LAS VEGAS – Entering the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Polaris RANGER, Trey Benton III was feeling healthy.
After Round 1 of the WNFR, Benton was feeling fantastic.
The bull rider from Rock Island, Texas, scored 90 points on Big Stone Rodeo Inc’s Mortimer to win the first round on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’ve always been broken up here,” Benton said, “so knowing I’ve got a chance … I have never been healthy here, but the tribulations make a man.”
Benton picked up right where he left off at the end of the 2017 regular season. Benton won back-to-back nights in Sioux Falls, S.D., Sept. 29-30, both Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots events.
He was 91 points on Sept. 29 and he closed the season with 88 points Sept. 30. He was right back at it in Las Vegas on Thursday.
“I’ve got to make a statement for nine more rounds and do what I’ve done all year and stick to the system I had intended – to do whatever it takes to stay on and nothing else matters,” Benton said. “I need to take care of myself here (in Vegas). I hadn’t had good experiences here before, and I want to make sure I do it right this time.”
Benton did it right in Round 1. The win climbed him two places, earning him $26,231, and moved him up to fourth in the WEATHER GUARD® PRCA World Standings. He’s earned $146,702 on the season.
Setting the bar with the first 90 of the rodeo in the first round shows that Benton is ready to roll.
“I honestly didn’t know it would be a 90, I got an A-plus for the day,” Benton said. “I just nodded and hoped for the best; it’s hard to tell the fans that, but you get a drift of things after a while. I’ve done this my whole life.”
Defending champ Waguespack back at it
A year ago, steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack won $213,218 to not only capture the RAM Top Gun Award for winning the most money at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but he also claimed his first world title.
Waguespack picked up right where he left off from last year, winning Round 1 after posting a 3.5-second time – his second fastest at the WNFR, and tied for the fourth fastest time in the history of the first round.
“Coming into it, I always try and treat it just like another rodeo and that’s pretty hard with the stage that it’s on,” the defending champion said. “I don’t know if the hype gets to me or I just get excited, but whatever I’m doing sure seems to be working. I thought if I could start it off with a bang in the first round, it will relax me for the rest of the time and I’m glad I got that accomplished.”
Waguespack entered the 2017 WNFR in fourth place. The first-round win moved him up to third with $140,175, with Ty Erickson still holding the lead with $173,152.
Over the 2016-17 WNFRs, Waguespack has placed in nine of the last 11 WNFR rounds.
Waguespack was planning to ride Cadillac – the 2014 and 2016 PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year – in Vegas, but had to switch to Scooter when Cadillac was injured before the WNFR. The transition was seamless.
“I got off one horse of the year and got on another and Scooter was awesome,” the Gonzales, La., cowboy said. “I was able to ride Scooter several times throughout the year and have success on him.”
WNFR rookie tops saddle bronc riding
It didn’t take long for saddle bronc rider Hardy Braden to enjoy his first trip to the WNFR.
The 28-year-old cowboy from Welch, Okla., scored 87.5 points on Cervi Championship Rodeo’s HATitude Alpha Dog to win his debut.
Braden summed it up succinctly.
“I don’t think it gets any better than that,” he said. “What tops that? That is how you want to start out the Finals and I’m super excited – I can’t even tell you how excited I am.”
Braden entered the Finals in seventh place in the world standings. The victory pushed him up two spots to fifth.
Braden got plenty of advice in the weeks and months leading up to his trip to Las Vegas. He listened to it all, but also made sure not to change much.
“A lot of people asked me if I was nervous and this and that, and I told them I’ll treat it like any rodeo and everyone said, ‘Good luck,’” Braden said. “I did the same routine as any rodeo, and I didn’t get nervous or think about it too much.”
The win gives Braden $139,004 for the season and gives him plenty of confidence with nine more nights to go.
“I can relax and say, ‘Alright, it’s begun,’ and now enjoy the moment,” Braden said. “I’ll hang with my bronc rider friends, then talk to my dad and try to win some money at the casinos.”
Team roping leaders hold serve in Round 1
Team roping header Kaleb Driggers and team roping heeler Junior Nogueira maintained their status as the ones to beat, posting an impressive 4.1-second go to win Round 1.
Driggers and Nogueira tied for the second fastest time in the first round.
“It’s a blessing, honestly,” Driggers said. “When we started this week, we weren’t going for first. We were just going to try to go for our steers and make the best runs we can, and let it play out.”
Watching the other teams go before could affect the way Driggers and Nogueira would attack their steer. They changed that up for 2017.
