LAS VEGAS – That gritty, confident cowboy who won a share of Round 9 Friday night is now known as four-time World Champion Bull Rider J.W. Harris.
For the 27-year-old Texan, it is mission accomplished.
“I set out to win the gold buckle this year, and then to accomplish it feels pretty good,” Harris said. “This title feels better because there have been a lot of people out there saying I was too old to win another world title and that I was done. I don’t feel like I’m too old for anything, and I think I have 10 more years left in me.”
Harris clinched his fourth world title in six years before 17,951 screaming fans at the Thomas & Mack Center. It wasn’t unexpected, since he’s led the bull riding standings most of the year, but it was satisfying for the man who hadn’t won the title the last two years.
“Man, it’s been long overdue to say that I’m the four-time world champion,” Harris said. “It should’ve been six in a row, but that’s neither here nor there.”
How many titles does Harris think he can win?
“I’m not going to set a number, because I don’t want to sell myself short,” he said. “I know I want to beat Donnie (Gay’s) record of eight, so that’s the goal, but I won’t put a number on how many titles I want or how many more years I’m going to ride.”
Harris rode Wild Card Rodeo’s Little Shyster for 87.5 points, tying Trevor Kastner, who rode D&H Cattle’s Fire Show for the round win. Both collected $16,677 and that – combined with Harris clinching at least second in the average – was enough to secure Harris’ coveted gold buckle.
He previously won three straight world titles from 2008-10.
Kastner, who won Round 6 outright, said, “The win tonight was more fun than the first win I had, because the bull bucked harder and jumped higher in the air. It was awesome to split the round with the guy who won the world, and I’m happy for J.W.”
Cody Teel, who won rounds 7 and 8, is the average leader in the bull riding. Shane Proctor is third, but 107 points behind Harris.
Harris closed the year on a roll, winning the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash., and the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb. He won both of those prestigious events in 2012 also.
Harris was bucked off in Rounds 7 and 8 of this NFR, equaling his worst streak of the season, he said. He said clinching the world title on a night he shared the round win was especially satisfying.
“It is, especially the way it’s been going and the way I rode the last few nights,” he said. “Honestly, it’s been a disappointing Finals for me, because I wanted to win the average as well. I know there’s still one round left, but I wanted to win the world and average and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be 9-for-9 right now. One of my goals was to ride all 10 here, but I couldn’t get that done.”
Cody Wright broke through in the saddle bronc riding to claim his first round win, after watching his younger brothers – twins Jake and Jesse Wright – win five rounds.
“It feels really good to win, because it’s been a slow week,” Cody Wright said. “I’ve had chances and haven’t done my part. I’ve drawn good horses and I haven’t been riding very well. I tried to straighten it out throughout the week, and to do well in this pen of horses is nice. It’s frustrating, because I’ve had a lot of these horses and won on them this season, but I’ve been slipping. I’m going to try to finish as strong as I can here.”
Jake Wright has four of those round wins, but missed his horse out in Round 9, damaging his chance of winning his first gold buckle, after brother Jesse won the title last year.
“I’m happy for Jake that he came here and put himself in a position to win the world title,” said the 36-year-old Cody Wright. “I know how hard Jake and Jesse work at it, and how much they want to win – just as bad as I do. It makes me smile all over to see Jake do well after Jesse did last year. If I can’t win it all, it would feel awesome to see Jake do it.
“I rodeoed a long time before I could ever get close to world title, and those two have come in and accomplished so much so far. I’m happy for them and hope they keep working hard.”
Cody Wright was the world champ in 2008 and 2010, and entered the Finals leading the standings, but Jake has taken over the top spot in money won. Cody Wright is ninth in the average, and Jake Wright slipped to sixth after Friday.
Chad Ferley, third in the world standings and third in the average, has a good chance of winning his second gold buckle, the first coming in 2006. The 33-year-old Ferley won the second round and collected checks in Rounds 6-9 to move into a contending position.
