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Historic finale at 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo

by Matt Naber | Dec 16, 2018

LAS VEGAS – The 60th edition of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo proved to be historic. And not just because it marked 60 years of the Finals crowning world champions.

Trevor Brazile won his PRCA-record 14th All-Around gold buckle, adding to his ever-growing record of PRCA championships, this one No. 24, in front of 17,150 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Dec. 15.

Meanwhile, Sage Kimzey became the first bull rider in the NFR era to win five consecutive world championships. ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jim Shoulders won six consecutive bull riding world titles, but that was before the NFR began.

“Anytime your name is by Jim Shoulders’ you are in a league you can’t put into words,” said Kimzey, 24. “He is one of the greatest cowboys of all time and it means the world to me.”

Kimzey’s fifth bull riding world title also puts him in precious company. Only four other bull riders have won at least five – Don Gay won eight, Shoulders seven, and Smokey Snyder and Harry Tompkins each won five.

Kimzey was banged up throughout the Finals, and that reflected in the fact that he rode four bulls. But Kimzey saved the best for last. 

Hopping on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Record Rack’s Shootin’ Stars, Kimzey posted a 93-point ride. Making it more impressive was the fact that Kimzey was bruised and battered.

“This year was tough, it was just sheer grit and determination from the start of the year,” he said. “It started with a fractured pelvis, and it was a 365-day grind. Going into here with a big lead, then getting hurt in the first round – it was a brutal 10 days and it was hard to get out of bed.”

While Kimzey’s career continues to flourish, Brazile announced before the Finals started that the 2018 season marked the last time he would rodeo full time. Brazile is going to an abbreviated schedule in 2019 to spend more time with his family.

Then he went out and won his 14th All-Around title, and he did it by winning Round 10 of the tie-down roping in 7.2 seconds. It was his 71st career go-round win at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – in tie-down roping and team roping – and National Finals Steer Roping. Yet another record.

“When I came into Round 10, I was honestly so thankful that I had another chance,” Brazile said. “It wasn’t maybe the best chance. I had to win the round and do some certain things, but it was at least a chance, and as a competitor that’s all you can ask for.”

Brazile entered Round 10 trailing his brother-in-law Tuf Cooper by a little more than $12,000. Cooper won the All-Around title in 2017.

 “It’s a really unique situation because I love him so much, and I’m his biggest fan, too,” Brazile said of Cooper. “It’s a crazy dynamic that we’ve lived for so long, but I can’t wait to just set back and be able to watch him instead of competing against him.”

And while some say Brazile should keep going as hard as ever, especially after the win, that’s not his thinking.

“The first question everybody wants to ask is you can’t go out now,” he said. “But, the competitor in me, this is the only way to go out. It was hard to swallow the other scenarios. I hadn’t roped well this week, and I ended up with three round wins. But I also ended up with three two loops, and that’s the most I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have ended any better.”

The 10-day attendance for the Wrangler NFR was 169,171.

O’Connell battles to win third consecutive bareback riding title

Two-time defending bareback riding champion Tim O’Connell came into the 2018 Wrangler NFR with the slimmest margin in the world standings he’d had over the last three years.

He saw that lead of $14,822 vanish by Round 7 of the Finals, with Caleb Bennett moving into first.

But O’Connell wasn’t ready to relinquish his title of world champion just yet.

O’Connell split the aggregate with Steven Dent to propel the Zwingle, Iowa, cowboy to his third consecutive world championship with $319,801.

“It’s surreal,” said O’Connell, who didn’t move into first place in the world standings until August. “It was a battle from Day 1. The season started slow, it picked up. It was a fight through the end of the season. It came down to me leaving it all on the line when it came down to the 10th round.”

Only seven bareback riders have won four or more world championships.

O’Connell vowed to treat the last two rounds like it was the third period of a wrestling match. He went out and won Round 9. Then in Round 10, he posted an 87-point ride on J Bar J’s All Pink to split fifth and earn the tie in the aggregate. O’Connell got thrown off after the whistle and landed awkwardly. He eventually walked off under his own power though. Nothing was going to keep him from getting that third gold buckle.

“I knew when I nodded my head, I was going to leave it all out there,” said O’Connell, 27. “Obviously, the chaos at the end showed it. Luckily, God left me with some safety. I might be a little banged up. It feels so much different. I had to fight. You guys had to see me fight.”

Smith/Eaves claim first team roping world titles

Clay Smith and Paul Eaves went out in the best way possible together.

The duo who decided before the Wrangler Finals kicked off Dec. 6 to go their separate ways on the rodeo trail, put together a team roping championship run.

Team roping header Smith and team roping heeler Eaves stopped the clock in 4.4 seconds in Round 10 to clinch third in the aggregate and win their respective world championships with $289,921 each.

They each cashed in for $174,577 at the Finals. Their third-place aggregate finish was 34.5 seconds on eight head. Aaron Tsinigine and Trey Yates won the average with 69.6 seconds on 10 head.

“It’s everything we’ve worked for,” said Smith, 27.

“It’s what we’ve wanted since we were young,” said Eaves, 28. “It’s unbelievable.”

Smith and Eaves missed in Round 1, but rebounded immediately, winning Round 2. They placed in Round 3 and won Round 5. They placed in four of the last five rounds.

“We just stayed aggressive and tried to win something on every one of them,” said Smith, of Broken Bow, Okla.

The two have clicked together since they started together.

“It’s not just one thing, it’s a lot of things,” said Eaves, of Millsap, Texas. “The way he (Smith) ropes is aggressive and can catch. He’s got really good horses, and that’s a huge deal.”

