Thursday at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was Canada Night, and the Canadian bronc riding contingent did not disappoint. While the round win went to Stetson Wright, who topped the field with a tremendous 90 point ride on Hell Boy from the Bar T Rodeo Company, Canadians finished second, fourth and 5/6 split. Two-time world champion and three-time Canadian titleist, Zeke Thurston was 89.5 for that second-place cheque while Dawson Hay was 87.5 for fourth-place money. Older brother Logan Hay, who had won three go-rounds in a row, was 87 points for his 5/6 result. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Montana’s Sage Newman who came to Las Vegas with what looked like a nearly insurmountable lead, has seen that lead whittled down to just $9,000 over Stetson Wright, $23,000 over Thurston and $41,000 over Logan Hay. It’s looking more and more like the average (determined by total points in the riding events) with its massive payout–$74,000 for first, $60,000 for second all the way down to $7,000 for eighth–will almost surely be huge in determining the final outcome. And in that average, Thurston is on top with an 8.5-point advantage over Logan Hay in second, Wright is down in sixth place with Newman out of contention in tenth. That points to a possible head-to-head battle between two Canadians for the World title.
Weatherford, Texas bareback rider, Leighton Berry, won his second go round of the 2022 Wrangler National with an 88-point ride on Knot So Foxy from Powder River Rodeo. After a bad start in the first round, the cowboy who was part of the Canadian Finals Rodeo just a month ago has been outstanding. But the bareback riding is very much Jess Pope’s to win or lose as the Waverly, Kansas hand split 2, 3 and 4 to stay on top of both the average and the overall world standings. Pope, who has won the average in each of the last two years, leads the second place Berry by $66,000 in the world standings with two rounds remaining.
There were big changes in the steer wrestling in round 8 as Will Lummus, the Mississippi bulldogger split the round win with three-time champion Tyler Waguespack. Both men dropped their steers in 3.6 seconds enabling Lummus to move to within $4000 of the overall leader, Stetson Jorgensen. But the key is in the all-important average where Lummus sits third and Jorgensen, who hails from Blackfoot, Idaho is fifth.
In an outstanding round of team roping, Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin were the best of a speedy bunch with a 3.5 second run. The top six times in the round were the 3.5, followed by a 3.8, two 3.9s and two 4.0s. One of the 4.0 times that split 5/6 was turned in by overall leaders Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira. That leaves both members of the team that dominated the season with comfortable leads entering the home stretch. Header Driggers has a $48,000 margin over the second-place header while Nogueira has an even more commanding lead on the heeling side at $82,000.
The drama continued in the barrel racing event in round eight as well. NFR rookie, Leslie Smalygo, took advantage of her ‘top of the ground’ position to run the fastest time of the week – a smoking 13.41 – good for the top cheque of $28,914. And the battle lines shifted again in the World title race as last night’s go-round winner, Wenda Johnson, hit a barrel, moving her from first to sixth in the average and third overall. Johnson still has a chance to win it all, as does defending champion, Jordan Briggs, 16 time NFR qualifier, Lisa Lockhart, four time NFR qualifier, Shelley Morgan and three time champion Hailey Kinsel. The average will be a big factor in this event as in several others.
Round eight of the tie-down roping was won in blazing fashion as veteran Hunter Herrin turned in a flawless 7.2 second run to capture the $28,914 first-place cheque. But Caleb Smidt drew closer to his fourth world title as he recorded an 8.0 for fourth place and with $300,000 in total season earnings leads second place man Shad Mayfield by $31,000. Smidt is also the average leader with Mayfield back in 4thplace.
The bull riding saw Stetson Wright and Josh Frost continue to put on a clinic as both men rode their seventh bull in eight outs to date. Wright, the Utah superstar and Australian Ky Hamilton split the round, with a pair of 90-point scores. Frost was 85.5 points for 5thin the round. The world race is virtually decided as Wright now sits at $509,000 and the only question that remains is whether Frost can win a second average title. He trails Wright by 12.5 points with two bulls left to ride.