Hanchey, who also won Round 1, is second in the world standings and first in the average with 71.7 seconds on nine head. Trevor Brazile, the 19-time gold buckle winner who is second in the average with 74.4 seconds and fourth in the world standings, was fifth in the round. Brazile said it’ll be tough to beat Hanchey.
Asked about his mindset entering the final round with a title on the line, Hanchey said, “At the end of the day, it’s another calf and you have to assume that LeBron (James) would hit these two free throws to clinch Game 7. You have to assume Peyton (Manning) is going to throw that game-winning touchdown on 4th-and-goal.
“I’m really just staying focused and staying grounded as much as I can. This week has just been a total blessing and it’s not over. Anything can happen; we’ve seen that tonight. I’ll know what I’ll have to do Saturday. I just need to score well and get the neck, and let everything take care of itself.”
Team ropers Kaleb Driggers and Travis Graves claimed their first round win of the Finals with a time of 3.6 seconds. They’re second in the world standings, but ninth in the average.
“We had a rough go at the beginning of the week,” Driggers said. “We decided to turn it on and let it all hang out tonight, and luckily it worked out for us. It’s fun to be 3.6 anytime you’re 3.6.”
Graves was equally excited by that time.
“I was 3.6 here last year, and that’s the fastest I’ve ever been,” he said. “Kaleb did a great job tonight. He had it on him so fast, which he does all the time, and it allowed me to do my job a lot easier. He roped him quick and handled him good.”
First-time WNFR qualifier Stan Branco won the fast-paced steer wrestling in 3.5 seconds, his first round win. Dean Gorsuch, who has an inside track for the world title, was among four bulldoggers who tied for third through sixth in 3.7 seconds.
“I’ve been dreaming of winning a round at the NFR since I was a little kid,” Branco said. “I’m just glad to achieve one of the goals I have set for myself.”
Branco said he’s had a ball at his first Finals.
“It has been fun,” he said. “I’ve been here and watched a lot. The first year I was 16th (in 2010; Branco also finished 16th in 2011), I came here for 10 nights with a buddy of mine and we sold boots. I didn’t like that too much, so I’m glad I’m actually competing here.”
Expectant father Ryan Gray celebrated the upcoming birth of his first child by collecting his fifth check and first round win of the Finals. Gray and Lacy, his wife of seven years, have a due date of Jan. 4.
He rode for 85.5 points on J Bar J’s Smack Daddy, a wildly active bucking horse that helped Casey Colletti to the win in Round 6.
Gray has won $47,476 at the Finals and is third in the world with $155,763. The checks he’s won in Vegas will be well-spent, he said.
“That money will go a long way in the diaper world,” he said with a laugh.
Lacy, who is watching her husband compete, is “doing great,” Gray said. “She’s been a little under the weather with some cold and flu symptons, but she’s tough, a real strong woman.”
Gray’s usual consistency had produced a mostly satisfying Finals for him.
“I’ve been winning checks, but missed my horse out (Thursday) night, so that was disappointing,” he said. “With five checks and getting second in the fourth round and third in the seventh, I can’t complain. I feel like I’ve been riding as good as I had all year. I’ve stayed consistent. I missed the Finals last year, so I was really motivated to get back here, and it’s been great.”
Barrel racer Lisa Lockhart got her second round win of the Finals with a time of 13.65 seconds. She’s fourth in the average and fifth in the world standings.
Sherry Cervi tied for third in 13.89 seconds. She leads the average, has an advantage of more than $44,000 in the world standings and has all but wrapped up her fourth world championship.
Cervi leads the Ram Truck Top Gun Award standings with $103,315. Jake Wright is second ($87,440), followed by Hanchey ($86,989), tie-down roper Cody Ohl ($85,487), Harris ($83,684) and barrel racer Taylor Jacob ($82,432).ings: 1. J.W. Harris, $214,067; 2. Cody Teel, $165,179; 3. Tyler Smith, $140,051; 4. Trevor Kastner, $129,434; 5. Josh Koschel, $119,771.