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Tim O’Connell retakes bareback riding lead

by Matt Naber | Dec 15, 2018


LAS VEGAS – As the two-time defending bareback riding world champion, Tim O’Connell has always thrived on pressure.

He likes having a target on his back. That target has never been more sought after than this season, and O’Connell knows that.

The 27-year-old from Zwingle, Iowa, tied a Round 9 record with a 90-point ride on Cervi Championship Rodeo’s Vitalix Ain’t No Angel to win the round in front of 17,018 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Friday, Dec. 14, regaining the lead in the bareback riding 2018 PRCA | RAM World Standings.

“I needed this round, I needed to get this going again,” O’Connell said. “I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say it hasn’t been frustrating and it hasn’t been a tough week, that I haven’t questioned what I’ve been doing here, because I have.”

Caleb Bennett held the lead in the world standings the previous two nights but failed to place Friday. O’Connell is back on top with $253,378. Bennett is second, $12,988 behind.

 “I’m not used to it,” said O’Connell, who has entered the last two Wrangler NFRs with sizable leads. “I wouldn’t exactly call it fun. But I have a lot of my greatest mentors from high school and college and my trainer – they’re all wrestlers – and they kept telling me this is the third period and it’s scoreless. You’ve got to be the one to make the move to win. We’ve trained for moments like this. We knew this was going to be a 10-round fight, and I’m ready for a 10-round fight.”

O’Connell is trying to keep an even keel heading to the 10th and final round Saturday night.

“I don’t think it’s going to be done until I hear the whistle tomorrow night,” he said. “It’s been a very testing time these last 10 days, I’m not going to deny that. Do I like the pressure? No. Do I mind it? No. This is what world championships are made of.”          

Erickson earns first go-round on 49th Finals round

Ty Erickson is no stranger to making the Wrangler NFR. The steer wrestler is in his fifth trip to Las Vegas for the Finals.

On Friday night, Erickson finally got his first outright round victory.

Erickson, while riding Scooter, stopped the clock in 3.5 seconds to earn $26,231 and move to sixth in the world standings.

“I’m ecstatic right now,” said the Helena, Mont., cowboy. “I’ve made 49 runs in this arena now and this is my first outright win. I couldn’t be more excited, especially as slow as my week has been. I just never felt like I got things going, but I drew one I really liked tonight, and I made the best run I could.”

Erickson got things going from the get-go Friday. And that was a key reason for his success.

“The start has been tricky this year,” Erickson said. “There have been way more (broken barriers) this year than I have ever seen. You just keep going at it and hopefully you get out, that’s what you have to do.”

Scooter, the back-to-back PRCA | AQHA Horse of the Year for steer wrestling, has been cleaning up for the steer wrestlers who are riding him. The win marked Scooter’s fifth go-round win in nine rounds.

“He’s one of the best horses I have ever been able to ride,” Erickson said. “That horse does everything well. He scores, he runs, and he gives you a great go every time. He’s just very consistent.”

Kyle Irwin and Tyler Pearson own Scooter.

Tyler Waguespack continues to lead the steer wrestling world standings. He’s up to $192,744 and leads in the aggregate with 39.4 seconds on nine head.

Begay/Petska make it round win No. 3

Maybe Derrick Begay and Cory Petska should take it easy every season.

The team roping duo who hadn’t planned on rodeoing hard notched their third go-round win of the 2018 Wrangler NFR.

Team roping header Begay and heeler Petska clocked a 3.8-second time to win Round 9. They also won Round 3 and split the win in Round 7.

“It’s been awesome,” said Petska, 39. “We’ve only drawn three checks, but the three checks have been first, so that’s a dream come true. Your goal when you come here is to win as many rounds as you can. Winning three in the toughest setup, with 14 of the best team ropers in the world this year, it’s awesome having this much success.”

With their success, Begay is looking for more of the same.

“Just like we’ve been doing all year – you have to trust your ability, trust the horse you’re riding and your partner,” said Begay, 35. “We’ve been making the same run all year. When you get here you don’t have to change anything, just do your job.”

The duo has won $85,942 apiece at the 2018 Finals. They are fifth in the aggregate.

Begay has $170,779 in the team roping heading standings, putting him fourth in the world. Petska is third in the world with $177,236. Begay’s pride isn’t limited to the Finals he and Petska are having.

“More like the year we had,” Begay said. “We weren’t planning on rodeoing, and we did pretty good throughout the summer. We had no intentions of being here, and then us being able to qualify, and then doing so good. The whole year has been a big memory.”

Header Clay Smith and heeler Paul Eaves are leading their respective standings with $231,114 each.

Thurston wins saddle bronc riding with 90-point ride

Former saddle bronc riding world champion Zeke Thurston is coming on late at the Wrangler NFR.

Thurston posted a 90-point ride on Andrews Rodeo’s Brutus to win Round 9 and cash in for $26,231.

The win has Thurston up to third place in the world standings with $218,887. He trails leader Ryder Wright, the defending saddle bronc riding world champion, by $24,307.


“It’s shaking up to be similar (to when Thurston won the title in 2016), and there is one more bronc to go that will determine everything,” Thurston said. “Everyone will go at them, and there will be big scores tomorrow. The average will determine the world champion.”

Thurston is third in the average. Wade Sundell is second in the average and in fifth place overall. CoBurn Bradshaw is first in the aggregate and ninth in the world standings. Wright is 10th in the aggregate.

Thurston pointed to Brutus as a key reason they made a 90-point ride.

