DENVER – Tim O’Connell, a three-time world champion bareback rider and the 2017 winner of the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, is leading the pack with the top rides for Rounds 1 and 2 in Denver through the first four days.
O’Connell leads Round 1 with an 88-point ride on Bailey Pro Rodeo’s Black Sunday.
“Black Sunday was a good old campaigner,” said O’Connell, 28. “She kicked at every jump, but she got short and the judges really like that. It’s good for the cowboy since I can expose myself more, too. We had a great day yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.”
Then in Round 2, O’Connell posted an 87.5-point ride on The Cervi Brothers’ Living The High Life, the same horse that injured 2018 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Wade Sundell last summer and took him out of competition for the remainder of the 2019 season.
“She didn’t try anything in the box, we got in and out and nothing happened – the Cervi crew did a good job,” O’Connell said. “She was electric and kind of got it on in there and I got rolling really fast. She’s a bit snappier than the first horse and I couldn’t expose myself near as much.”
His scores proved it, as O’Connell leads the average with 175.5 points on two head at the rodeo that kicked off Jan. 16.
“If it wasn’t a tournament, I would feel good about it,” O’Connell said. “I know they wipe the slate clean in the semifinals. But, I feel good about my riding and I felt sharp and things were rolling and under my command.”
The final round from Denver will be broadcast live on The Cowboy Channel, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. (ET). The Cowboy Channel will also air the SWELS – Xtreme Bulls live from Fort Worth, Texas, Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 at 8:30 p.m. (ET). The Cowboy Channel will also provide look-ins from rodeos around the country on “ProRodeo Tonight.” Check TheCowboyChannel.com for the latest schedule.
Denver’s tournament format calls for a different style of riding.
“It takes the business calls out of it,” O’Connell said. “You have to make an aggressive ride. You can’t make a smart ride and hope to get by.”
The Iowa cowboy missed the majority of the 2019 regular season due to injury but managed to finish third in the PRCA | RAM World Standings with $261,091.
As impressive as his 2019 season was, it broke his streak of three consecutive world titles (2016-18).
“Last year was cool, don’t get me wrong,” O’Connell said. “I’ll look back on that someday as, ‘You competed for three months and finished third in the world.’ But right now, that’s just another year I didn’t win a gold buckle and I’m hungry.”
O’Connell spoke highly of his competition, cowboys and horses alike.
“The competition has never been this good, and I mean that by the depth – we have a lot of high-quality bareback riders,” O’Connell said. “The guys, the horses, the contractors and the work they put into the bloodlines of getting the horses to a high level … and the guys have stepped up at an athletic level to match it.
“It’s the best rodeo athletes and the best horses in the world put together. It’s not just the guys making the NFR, it’s the top 40 or 50 in the world.”
When asked about his game plan for the semifinals next weekend, O’Connell answered without hesitation.
Courtesy of PRCA