But the two are parting ways for the 2019 season. 

“It’s just time for a change,” Eaves said.

Powered by second average crown, Waguespack claims second world title

Tyler Waguespack opened the 2018 Wrangler NFR with a Round 1 victory. He closed it with a world title.

The 28-year-old, Gonzales, La., cowboy claimed his second world championship in three years with $260,013.

Waguespack spurred the victory with his aggregate win – 44.5 seconds on 10 head.

“This feels just like the first one,” he said. “We worked hard all year and it all paid off.”

Waguespack entered the Finals in 10th place. He trailed regular-season leader Curtis Cassidy by $26,425 when the Finals opened.

He won Rounds 1 and 8 and placed in five others. Over the 10 days, Waguespack won $180,429.

After winning Round 9, Waguespack knew the world title was well within reach. He didn’t crunch numbers, but he did know it was just a matter of taking care of business.

“I knew after the ninth round if I could go in and win the average that the world title would take care of itself,” Waguespack said. “I was just making sure to go out there and make a good, solid run in the last round and get the job done.”

Having been there before, Waguespack understood what it took to win a world title. He also got some of the best advice from 24-time world champion Trevor Brazile.

“You know, man, I think Trevor Brazile said it the best, he described the NFR as a marathon and it’s a marathon you have to sprint 10 nights in a row,” Waguespack said.

Waguespack has plans for both of his world championship gold buckles.

“I’m going to keep my first one, I’m pretty sure,” he said, “and for sure I’m going to see if my dad will wear the second one.”

It’s buckle No. 2 for tie-down roper Caleb Smidt

For the second time in his career, Caleb Smidt is a world champion.

The tie-down roper from Bellville, Texas, won the 2018 gold buckle with $232,817, capping it off by winning the average with 83.7 seconds on 10 head. The average win cashed for $67,269.

Smidt’s previous world title (it also included the average title) came in 2015. Smidt’s newest title is the one he’s most proud of.

“This is awesome,” said Smidt, 29. “It has been a few years, but this one means a lot more to me than the first one. The first one I was young, and I was just roping. I came out here to rope and do it for my family. To have another world championship and average championship is awesome.”

Smidt’s only round win of the 2018 Finals came in Round 1. But that kicked off his Finals with a jumpstart. After that, he placed in four other rounds.

“I started off good, placed in the first three rounds and won the first round,” he said. “I got some money bottled up there. The second half (the final five rounds) I was just getting them turned around, tying them down, and that’s what won me the average.”

He also just kept catching.

“I wanted to do the same thing I’ve been doing all week,” Smidt said. “I got good starts and drew some really good calves. Tonight, I had one that was an OK calf and the horse was good. I’m just glad to be right here, right now.”

Smidt was riding Pockets.

“Pockets is 11 years old, and I have had him for four years,” Smidt said. “I won the world on him in 2015. He’s awesome. I didn’t ride him all summer. I rode a couple calves on him before I came out here (to the NFR), and he made it easy enough for me. We’ve got two gold buckles.”

Sundell wins first world title at 33

Wade Sundell qualified for the saddle bronc riding for the Wrangler Finals every year between 2007 and 2015.

He didn’t make the Finals again until 2018. And this year wasn’t easy, as the 33-year-old’s house burned down over the summer.

But Sundell won $177,327 at the Finals to propel him to his first gold buckle with $280,636.

“Words can’t explain it, it’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do it since the first time here, but I’m glad it came and hope there’s more to come.”

Sundell focused on getting back to Las Vegas. He accomplished that, getting in with the eighth-most money won among saddle bronc riders. He trailed regular-season leader Jacobs Crawley by $64,792.

But Sundell chipped away at the leaders. He just kept riding. He placed in the first three rounds, won Round 5, placed in Round 6, split the win in Round 7 and placed in the last two rounds.

He claims he did nothing different from what he’s always done.

“Just go day by day and do what you’ve been doing your whole life – keep your chin down and have fun riding bucking horses.”

Sundell already has plans for all the money he won.

“Life will do that to you,” he said about his housefire. “But keep your chin up – there’s no sense in being a Sally. … (I will) rebuild the house.”

As for his immediate plans.

“Go home and relax,” he said.

Kinsel cruises to first world title

With her first gold buckle already in hand, barrel racer Hailey Kinsel switched to her backup horse and cruised in Round 10.

Kinsel won with a WPRA single-season record $350,700. She wrapped up the world championship following her Round 9 victory.

“We had (the world championship) won, and I could have run (Sister) to try for that Top Gun deal, but she owes me nothing,” Kinsel said. “We accomplished our main goal, and we are getting ready for 2019. So, she had the night off and I ran my backup horse, TJ. He proved that he deserves to be here, too.”

Kinsel finished seventh in the aggregate, winning four rounds along the way. She may have clinched a night early, but she didn’t get her gold buckle officially until after Round 10.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s outstanding. We’ve dreamed to have this, and it's even more than I could have imagined.”

Dougherty wins RAM Top Gun Award

Bull rider Chase Dougherty, a newcomer to the Wrangler NFR, won the RAM Top Gun Award, given to the competitor who wins the most money in the Finals in one event.

Dougherty won $209,058 over the 10-nights of the Finals.

Steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack was second with $180,429.

As the winner, Dougherty was awarded a 2019 RAM 3500 Heavy Duty Truck. He also received A RAM Top Gun-branded gun from Commemorative Firearms, as well as a custom Top Gun buckle from Montana Silversmiths.




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