“A lot of the points came from the horse,” said Thurston, of Big Valley, Alberta. “He leaves there like a house on fire, and it was a knife fight after that, but I kept my feet moving and that’s all you can do with a horse like that. He bucks off more guys than what rides him, but that’s the kind you want to draw.”

Thurston has enjoyed the ride in and out of the arena.

“It’s been a blast, I had family down here and got a new baby with us,” Thurston said. “It’s fun having her (Lucy, 4 months old) around. The whole thing has been great.”

Sterling Smith gets first round win since 2015

Tie-down roper Sterling Smith wasn’t happy with how his run in Round 1 went. It put him behind in the average, which he’d been gunning for.

On Friday, Smith got a little solace when he stopped the clock in 7.4 seconds to win Round 9.

“I shot myself for the week when I didn’t get a time (in Round 1 for the average),” said Smith, of Stephenville, Texas. “I should not have put a wrap and hooey on her. I had a real good, honest calf tonight. The second time we ran that calf she strained. Tonight, I just made sure and slowed down and gathered her slow and hoped she would not kick. I was able to get the job done. Now, I hope I can win (Round 10).”

Smith is ninth in the world standings with $158,609. He’s won $79,526 at the Finals but is 15th in the aggregate.

Tuf Cooper continues to lead the tie-down roping world standings. After splitting for third in Round 9, Cooper is up to $205,268. Cooper is eighth in the aggregate. Tyson Durfey is second in the world standings with $187,710.

Smith’s round win was his first since 2015, the last time he qualified for the Finals.

“I’m riding the horse I’ve been riding all year, it is my girlfriend’s horse,” Smith said. “The horse is named Pepto, and he is 11. This is the first time this horse has been to the NFR. He scores really, really good, and he’s just consistent all the time.”

The horse belongs to Cassidy Boggs.

Hailey Kinsel clinches barrel racing world title

With one round to spare, Hailey Kinsel is already a world champion.

And Kinsel won the gold buckle in style.

Kinsel won Round 9 in a round-record 13.40 seconds, clinching the barrel racing world championship. In the process she also set a WPRA, single-season barrel racing record with $339,277 and still has one round to go.

“Oh, man, I can’t even put into words what that sounds like,” Kinsel said about winning the title. “That’s pretty neat.”

The go-round win was Kinsel’s fourth of the Finals. She’s made $146,442 at the 2018 Finals.

Even coming into the Finals with a sizable lead, Kinsel wasn’t counting on that lead holding up.

“Coming into this knowing that it’s anybody’s game with as much money as there is here, so, I had no expectations,” she said. “We just went for it every night just like everybody is here. So, it’s awesome to get some results to add to it.”

Kinsel has a chance to extend her record in Round 10. She’s seventh in the aggregate.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” she said about her emotions. “I won’t be able to make sense of this for a while. It’s a lot of emotions, and they are all good.”

Vastbinder wins second go-round

Bull rider Eli Vastbinder has had a rough week. He’s had pneumonia and broken his wrist.

Somehow, he’s managed to win two rounds at the 2018 Finals, including posting a 91.5-point ride on D&H Cattle’s SweetPro’s Bruiser on Friday to win the round.

“This one is more special than the first one (Round 5) after everything I went through this week,” Vastbinder said. “I hurt my hand in the second round, then I got pneumonia, and then I broke my wrist in the seventh round. But you can’t give up, so this definitely means the most to me. This is the buckle I’ll wear. … I just got sick and thought it was a head cold and kept not sleeping enough and was feeling down a couple nights. My lungs were full of mucus, so I spent rounds six through eight hacking up stuff, but I felt like a new man this morning.”

Drawing Bruiser had Vastbinder excited heading into the ninth round.

“That bull is famous, and he was the Bull of the Year in 2017,” said Vastbinder, of Union Grove, N.C. “He’s been around a long time, and when they ride him, they are 90 or more – everyone wanted him.”

Vastbinder is ninth in the world standings with $173,371, with $78,256 coming at the Finals. It’s been a great ride for him.

“Just being out here is an experience,” Vastbinder said. “If you want to see Vegas, you better get up early. If you sleep until 10 a.m., it will be dark before you know it. I watched the NFR on TV my whole life, and to come here, compete and win two rounds and have my parents here has been an experience. It’s everything I expected and more.”

Four-time defending world champion Sage Kimzey continues to lead the world standings with $358,853. Chase Dougherty is second (first in the aggregate) with $251,843. With ground money a factor, Kimzey could theoretically lose his lead in the world title to Dougherty or Parker Breding, who’s ranked third in the world standings.

Cooper into first place in All-Around

Tuf Cooper made a significant move in the All-Around gold buckle race.

The reigning All-Around world champion split third place in tie-down roping in Round 9 to climb over his brother-in-law Trevor Brazile and move into first place in the hunt for the All-Around world title.

Cooper has $310,357 in All-Around, while Brazile has $298,026. Rhen Richard is a distant third with $203,647. Richard is competing in tie-down roping and team roping, so there’s still a chance Richard could pass both cowboys if Round 10 goes well for him.

Kinsel extends lead for RAM Top Gun Award

In addition to winning the barrel racing gold buckle in Round 9, Hailey Kinsel grew her lead in the RAM Top Gun Award, given to the Wrangler NFR competitor that wins the most money in one event at the Finals.

Kinsel upped her total at the Finals to $146,442.

Bull rider Chase Dougherty has come on late. He is in second with $126,135.

 





 
 
 
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