LAS VEGAS – Bull rider Joe Frost had extra incentive to win Round 5 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Monday. And he came through with flying colors on an emotional “Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night” at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Frost, 22, is a senior at Oklahoma Panhandle State University and wore a “Riding for Craig” patch on his shirt and vest to honor his college rodeo coach, NFR saddle bronc rider Craig Latham, who is in a long-running battle with cancer.
Frost called Latham “my hero,” and said, “I’ve called him and talked to him each night before I ride. Today, he called me at noon and told me that he was here in Las Vegas to watch me ride, and we had an extra ticket, so he sat with my parents (Shane and Lisa Frost). This one was for him. There was no way I was getting bucked off tonight.”
After his victory lap, Frost was emotional while being congratulated by friends.
“I shed a tear,” said the tough bull rider, who is also the 2014 Linderman Award winner, which goes to the cowboy who wins the most money in at least three events, and a minimum of $1,000 in each, including at least one event at both ends of the arena.
Frost rode Corey & Lange Rodeo’s Bottle Rocket for 89 points to earn a check of $19,002.
“I was very focused,” Frost said. “That bull bucked me off in about one-and-a-half seconds at the short round in Ellensburg (Wash.) this year, but I knew I had him tonight. I knew I had the best bull out tonight, so as long as I got my job done, I knew that I would have a good ride and let the judges sort it out.
“My main goal coming into this week was to win a world title, and that’s still my goal. Bull No. 6 tomorrow night is the only thing I’m worried about right now.”
Frost also won Round 1, in an impressive performance at his first Wrangler NFR. He sits fourth in the Windham Weaponry High Performance PRCA World Standings with $123,500, and is second in the WNFR average race with 329 points on four bulls.
WNFR rookie Sage Kimzey leads the world with $207,528 and tops the average with 339 points on four head.
“Tonight it especially was a big win because Sage Kimzey has won two rounds already,” Frost said, “so it was my turn to get my second tonight.”
Kimzey broke Steve Woolsey’s 2005 rookie earnings record for a full season in any event ($197,646), and Woolsey’s overall rookie earnings record ($202,128).
Kimzey took second in the round and earned $15,018.
A proven pairing teamed up again in the bareback riding as Richmond Champion got his dream draw and made the most of it. The 21-year-old cowboy from The Woodlands, Texas, won the bareback riding with a score of 89 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s 2014 PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year Dirty Jacket.
Champion heard about his draw the night before, and got a jolt of positive energy.
“Me and Jake Vold and Caleb Bennett were signing autographs last night, and Caleb had the (bareback riding) stock (draw) on his phone,” Champion said. “They were kidding me, so I knew something was up. When they told me, I threw my Sharpie in the air and said, ‘Wow!’ I ran around the bar and was giving high-fives, then decided I’d go to bed early and not go out.”
Champion rode for a season-best 91 points on Dirty Jacket at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days Rodeo.
“I thought he was just as good tonight,” Champion said. “I was really trying not to think about it. I tried to wipe Cheyenne out of my mind. He’s done different things. I just wanted to mark him out good, and I knew the rest would take care of itself. He’s a great athlete, just incredible. In the chute, you can feel every muscle he’s got. He’s like a spring that’s compressed. I’ve yet to be on another horse that feels like that.”
Dirty Jacket is a consistent performer; Steven Dent also rode him for 91 points at the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo in Stephenville, Texas, in September.
Champion is competing at his first WNFR, and said Round 5 is one he’ll always remember.
“To go 88-and-a-half, Thomas & Mack, the NFR, it doesn’t get any better,” he said. “I’m ecstatic.”
Champion is eighth in the world standings and sixth in the average.
World standings leader and three-time defending World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild took fifth in the round and earned $4,904 to crack the $200,000 barrier for 2014. Feild, who is fifth in the average, is shooting for his fourth consecutive average title. Justin McDaniel leads the average with 421.5 points on five head, while Feild has 405 points on five head.
A winner for the second straight night was saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell, who rode for 87 points on Bar T Rodeo’s Son of Sadie.
“I had been on Son of Sadie once before, and was 87 that time, too,” Sundell said. “Tonight, the horse yanked all the rein out of my hand on about the third jump, and thank goodness that I caught it. I mean, he really yanked it and it was about a foot of the rein that went up in my hand. I just grabbed for it, and luckily was able to get enough to finish the ride.”
The 29-year-old Coleman, Okla., cowboy, is taking an all-or-nothing approach after being bucked off two horses and seemingly being out of the race for the average title.
“Going out and being aggressive is the only way to do it when you’re two down in the average,” he said. “I have to win every round I possibly can to collect as much money as I can, and hopefully it’ll all work out.
