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Vold Makes it a Hat Trick in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Bareback rider Jake Vold is doing his best Ryder Wright impression. Wright won four straight saddle bronc riding rounds outright to open this year’s WNFR, and Vold has nearly equaled that in his event.

The Ponoka, Alberta, cowboy won his third straight round Tuesday night with an 85.5-point trip on Burch Rodeo’s Jim Dandy.

Vold became just the eighth bareback rider in NFR history to win three straight rounds.

“I had that same horse at my first NFR two years ago,” Vold said. “I was about 81 on him and was fourth in the round, and this time I was a lot more aggressive on him. I knew what to expect from him, and how to help him to make the ride better.”

Vold entered the WNFR ranked 10th in the world standings, and has now moved up to fourth, sitting less than $10,000 out of second place.

He’s hoping the momentum keeps snow balling, and that he can put even more pressure on world standings leader Tim O’Connell.

“Well, it would be great if that was the case and I kept riding like this the rest of the NFR,” Vold said. “When I get on any horse, my mindset is to go right at it and enjoy myself. That’s the attitude I had here two years ago, and I’ve kept it into this year. Beating the top 14 other bareback riders in the world three straight nights isn’t easy, and I’ve been fortunate to put together some solid rides.”

Team ropers Luke Brown and Jake Long entered the sixth round in first place in both the world standings and the WNFR average. They strengthened their position as the team to beat with a 4.2-second run and their second round win thus far.

For Brown, a nine-time WNFR veteran who has finished second in the world three times since 2009, this may be his best chance to grab his first gold buckle.

“We drew good, and Jake’s heeling them fast,” Brown said. “And that’s the best steer we’ve had all week. Matt Sherwood (and Quinn Kesler) won Round 3 on him. He ran straight tonight, too, and his horns were just right – not too big, and didn’t come up too high.”

Long, who’s making his sixth WNFR appearance, also has been close to tasting the ultimate glory of a world title the past two seasons. He was sixth in the world standings in 2015, and third in 2014.

“I knew coming in that if we roped good, we’d have a chance to throw our ropes at the gold,” Long said. “We’ve had a fortunate week – even some of our slower runs have made money, and we’ve had some good runs, too. A lot of things have to go your way to win the world. I believe that hard work brings you luck.”

Hard work and perseverance also have served bull rider Brennon Eldred well.

The 22-year-old from Purcell, Okla., had only stayed on two bulls in his first 20 rides at the WNFR before 2016. Now, he’s right in the middle of a world title chase.

He put together a 90.5-point ride on Growney Brothers Rodeo’s Crystal Deal to win Round 6, and has now ridden four of six bulls and has two go-round wins.

“I got on him three months ago for 7.3 (seconds), and I knew what was coming,” Eldred said of Crystal Deal, the 2015 PRCA Bull of the Year. “But you don’t always have the same trip, and you’ve got to take it jump for jump and bull for bull.

“To get on a Bucking Bull of the Year, and conquer him, is something we prepare for all year.”

Eldred is now second in both the world standings and the WNFR average. He’s gone from struggling mightily at his first two appearances at the WNFR to flourishing.

“It doesn’t change my game plan any,” Eldred said. “I’m going to ride as many bulls as I can. I’m going to just do my best, and let the chips fall where they may.”

The steer wrestling featured a three-way tie between the guy in the driver’s seat to win the gold buckle, and two men who desperately needed a victory lap and a large check.

Tyler Waguespack, Riley Duvall and Billy Bugenig all stopped the clock in 3.6 seconds. It gave Waguespack, who has placed in all six rounds now, his third round win of the first six nights of the rodeo.

He now leads the rest of the field by $28,000, and is the top man in the WNFR average, making him the current favorite to collect his first gold buckle.

“So far, so good, and I just want to keep it going,” Waguespack said. “I had a steer tonight that Trevor Knowles missed in the third round, and the steer was fighting the chute real bad, and I knew he wasn’t going to run all that hard. So, I spotted him a little bit more than I really wanted to, but the good thing was the steer didn’t run very hard and we had great horsepower. I got my feet on the ground and made a great run.”

Duvall and Bugenig had both placed in only one of the first five rounds, and both were pleased to put $20,872 into their bank accounts.

