LAS VEGAS – Jesse Wright may not leave here with multiple Wrangler National Finals Rodeo records like he did a year ago.
But the saddle bronc rider may take something much shinier home to Milford, Utah.
Wright won the seventh round – the third time this week that he’s won at least a share of a round title – with 84 points on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Gold Coast in front of 17,245 at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday night, tacking on $18,257 in earnings and moving closer to his first world championship gold buckle.
“I know there’s a lot on the line and the pressure is there,” Wright said. “It hangs over my head a little bit. But what can I do about it? If I don’t ride good, it won’t matter. I really try not to think about it because if you let that stuff bother you, it’ll hurt you.”
Wright, who set NFR records a year ago with 848.5 points on 10 rides and earnings of $160,692, ranks just fifth in the NFR average race, but holds a $42,816 lead over second-place Wade Sundell in the world standings with three rounds remaining.
The 23-year-old Wright is competing at the NFR with twin brother, Jake, and older brother, Cody, and he hopes to join the latter as a world champion. Cody won two gold buckles, in 2008 and 2010.
“I was tasting (my first world title) last year and I missed it by just a little bit,” said Wright, who was runner-up to Taos Muncy by $8,540. “All I had to do was place in that last round and I didn’t have the horse to do it, and it killed me to lose by a couple grand. When I started this season, I was bound and determined to win it all and that’s still the goal I’m focused on.”
While Wright likely won’t get to the record numbers he put up in 2011, he’s the closest threat to barrel racer Mary Walker in the race for the Ram Truck Top Gun Award, given to the top earner in any one event at the NFR.
Walker won a go-round for the fourth time in seven nights and has made $95,114, nearly $22,000 more than Wright. She also sits atop the barrel racing world standings, leading Brittany Pozzi by $31,126.
Team ropers Clay Tryan and Travis Graves are almost certainly out of the running for the world championship, but that didn’t stop them from putting together what Graves called the fastest run he’s ever been part of.
The two won the seventh round with a time of 3.6 seconds, three-tenths of a second off the arena and world record.
“I’d like to do it three more times,” said Graves, from Jay, Okla. “That’s what we’re here for. We had a little trouble at the beginning of the week, but hopefully we’ve got it lined out now.”
“When I was younger, I used to get mad and get down and let it affect the rest of my week,” said Tryan, from Billings, Mont. “But I guess you grow up and figure out that it’s a long week.”
Trevor Brazile – who wrapped up his 17th gold buckle earlier this week by clinching the all-around world title – continues to lead the team roping world standings with partner Patrick Smith, but the two suffered a no-time Wednesday night, opening the door for Kaleb Driggers and Jade Corkill and Chad Masters and Clay O’Brien Cooper, who are lurking in the average race and are the top threats to Brazile and Smith in the championship race.
Shane Hanchey switched horses Wednesday night and it paid off for the 22-year-old tie-down roper, who earned his first-career go-round victory in his third trip to the NFR.
Hanchey, whose good horse, “Reata,” is missing the NFR due to colic surgery in early November, had used Tuf Cooper’s horse, “Jag,” in the first six rounds, but switched to three-time and current AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year Eightys Sport, “Sweetness,” and posted a time of 7.6 seconds.
“I felt like I was roping to lose, not to win,” Hanchey said. “I decided to switch to Clint Cooper’s tie-down horse.
“He’s so fast.”
Once again, world leader Tuf Cooper and second-place Justin Maass did not place in the round. The two remain separated by less than $6,000. Maass sits third in the average, four spots ahead of Cooper.
Todd Suhn is no stranger to go-round victories at the NFR. The Hermosa, S.D., man has qualified for the NFR in steer wrestling 16 times, second only to Roy Duvall, and has won nearly $600,000 at the rodeo, but the feeling never gets old.
Suhn won Round 7 with a time of 3.6 seconds.
“I haven’t done it in a long time, so it was good,” Suhn said. “They were 4.1 last time on that steer; Gabe Ledoux had him and missed the start a little bit. So that gave me confidence I could take a start at him. … I thought if I did my job, it would be good. And it was.”
The race for the gold buckle continues to be the most wide-open of any event. With $147,184, three-time World Champion Luke Branquinho leads the world standings by nearly $27,000 over Ethen Thouvenell.
But Midwest, Wyo., cowboy Les Shepperson leads the average and the difference between second place in the world standings and eighth is just $18,364 – or a little more than the paycheck for a go-round victory.
