We’re finally down to crunch time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. And believe me, it’s very crunchy this year, heading into the 10th and final go-round Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
There are gold-buckle races to be settled almost across the board, including in the chase to be named all-around world champion cowboy. It’s a three-man battle between defending champion Tuf Cooper, 13-time champion Trevor Brazile and Wrangler NFR newcomer Rhen Richard, the only cowboy in two events this week: team roping (header) and tie-down roping. Cooper is in first place with $310,357, and his brother-in-law Brazile is right behind him at $298,026.
Richard is still more than $100,000 behind Cooper at $203,647, but he’s No. 2 in the tie-down roping average and No. 3 in the team roping average. Combined, those two could pay out nearly $98,000, and Richard has two shots at go-round money as well.
As for event titles, the only championship locked down is barrel racing, where Hailey Kinsel is your new world champion. She won the ninth go-round – her third victory in four nights – to mathematically eliminate the rest of the field, as she’s at $339,277 for the year.
However, from tonight’s opener of bareback riding to the closer of bull riding, there’s a pile of money at stake, and of course the rest of those world championship.
In barebacks, two-time defending world champion Tim O’Connell stands No. 1 in the world at $253,378, and he’s No. 2 in the average. But O’Connell has company. Caleb Bennett is just $13,000 behind, and with some help, Kaycee Feild and Richmond Champion could get there. So could Steven Dent, who has $193,811 but is No. 1 in the average.
In steer wrestling, Tyler Waguespack has had a solid week in pursuit of his second world title, after winning it all in 2016. Waguespack is at $192,744 for the year, and he’s No. 1 in the average. He’s hardly in the clear, though. Will Lummus, Tyler Pearson and Scott Guenthner have a shot, too. Curtis Cassidy is less than $5,000 behind in the world standings at $188,355, but he’s out of the average money at this point.
Clay Smith and Paul Eaves lead the team roping with $231,114 apiece on the year, including nearly $116,000 apiece this week. But in the average, Smith and Eaves trail three teams, including Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira, who are No. 2 in the world and in the average. Derrick Begay/Cory Petska could perhaps get in the mix, too.
The saddle bronc race is certainly up for grabs, as well. Defending champion Ryder Wright is No. 1 in the world standings at $243,192, but he’s 10th in the average and out of that money at this point. That has brother Rusty Wright, currently second in the world and fourth in the average, in a spot to at least keep the gold buckle in the family. And Wade Sundell, Jacobs Crawley and Zeke Thurston aren’t out of it yet either, and possibly even Cort Scheer.
In tie-down roping, Tuf Cooper is No. 1 in the world at $205,268, but he’s eighth in the average. So the door is open for Caleb Smidt (sixth in the world, first in the average), and perhaps Ryle Smith and Tyson Durfey.
And finally, in bull riding, it would take a lot of craziness to keep Sage Kimzey from his fifth straight championship, but it is mathematically possible. Kimzey has amassed $358,853 this year, with Chase Dougherty a distant second at $251,843. But if Dougherty has a successful ride and everyone else bucks off, he’d pocket the first-place check for the go-round, take first in the average and win all the ground money – the rest of the money that would have been paid out to successful riders.
All that cash would count toward the world standings, for a $151,884 windfall for Dougherty. Again, not impossible. But Kimzey probably slept pretty well Friday night!