By Neil Reid
LAS VEGAS – The Taci Bettis Reclamation Project got a big boost on Thursday night.
The Round Top, Texas, cowgirl continued an impressive turnaround at the 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo by winning the eighth round and earning her first trip to the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa for the nightly go-round buckle presentations. Bettis and her 10-year-old gelding, Smash, clocked a 13.57-second run to top Carman Pozzobon and her 8-year-old buckskin mare, Ripp, by .13 of a second and earn the $26,231 first-place check.
It was the first career Wrangler NFR round victory for Bettis, who is competing in her second consecutive Finals.
“That’s what I’ve been looking forward to this whole time,” Bettis, the 2017 WPRA Rookie of the Year, said of her first career victory lap. “A couple of days ago at the Convention Center, we were riding those little bike horses, and I practiced a victory lap and said, ‘I’m going to do it.’
“This is my second time out here and was my 18th time down the alley, and it’s still so surreal. To finally get a round win is icing on the cake for me.”
The victory marked the fourth consecutive paycheck for Bettis, who had a nightmarish start to the Finals after knocking over barrels in three of the first four rounds. The 27-year-old said she needed to get out of her own head and forget the first four performances in order to move on and have a chance to excel down the stretch.
“My hauling partner (Tammy Fischer) told me to clear my head and quit overthinking it,” Bettis said. “After hitting those barrels like that, it kind of knocked me down, and I’ve been trying to get my mental game back up. I’ve been riding like a straight boar, just not riding good, and finally tonight, I turned it around.”
Thursday’s win vaulted her from 11th to sixth in the WPRA World Standings with $166,577 and has Bettis a bit relieved after such a rough start.
“I’d never hit barrels on that horse, so to hit three here at the NFR was not good timing at all,” she said. “My confidence has been building every day, and the way (Smash) warmed up tonight, I thought he might be on. I really didn’t think the run was going to be that fast, to be honest with you, because he’s so deceiving that you never know.”
Amberleigh Moore finished third in the round in 13.71 seconds – after using quick reflexes to save her second barrel from hitting the ground – and remains second in the 2018 world standings with $209,127. She trails Hailey Kinsel by $103,919 despite Kinsel knocking over a barrel during her run on Thursday night.
Stevi Hillman was fourth in 13.72 seconds to earn a check for the third straight round, while Tammy Fischer enjoyed her first pay day in Las Vegas after taking fifth place in 13.81 seconds. Reigning World Champion Nellie Miller and two-time World Champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi split sixth place after matching 13.84-second runs.
Pozzobon’s second-place finish not only put $20,731 in her pocket, but also gave her the Wrangler NFR average lead with an eight-run total of 111.61 seconds after previous average leader Jessica Routier turfed her first barrel of the 10-day rodeo during her run. Routier only fell to second in the average with a 115.23-second total, while Jessie Telford is third at 115.50.
Pozzobon, one of six Wrangler NFR barrel racing rookies, is the only cowgirl to keep all 24 of her barrels upright through eight rounds.
Kinsel and Moore continue to battle for another major prize – the Wrangler NFR RAM Top Gun Award, which is given to the contestant who earns the most money in Las Vegas. Kinsel leads all 119 qualifiers with $120,212, while Moore closed the gap by moving to $120,000 and steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack is third with $113,160.
After the big win, Bettis was looking forward to celebrating on stage with more than 20 members of her family who are in town for this year’s Finals.
“Everybody came in last night, so this is actually great (timing),” she said. “The stage is going to be filled.”
The 2017 PRCA Media Award winner for print journalism, Neal Reid is covering his 15th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year. He has written for USA Today, the WPRA News, Western Horseman, American Cowboy, ESPN.com and ESPNW.com, just to name a few. Follow him on Twitter at @NealReid21.
Courtesy of WPRA