The strong week for NFR rookies continued with Caleb Bennett winning the bareback riding and Brett Stall earning top billing in the bull riding in Round 7
Stall made the eight-second whistle for the third time this week, scoring 88.5 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Cowboy Compactor to earn his first go-round title.
“It takes all the pressure off my shoulders; my dream has come true and my goal was to win a round this year at the Finals, and I did it,” Stall said. “[It sets me] up for my next set of goals.”
The race at the top continues to be between three-time World Champion J.W. Harris and NFR rookie Cody Teel. Teel placed fifth in the round to move within $2,500 of the lead, and Teel ranks one spot ahead of Harris in the average.
In bareback riding, Bennett won with an 85-point score on Frontier Rodeo’s Times Up.
The Morgan, Utah, cowboy has placed in four of the first seven rounds in his first trip to the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’m definitely happy and humbled,” Bennett said. “There are guys who still haven’t placed yet. I’m a little hard on myself and have high expectations that I want to meet or exceed. The week has been hit and miss; I’m almost speechless now.”
Reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild placed sixth in the round and continues to hold a solid lead in the gold-buckle race. Three-time World Champion Will Lowe ranks second to Feild in both the world standings and the NFR average race.
The NFR continues with Thursday’s eighth round, which begins at 6:45 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack.
54th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Seventh round, Dec. 12, 2012
Bareback riding: 1. Caleb Bennett, Morgan, Utah, 85 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Times Up, $18,257; 2. Wes Stevenson, Lubbock, Texas, 83, $14,429; 3. Justin McDaniel, Porum, Okla., 82, $10,895; 4. Matt Bright, Azle, Texas, 81.5, $7,656; 5. Will Lowe, Canyon, Texas, 79.5, $4,712; 6. Kaycee Feild, Payson, Utah, 79, $2,945; 7. Jessy Davis, Power, Mont., 73; 8. J.R. Vezain, Cowley, Wyo., 68.5; 9. Brian Bain, Culver, Ore., 68; 10. Bobby Mote, Stephenville, Texas, 67.5; 11. (tie) Steven Dent, Mullen, Neb.; Winn Ratliff, Leesville, La.; Steven Peebles, Redmond, Ore.; Casey Colletti, Pueblo, Colo., and Jared Keylon, Uniontown, Kan., NS.
Steer wrestling: 1, Todd Suhn, Hermosa, S.D., 3.6 seconds, $18,257; 2. Luke Branquinho, Los Alamos, Calif., 3.7, $14,429; 3. Gabe Ledoux, Kaplan, La., 3.9, $10,895; 4. (tie) Wade Sumpter, Fowler, Colo., and Billy Bugenig, Ferndale, Calif., 4.0, $6,184 each; 6. (tie) Matt Reeves, Cross Plains, Texas; Trevor Knowles, Mount Vernon, Ore., and Casey Martin, Sulphur, La., 4.3, $982 each; 9. Dean Gorsuch, Gering, Neb., 4.5; 10. Bray Armes, Gruver, Texas, 4.6; 11. Ethen Thouvenell, Napa, Calif., 4.7; 12. Les Shepperson, Midwest, Wyo., 4.9; 13. Beau Clark, Belgrade, Mont., 5.9; 14. K.C. Jones, Decatur, Texas, 6.6; 15. Tom Lewis, Lehi, Utah, NT.
