By Neal Reid
LAS VEGAS – Chances are growing by the day that Hailey Kinsel is going to need to make room in her trophy case.
The Cotulla, Texas, barrel racer picked up her third go-round win of the 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night, inching ever-so close to her first career gold buckle in the process. Kinsel and her lightning-fast 7-year-old palomino mare, Sister, won their second round in a row with a 13.61-second run in the seventh performance and are knocking on the door of history going into the final three rounds of the $10 million rodeo.
“(The run) felt really good,” said Kinsel, the 2017 WPRA reserve world champion. “She was really good and honest tonight, worked great and the ground felt great, too. It’s nice to have a shot at (the world title), and I think everybody who comes here has a shot at it because of all the money here.
“You have to have a good NFR, and I’m glad it’s been going good so far, but we have three more rounds and we’ll see how it goes.”
The pint-sized cowgirl has been a force to be reckoned with aboard her 2018 WPRA/AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year, winning the first, sixth and seventh rounds and placing in Round 3 to bank $120,211. That money total is the most among the 119 contestants at this year’s Finals, putting Kinsel in position to also earn the Wrangler NFR RAM Top Gun Award for most earnings at the 10-round “Super Bowl of Rodeo.”
“It’s really neat and is fun to get to keep up with everybody else out here,” Kinsel said of her Top Gun Award contention. “There’s been so many cool stories out here in the other events, and it’s fun to pay attention to those, too.”
On Wednesday night, Kinsel and Sister stopped the clock in 13.61 seconds, three-hundredths of a second quicker than Round 4 winner Jessica Telford and her 7-year-old sorrel gelding, Cool Whip. Round 5 winner Ivy Conrado was third at 13.72 seconds, while Kylie Weast and Taci Bettis tied for fourth at 13.74 and Stevi Hillman earned sixth-place money at 13.77.
It was another compelling performance by Kinsel, who entered the rodeo atop the WPRA World Standings. The victory laps, she said, certainly don’t get old when they come at the Wrangler NFR.
“It’s fun, and you see new faces every time, too,” she said. “I always get to look up to where my family’s sitting and wave at them, so it’s fun.”
Wrangler NFR rookie Jessica Routier finished seventh in 13.81 seconds to maintain her average lead with a 96.52-second total, and fellow first-timer Carman Pozzobon is second at 97.91. Kinsel moved to third in the average with a 100.76-second total.
Third-round winner Amberleigh Moore downed her second barrel of the Finals and fell farther out of the average mix while relinquishing the RAM Top Gun Award lead to Kinsel. She has still earned $104,346 in Las Vegas, but trails Kinsel by $119,573 in the WPRA World Standings – $313,046-$193,473 – heading into the final three rounds, with Conrado in third place at $185,809.
Kinsel was wearing the dog tags of a fallen soldier in Round 7, which was Military Night at the Wrangler NFR, and she believed carrying that soldier’s memory helped push her through to the win.
“I was riding for Cpl. Rachel L. Hugo tonight,” Kinsel said. “She passed away in 2007 and was a medic in the Army. It’s just nice to carry on her honor, and my mom reached out to her mom and let her know we were running (with the dog tags) tonight.
“She was so excited, and now we get to tell her I had a special angel with me tonight.”
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