Sage Kimzey has made bull riding on the PRCA tour his own personal playground. At just 25 years old, he’s qualified for six Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – each of the last six years. And each time, he’s walked out of the Thomas & Mack Center with the gold buckle as the world champion.
On Saturday night, Kimzey finished it off right with a solid 88-point second-place ride.
“The cake’s not complete without the cherry on top,” Kimzey said of the importance to him of a successful final-round effort, something he’s done in five of his six championship years. “The 10th go-round is always a special night. It’s the culmination of a lotta lost miles, a lotta lost sleep and a lotta work.”
His sixth straight world title just happens to match Jim Shoulders’ record run in bull riding from 1954-59. Only Don Gay has more bull riding world titles, with eight.
“It’s surreal,” Kimzey said. “Jim is one of, if not the, greatest rodeo cowboys of all time. So this is special.”
Kimzey was surrounded by myriad family and friends in the media room, including dad Ted and of course younger brother Trey, who qualified for his first NFR this year. Sage, with girlfriend Alexis Bloomer at his side, was quick to credit all those who support him throughout the year. But Bloomer deferred that credit right back to Sage.
“I couldn’t ride a bull. I can’t even imagine it,” Bloomer said with a laugh. “That’s all him.”
It’s been all him for six straight years. Don’t be surprised if he makes it seven in 2020.
“That’s the plan, for sure,” Sage said.
Hailey Kinsel could certainly get used to this. For the second straight year, the Cotulla, Texas, cowgirl claimed the word title, but it was certainly a tight race. Kinsel tipped a barrel in the final round, taking her from first in the NFR average all the way to eighth – a difference of about $60,000 – but she still had enough to claim the gold buckle.
Kinsel finished the year with $290,020, followed by Ivy Conrado-Saebens at $264,673. While that $25,000-plus cushion might seem like a lot, consider that a go-round win these past 10 days was worth $26,231. That was basically the difference, with Conrado-Saebens making a charge by snagging the lucrative average title, which added $67,269 to her earnings.
On that last run, Kinsel felt like she let her star horse Sister down.
“Oh bummed, really bummed. Mainly because my horse tries really hard and I wanted to showcase her. She’s doing things no other horse has done,” Kinsel said. “But I’m not disappointed. It’s an amazing feeling to make 10 good runs.”
Indeed, Kinsel and Sister cashed in seven of the 10 go-rounds, winning on the seventh and eighth nights. Asked if she could put in a nutshell what makes Sister so good, she replied: “There’s not a big enough nutshell.”
Kinsel was thrilled to back up her first title with another gold buckle just a year later.
“You know how good that feels, and you just don’t want to lose that feeling,” she said.
Clayton Biglow went out with a bang, scoring 93 points aboard Stevie Knicks to win the 10th go-round and wrap up his first world championship. Biglow won the average with 886.5 points on 10 head, adding another $67,269 to his haul, and finished the season with $425,843, nearly $130,000 ahead of second-place Orin Larsen.
“This is crazy,” Biglow said. “I have been dreaming of this for a long time, and I don’t know what to say. This is something you work for your entire life, and when it finally happens, you don’t realize it happened. It hasn’t hit me yet, but it will.”
Biglow posted five go-round wins over the past 10 nights, one short of Kaycee Feild’s record set in 2011. He won more than any other contestant this week, pocketing $243,891 to earn the Wrangler NFR’s Top Gun Award.
“This is the Finals I have dreamed of,” Biglow said. “I literally laid in bed every night for the last three months thinking about this moment. I got this gold buckle. That’s the only thing I was worried about this week. That gold buckle is going right on my belt!”
Ty Erickson reached the Wrangler NFR for the sixth consecutive year, but the Helena, Mont., cowboy was still looking for his first world title. He can stop looking now.
Erickson finished the year with $234,491, fending off second-place Bridger Chambers ($217,362) for the gold buckle.
“This is what I’ve been trying for, what I’ve been dreaming of, since I was a kid – to be a champion,” the 29-year-old Erickson said. “It’s been a trying 10 days for me. I broke two barriers in the first two rounds. But I just kept going at them every night. It started clicking and started to come together, and it worked out.”
Clay Smith found 2019 to be double his pleasure. The header from Broken Bow, Okla., snared his second straight gold buckle, finishing the season with $268,820 to hold off second-place Cody Snow ($256,938). Snow, partnered with Wesley Thorp, made a big move by winning the NFR average and the $67,269 check that came with it.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome Smith, who teamed with heeler Jade Corkill to cash in five of 10 go-rounds, including a second-night victory and a fourth-place effort on Night 10 that was worth $11,000 – just short of his final margin in the world standings.
“The way it turned out, it was kind of like last year,” Smith said. “I knew I had to do something in the final round to get it done.”
As happy as he was, though, he was disappointed that he couldn’t lead Corkill to a gold buckle, too, as his team roping partner finished fourth in the heeler standings.
“The first title is very sweet to win. This one is a little bittersweet, and I’m sick for Jade,” Smith said. “He told me tonight before the round that he knew his chance might have slipped away, but he said he was here for me. I was glad to have him heel the last one for me. I knew he wasn’t gonna miss. He’s a guy I want in my corner.”
Meanwhile, Thorp ended up grabbing the gold buckle for heelers, again by a close margin. He finished with $249,181, of which $20,731 came from his final-night second-place run with Snow. Thorp beat out Junior Nogueira ($238,243) by less than $11,000, so that money from the 10th go was critical, as was the $67,000-plus average check.
“I got pretty emotional,” Thorp said of his reaction after claiming his first world title, in his fourth NFR. “To be in that spot and be among guys I’ve looked up to for so long, it’s just unbelievable.”
So has the gravity of a first gold buckle hit him yet?
“It’s sunk in at this point. It took me a minute, but it’s here, and I’m pretty excited about it.”
Canadian cowboy Zeke Thurston nabbed his second world championship, to go along with the gold buckle he pocketed in 2016. Thurston won three go-rounds in this year’s NFR and pocketed more than $170,000 the past 10 days to finish with season earnings of $347,056, comfortably ahead of second-place Brody Cress, who won the average to finish the year with $286,372.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say. I wanted this second one worse than I wanted the first one,” Thurston said. “I came close last year (third), but it was a roller-coaster out here. Lots of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Haven Meged joined fellow PRCA rookie Stetson Wright (all-around) in claiming a gold buckle this year. Meged, a 21-year-old from Miles City, Mont., didn’t win an NFR go-round, but cashed five checks and was steady all week, winning the average with a total time of 85.7 seconds on 10 head.
Nearly every dollar of that $67,269 average bonus proved critical, as Meged finished with season earnings of $246,014 – less than $1,200 ahead of second-place Shane Hanchey ($244,832).
“It’s been a dream come true,” Meged said. “To come together, to win Rookie of the Year, the average saddle and this” – as he looked at his shiny gold buckle – “it’s unbelievable.”