“It was a good run – it’s been a slow week,” said Bugenig, a four-time WNFR qualifier. “I knew I had a good steer tonight, and I just wanted to get a good start, and it worked for me. I’m just glad to be here instead of back there sulking.”

Duvall, who’s making his first appearance at the WNFR, was thrilled to earn the first go-round win of his career.

“It means a ton,” he said. “It had been a slow week, and I’m kind of speechless. I thought I missed that steer, to be honest, and I looked up and the clocked stopped at 3.6. I think I have been closing my eyes when I leave the box every night. That was good for me tonight.”

Before Tuesday night, there have been six 1/2/3 splits in the steer wrestling, most recently in 2011 when Luke Branquinho, Casey Martin and Jake Rinehart did it in Round 9. There also has been one 1/2/3/4 split, in Round 5 in 1996, between Chad Bedell, Ote Berry, Tom Duvall (Riley’s third cousin) and Rod Lyman.

While all the attention in the saddle bronc riding has been focused on Ryder Wright and Jacobs Crawley through the first five nights, Zeke Thurston has quietly moved up the ranks and into position for a run at the world title.

The 22-year-old from Big Valley, Alberta, won Round 6 with an 88.5-point ride on C5 Rodeo’s Black Hills. It was the third time Thurston has ridden that horse. Zeke’s dad, Skeeter Thurston, won Rounds 3 and 5 30 years ago at the 1986 NFR.

“I didn’t change my approach – I just try to get a good spur-out, and I knew what she was going to do,” Thurston said. “She had a really good day, I thought. They’re animals with minds of their own, so you never know what they’ll do. You just have to read the situation, but when you’ve been on them before, it eases your mind because you know what to feel for.”

Thurston is now third in both the world standings and the WNFR average race. He continues to gain ground on leader and defending World Champ Jacobs Crawley, and Tuesday night brought the first WNFR go-round win of his career.

“It’s great; I’m super excited,” Thurston said. “Last year, I came with high hopes and it didn’t quite go how I wanted. I wanted to come and really wow the world, and it didn’t happen. I put pressure on myself. This year has been a lot better for me – the jitters and nerves aren’t there.”

Tyson Durfey’s hopes for a tie-down roping WNFR average title took a hit in Round 5 when he clocked a time of 19.1 seconds. However, he more than redeemed himself in Round 6, winning with a time of 7.4 seconds.

It was Durfey’s fifth career WNFR round win, and it moved him to fourth in the WNFR average and sixth in the world.

“I’m not trying to win first when I rope,” Durfey said. “Some guys are trying to win first every time they nod their head. I just try and focus on the basics, and execute them the best I can. Tonight, I was able to get that done, and it resulted in a round win. The way I look at it is most of the time if you do it right, then you’re going to win a check. Checks pay the bills, and get championships.”

Speaking of paying for things, Durfey and his wife, Shea, had their first baby Sept. 1 – a daughter named Praise Royal.

The $26,231 Durfey earned will have a special purpose.

“She goes through those diapers,” Durfey said. “I’m 33 and having my first (baby). I didn’t realize how many diapers they roll through. She goes through about 10 a day. At least now we have a little bit more money to buy them with.”

Barrel racer Kimmie Wall has only placed in half of the first six rounds, but the good news for the Roosevelt, Utah, native is that it includes two round wins and a second-place finish.

Tuesday night, Wall and her horse, Foxy, won Round 6 with a time of 13.46 seconds. She moved to second in the world, and is now within striking distance of leader Mary Burger.

“I just wanted to get my first barrel down, because the last couple of nights I didn’t feel I had done that as well as I should,” Wall said. “Tonight, we fixed that. The run was smooth and fast. The second barrel rocked, but as the saying goes, ‘You can rock ’em, but you can’t knock ’em.’ I saw it went back up, so I knew I could push her to the third. And, she just flew out of the pen.”

The race for the all-around world title is heating up, with a pair of team ropers in the top two spots.

Dustin Bird is the man at the top, with $183,720, and Junior Nogueira is nearly $9,000 behind him. Bulldogger Clayton Hass is about $30,000 off the lead, with Clay Smith, Josh Peek and Caleb Smidt not far behind.

The 58th annual Wrangler NFR continues Wednesday with the seventh round at the Thomas & Mack Center. The action will be televised live and in HD on CBS Sports Net (DirecTV channel 221 and DISH Network channel 158) from 7-10 p.m. PT.

Courtesy of PRCA