“I need to keep drawing well and getting horses like that one that jam up and buck, and I need to keep doing my part. I’m going to wad this up and put it in the trash and go at tomorrow night fresh, because I need to keep winning rounds and not be happy with what I’ve done.”
Steer wrestler Curtis Cassidy of Donalda, Alberta, became the first Canadian to win a round at the WNFR since barrel racer Lindsay Sears in Round 8 in 2012.
The last bulldogger to win a round at the Finals? It was none other than Cassidy, who won Round 10 in 2010.
Cassidy’s time of 3.3 seconds was a personal best at the WNFR. Trevor Knowles, who led the world coming into the 10-day Finals and now sits third in the standings, took second in 3.9 seconds.
Nick Guy was third and is second in the average behind four-time World Champion Luke Branquinho, who also leads the world. Branquinho tied for third in the round with Nick Guy, who is second in the average.
Cassidy, who is sixth in the world standings with $84,421, didn’t think he had a chance to win the round. He thought for certain he’d broken the barrier and incurred a 10-second penalty.
“I didn’t think I broke the barrier, I thought I broke the barrier for sure,” he said. “When I was catching the steer, I remember thinking I broke the barrier and I’m catching this good sucker right here. I threw him down and I got back up slow, and I looked at the barrier and I figured the judges would be there for sure picking the pigtail up. The pigtail was still in the barrier and I couldn’t believe it. It was awesome. Then, to be 3.3 makes it even sweeter.”
Cassidy had quite a turnaround from his Round-4 performance, when he stopped the clock in 17.7 seconds.
“It’s rodeo, that’s exactly what it is all about,” he said. “One day it’s the depths of despair and another day you’re on top of the mountain. Rodeo is humbling. You can’t ever get too cocky, because it’s diamonds or dust, and it’s like that every day everywhere you go.”
Tie-down roper Adam Gray can relate to that sentiment, as he didn’t win a check in the first four rounds but bounced back to claim victory in Round 5 with a time of 7.3 seconds.
“The times were slower because these calves were a whole lot bigger and stronger,” Gray said. “The only way it changed anything in my thought process was I didn’t feel like I needed to put a wrap and a hooey on him, and take the chance of him getting up. I planned on putting two wraps on because they were quite a bit stronger and bigger.”
Gray is also going for broke in the final half of the world’s richest rodeo.
“I hadn’t won anything this week and I’m dang sure going at first or second every night,” Gray said. “I have nothing to lose.”
World standings leader Tuf Cooper took fifth in the round and leads the average with a time of 41.6 seconds on five head.
Longtime friends Coleman Proctor and Jake Long won the team roping with a time of 4.1 seconds.
“Jake’s made it here three times before,” Proctor said. “I was his biggest fan and talked to him every night. But I was home watching it on the couch, because I didn’t want to come until I made it. Jake’s like my brother; he’s family. We’ve been roping together since our diaper days, when he was 3 and I was 2. To win my first go-round here with him is a dream come true.”
Long said this trip to the Finals is special to him.
“I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this rodeo three other times, but to get to experience this with a guy who’s basically my brother and finally live it out is beyond words, really.”
Long praised Proctor for his Round-5 handle.
“Coleman did a great job making that steer easier for me to heel by really softening him up in the turn,” he said. “I told myself I was going to be more aggressive in my approach tonight. I decided to turn it up a notch, and it worked out really well.”
Proctor returned the respect.
“I have the best heeler in the world behind me – Jake’s one of the best heelers ever in the Thomas & Mack – so all I have to do is do my job and get out of his way,” Proctor said.
“I came here wanting to try to beat Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper’s average record on 10 steers. Then I missed our first steer and took care of that. I told Jake I used our mulligan, so now he’s going to have to be perfect. He’s doing a great job of that.”
Michele McLeod won the barrel racing in 13.66 seconds, the fastest run at this year’s WNFR. She was riding Skye, who replaced the horse she rode at the 2013 Finals, Slick, who is injured.
It’s McLeod’s first-ever WNFR round win.
“It is so exciting, because I always thought it would be with Slick,” she said, “but what’s meant to be is meant to be, and this is incredible, very incredible.
“I have a lot of confidence in Skye. I’ve won several things on her. Like at Nampa (Idaho) this year, she set the arena record. I mean, she can do it. Once I got Skye in the arena, she was great. Getting around the barrels you don’t have to do anything.”
Kimzey and barrel racer Fallon Taylor, who won Rounds 1 and 4, share the lead in the RAM Top Gun Award standings with $64,363. Branquinho is third with $62,984.
The 56th annual Wrangler NFR continues Tuesday with the sixth round at the Thomas & Mack Center. The action will be televised live and in HD on CBS Sports Net (DirecTV channel 221 and DISH Network channel 158) from 7-10 p.m. (PT) with hosts Jeff Medders and Butch Knowles.