“It’s hard not to get your adrenaline pumping when you’re watching the headers spin ’em fast,” Driggers said. “That’s one thing I had to do, tell myself to settle down, do my job and do the best I can.”
It helped that Driggers and Nogueira knew the steer.
“We know them a little bit, we’ve roped them before,” said Brazilian cowboy Nogueira, the reigning all-around world champion. “We helped to break them in. We know which ones were running faster and which ones were running slower. We had a pretty good steer tonight.”
Driggers leads all headers with $170,208, while Nogueira leads heelers with $170,938.
After the duo each finished in second place in 2016 in their respective events, the two are flying high after Round 1.
“There are a lot of guys that didn’t make it that rope just as good as we do and are sitting at home,” Driggers said. “So, we just try to take it all in stride, you know? It’s a blessing to be here and we’re very grateful.”
Vold tops bareback riding
Jake Vold opened the WNFR in eighth place, nearly $100,000 behind leader Tim O’Connell in the bareback riding standings.
Vold knows he needs a great WNFR if he has any hope of catching the defending world champion. He got off to a great start Thursday night.
Vold scored 87.5 points on Kesler Championship Rodeo’s Oakridge to win the bareback riding and take home $26,231. The win leapfrogged Vold from eighth to third.
“It’s a good confidence builder here,” he said. “There are a lot of horses here and going at that kind of money, I find quite exciting. It keeps your blood flowing. I need to win a lot of money to have a chance at a world title. To get a win right off the bat is definitely key. Hopefully a guy can keep it rolling and see what happens after 10 days.”
Last season, Vold won three consecutive rounds, placed in seven rounds and finished second in the world standings. So, the Ponoka, Alberta, cowboy – in his third trip to the WNFR – is finding himself at home in Las Vegas.
“The atmosphere here is so unbelievable and the people, everything, the bright lights, just being in Vegas, going at the money every night keeps you pretty excited,” said Vold, 30. “When you’ve got a chance to go at that every night for 10 nights in a row it’s a game changer.”
His 87.5 points tied for the fourth most in Round 1.
New experience for veteran Jarrett in tie-down roping
Ryan Jarrett has plenty of experience at the WNFR.
He’s qualified 10 times in tie-down roping, once in steer wrestling and won a world title in all-around in 2005, the same year he won the Finals tie-down roping average.
But on Thursday night, the 33-year-old Georgia cowboy accomplished something he’d never done before – winning Round 1 at the WNFR.
Jarrett did that in 7.5 seconds to take home first place, four-tenths of a second faster than anyone else on the first day of the 2017 edition of the WNFR.
“This is a good feeling,” said Jarrett, who will turn 34 on Dec. 28. “I’ve never won the first round, so this is exciting. Getting started off like this means a lot. Winning Round 1 is like no other (for your confidence) and winning rounds doesn’t get old.”
The victory moved Jarrett from eighth to fifth in the world standings with $132,286 on the year.
Jarrett had plenty of confidence in his horse.
“I was riding a young horse, he is just 7 years old, his name is Snoopy,” Jarrett said. “He’s never been here, but I rode him toward the end of the (regular) season and I had a lot of confidence on him and I chose to bring him here. I wanted to be against the barrier and I knew he would do his job. You get confidence in him, but to bring him to this level, you have to have a different kind of confidence in him, and he came through.”
Miller notches victory in return
Before Thursday night, Nellie Miller hadn’t competed in the Thomas & Mack Center since 2010.
Miller made a triumphant return to the WNFR, winning Round 1 in 13.64 seconds.
“This round win is a tremendous start to the week and it gives you a lot of confidence in that arena,” said Miller, sitting in third place in the world standings. “It is what we came here to do. Everything worked out. I didn’t win any rounds at the 2010 NFR, so this is new for me and I am just so excited.”
Miller was riding Rafter W Minnie Reba “Sister,” who won AQHA Horse of the Year and the WPRA Horse with the Most Heart award, voted on by the Top 15 Barrel Racers in 2015.
Miller immediately pointed to Sister as a reason for the win.
“My run was amazing,” she said. “Sister is so confident in what she’s doing. She hunts the barrels and she always turns, no matter what. She just went in there and looked for those barrels.”
Brazile pads all-around lead
Trevor Brazile continues to lead the way in search of his 14th all-around gold buckle.
After the first round at the WNFR, Brazile had won $271,952, giving him a $31,930 lead over his brother-in-law, Tuf Cooper.
Brazile added to his lead over Cooper by tying for second place in the tie-down roping and winning a check for $18,192.
Courtesy of PRCA