By Neil Reid
LAS VEGAS – Tears of joy flowed freely for Hailey Kinsel on Friday night.
The 24-year-old from Cotulla, Texas, realized a lifelong dream by clinching her first career WPRA world championship during the ninth round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and she did it in fine style. Kinsel – the last of the 15 barrel racers to fly down the Thomas & Mack Center alley – brought the crowd of 17,018 to its feet by stopping the clock in 13.40 seconds to win her fourth round in nine nights at the $10 million rodeo.
In the process, she established a new Round 9 record – eclipsing her own mark of 13.43 from a year ago – broke Lindsay Sears’ WPRA single-season earnings record of $323,570 set in 2008 and secured her first gold buckle a year after finishing as runner-up to Nellie Miller.
Kinsel was overcome with emotion as the reality of her achievement set in and she was officially referred to as a world champion.
“Oh man, I can’t even put into words what that sounds like,” said Kinsel, who has earned $339,277 with Round 10 and the Wrangler NFR average payout still to go. “That’s pretty neat. There are probably going to be more (tears) later.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make sense of it for a while. It’s a lot of emotions, and they’re all good.”
Kinsel’s record-setting run – aboard the reigning WPRA AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year DM Sissy Hayday “Sister” – broke a tie atop the Round 9 leaderboard between Round 8 winner Taci Bettis and Miller, who split second place in 13.62 seconds. She gave all the credit to her beloved 7-year-old palomino mare and didn’t even want to hop off her following their winning run.
“Getting off my horse to get onto the victory lap horse was a little tough,” Kinsel said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better, and I just have an incredible horse. She’s always on point.”
Kinsel entered the 60th Wrangler NFR with a target on her back as the world standings leader and made it a point to be aggressive as she chased history. She won Rounds 1, 6, 7 and 9 and placed in the third and fifth rounds to pull away from a hard-charging Amberleigh Moore down the stretch.
“Coming into this (Finals) just knowing it was anybody’s game because there’s so much money here, I had no expectations,” she said. “I just went for it every night, just like everybody else here. It’s sure awesome to get some results.
“Everybody hopes to come out here and have a good week, and not all of us get to. I’m thankful for the good and the bad this week.”
Downed barrels in Rounds 4 and 8 have Kinsel and Sister sitting seventh in the average standings, which are led by Wrangler NFR rookie Carman Pozzobon and her 8-year-old buckskin mare, Ripp, with a nine-run total time of 125.78 seconds. Fellow Wrangler NFR rookies Jessica Routier (128.87 seconds) and Jessie Telford (129.21) are second and third in the average, respectively.
Kinsel’s $26,231 haul from her Round 9 win bumped her Wrangler NFR earnings to a rodeo-best $146,442, and she’s in the driver’s seat to win the RAM Top Gun Award as the rodeo’s top earner. She could take home a brand new RAM 3500 Heavy Duty Truck, a special Montana Silversmiths custom buckle and a RAM Top Gun-branded gun from Commemorative Firearms on Saturday night if she can hold off bull rider Chase Dougherty, who is second with $126,135.
With one more round to go, Kinsel is going to take a simple approach to Saturday night’s finale.
“I’m going to enjoy tomorrow,” she said. “I’m just going to enjoy it.”
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