Team roping: 1. Clay Tryan, Billings, Mont./Travis Graves, Jay, Okla., 3.6 seconds, $18,257 each; 2. Derrick Begay, Seba Dalkai, Ariz./Cesar de la Cruz, Tucson, Ariz., 3.8, $14,429; 3. Erich Rogers, Round Rock, Ariz./Kory Koontz, Sudan, Texas, 4.1, $10,895; 4.Brock Hanson, Casa Grande, Ariz./Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, 4.3, $7,656; 5. Kaleb Driggers, Albany, Ga./Jade Corkill, Fallon, Nev., 4.5, $4,712; 6. Turtle Powell, Stephenville, Texas/Dugan Kelly, Paso Robles, Calif., 4.7, $2,945; 7. Luke Brown, Stephenville, Texas/Martin Lucero, Stephenville, Texas, 4.8; 8. Colby Lovell, Madisonville, Texas/Russell Cardoza, Terrebonne, Ore., 5.1; 9. Spencer Mitchell, Colusa, Calif./Dakota Kirchenschlager, Stephenville, Texas, 5.8; 10. Chad Masters, Cedar Hill, Tenn./Clay O’Brien Cooper, Gardnerville, Nev., 6.2; 11. Charly Crawford, Prineville, Ore./Jim Ross Cooper, Monument, N.M., 7.5; 12. Keven Daniel, Franklin, Tenn./Chase Tryan, Helena, Mont., 10.1; 13. (tie) Trevor Brazile, Decatur, Texas/Patrick Smith, Lipan, Texas; Dustin Bird, Cut Bank, Mont./Paul Eaves, Millsap, Texas; and Travis Tryan, Billings, Mont./Jake Long, Coffeyville, Kan., NT.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Jesse Wright, Milford, Utah, 84 points on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Gold Coast, $18,257; 2. Tyrell Smith, Cascade, Mont., 83, $14,429; 3. Bradley Harter, Weatherford, Texas, 82.5, $10,895; 4. Cody Wright, Milford, Utah, 81.5, $7,656; 5. Sterling Crawley, College Station, Texas, 80, $4,712; 6. Chad Ferley, Oelrichs, S.D., 79.5, $2,945; 7. Cort Scheer, Elsmere, Neb., 79; 8. Jacobs Crawley, College Station, Texas, 77; 9. Cody DeMoss, Heflin, La., 75.5; 10. Isaac Diaz, Davie, Fla., 74; 11. Wade Sundell, Boxholm, Iowa, 72.5; 12. (tie) Taos Muncy, Corona, N.M.; Cody Taton, Corona, N.M.; Jake Wright, Milford, Utah, and Cole Elshere, Faith, S.D., NS.
Tie-down roping: 1. Shane Hanchey, Sulphur, La., 7.6 seconds, $18,257; 2. Cory Solomon, Prairie View, Texas, 7.7, $14,429; 3. Ryan Jarrett, Comanche, Okla., 7.9, $10,895; 4. Matt Shiozawa, Chubbuck, Idaho, 8.3, $7,656; 5. (tie) Cody Ohl, Hico, Texas, and Monty Lewis, Hereford, Texas, 8.6, $3,828 each; 7. Clint Robinson, Spanish Fork, Utah, 9.1; 8. Bradley Bynum, Sterling City, Texas, 9.2; 9. Justin Maass, Giddings, Texas, 9.4; 10. Fred Whitfield, Hockley, Texas, 10.0; 11. Tuf Cooper, Decatur, Texas, 10.1; 12. Adam Gray, Seymour, Texas, 10.2; 13. Clif Cooper, Decatur, Texas, 17.6; 14. Houston Hutto, Tomball, Texas, 20.0; 15. Hunter Herrin, Apache, Okla., NT.
Barrel racing: 1. Mary Walker, Ennis, Texas, 13.72 seconds, $18,257; 2. Carlee Pierce, Stephenville, Texas, 13.81, $14,429; 3. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., 13.84, $10,895; 4. Kaley Bass, Kissimmee, Fla., 13.87, $7,656; 5. Trula Churchill, Valentine, Neb., 13.89, $4,712; 6. Kelli Tolbert, Hooper, Utah, 13.91, $2,945; 7. Sherry Cervi, Marana, Ariz., 13.95; 8. Lee Ann Rust, Stephenville, Texas, 14.05; 9. Christy Loflin, Franktown, Colo., 14.26; 10. Brenda Mays, Terrebonne, Ore., 14.32; 11. Christina Richman, Glendora, Calif., 14.35; 12. Lindsay Sears, Nanton, Alberta, 18.76; 13. Brittany Pozzi, Victoria, Texas, 18.98; 14. Benette Barrington-Little, Ardmore, Okla., 19.17; 15. Nikki Steffes, Vale, S.D., 19.41.
Bull riding: 1. Brett Stall, Detroit Lakes, Minn., 88.5 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Cowboy Compactor, $18,257; 2. (tie) Kanin Asay, Powell, Wyo., and Tag Elliott, Thatcher, Utah, 86.5, $12,662 each; 4. Clayton Savage, Casper, Wyo., 84.5, $7,656; 5. Cody Teel, Kountze, Texas, 83, $4,712; 6. Trey Benton III, Rock Island, Texas, 82.5, $2,945; 7. Shane Proctor, Grand Coulee, Wash., 77.5; 8.(tie) J.W. Harris, Mullin, Texas; Ardie Maier, Timber Lake, S.D.; Trevor Kastner, Ardmore, Okla.; Seth Glause, Cheyenne, Wyo.; Tate Stratton, Kellyville, Okla.; Cody Samora, Cortez, Colo.; Beau Schroeder, China, Texas, and Cody Whitney, Sayre, Okla., NS.