unocal Event Center.

And a week later, on Saturday, April 20, the Central Coast Classic Association (CCCA) will hold the second of its six 2019 junior rodeos.

The Minetti Mini is traditionally the first rodeo event of the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, kicking off the four-day weekend Thursday with an early morning performance.

All of the competitors are children who will take over Unocal on the morning of May 30 to compete for this year’s Minetti championships in team roping, breakaway roping, barrel racing.

But before they get the chance to qualify for buckle runs in front of 6,000 local elementary school students, the young riders and ropers have to earn their spot in the finals.

They’ll get that shot Saturday.

Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

The action gets underway at 10 a.m. at the Event Center.

On April 20, the action shifts to the Branquinho Ranch, off Highway 135 in Los Alamos.

The CCCA, now in its fourth year, will hold its second junior rodeo of the year, with competition beginning at 8 a.m.

“The organization gives the kids some extra chances to compete in addition to the junior high and high school rodeos,” said CCCA Vice President Tony Branquinho. “We’ll have breakaway roping, tie down roping, team roping, pole bending and barrel racing. For the little kids (4-and-under), we’ll have ribbon jerking.”

Most of the 100 to 120 competitors expected at the Branquinho arena are members of the CCCA but the competition is open to all children, right up through high school age.

As with the Minetti qualifier, admission to the CCCA Event #2 is free and the public is invited to attend.

The CCCA has six junior rodeos scheduled before season champions are crowned at their annual awards banquet at Tres Hermanas Vineyard and Winery on Foxen Canyon Road at the end of the year.

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