Saddle Bronc Rider Zeke Thurston Puts World Championship in Focus in Round 9

LAS VEGAS – A fourth PRCA World Championship picture is right in focus for saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston on Friday night.

The Big Valley, Alberta, cowboy made sure of that by winning Round 9 at the 2023 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge before 17,621 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Thurston took the victory lap thanks to his 88.5-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Zaka Kibitz.

“Those guys (at Calgary Stampede) build some amazing bucking horses. If you go out there and do your job, they give you a pretty good chance to win,” Thurston said. “I feed off this arena and I just love riding broncs here.”

Thurston, who has world championships in 2016, 2019 and 2022, is having another outstanding NFR. He has won four rounds – Round 1, Round 5, Round 8 and Round 9.

“There’s nothing better. You pack in 17,000-plus fans in this arena and it feels like they are sitting right on top of your head,” Thurston said. “If you show up and show out, they go nuts and there’s no better feeling.”

Thurston leads the PRCA | RAM World Standings with $375,133, while Sage Newman is second with $344,100. Thurston also is first in the ever-important average with 776.5 points on nine head. Newman is sixth in the average with 753.5 points on nine head. The average winner takes home $78,747.

Rocker Steiner keeps rolling with another round win

In his second appearance at the Wrangler NFR, bareback rider Rocker Steiner is leaving his mark.

The charismatic cowboy won his third round at the 2023 Wrangler NFR, registering an 87-point ride on Andrews Rodeo’s Land of Fancy.

Steiner also won Round 1 with an 87-point ride on Stace Smith Pro Rodeos’ Risky Business. The Weatherford, Texas, cowboy also was the champ of Round 2 with an 88.5 point-ride on Sankey Pro Rodeo & Phenom Genetics’ Mustard.

“My ride felt really up in the air tonight and it was really just a lot of fun,” said Steiner, 19.

A year ago, Steiner won one round at the NFR – Round 6 – with an 88.5-point ride on Wayne Vold Rodeo’s True Grit. He finished 10th in the 2022 world standings with $185,367.

“Yeah, I mean look I don’t know how far it is for me to win the world this year, you know I kind of had some bad nights and didn’t draw real good and didn’t ride real good a few nights but you know I’ve won three rounds now and I’ve done as good as anyone here maybe not in the average or consistently but I’m going home with at least three go round wins and I’m so happy about that,” Steiner said. “I’m healthier this year and a little more mature. I don’t know if that’s what it is but I’m also probably just riding a little better because of it.”

Steiner is third in the world standings with $265,218. He is tied for eighth in the average with 749.5 points on nine head.

Team ropers Tyler Wade/Wesley Thorp stay in championship hunt with Round 9 victory

With gold buckles up for grabs on Dec. 16, team ropers Tyler Wade/Wesley Thorp kept themselves squarely in the world championship mix by winning Round 9 with a 3.5-second run.

Wade/Thorp are leading their respective header and heeler standings with $257,540 and $274,767, respectively.

“Man, you got to stay the course and ride the wave. It can be so hard out here and there’s times when it feels easy,” Thorp said. “You just have to stay in a spot mentally where you can be ready to come out of it. We drew one great steer and followed that with another good steer. Sometimes you need something like that to give you a break while staying ready for the opportunity.”

Wade is chasing his first career world championship, while Thorp has one world title on his resume in 2019.

“I’ve always joked with Tyler that I am pretty lucky, so if you give me one shot, I’m bound to hit it,” Thorp said. “The main thing is that we have the opportunity. That’s all you can ask for.”

Clint Summers ($234,999) and heeler Jake Long ($248,500) are second in their respective standings.

Wade/Thorp are third in the average with 53.5 seconds on eight head and Summers/Long are fifth in the average.

“We both try to keep a pretty good attitude. We’re buddies and close friends, so we’ve practiced a lot, and we know what we can do,” Wade said. “We struggled a little bit in the middle (rounds) but when the opportunity presents itself, this guy doesn’t miss very often. I just try to my best to give him a shot.”

Tie-down ropers Tuf Cooper, Westyn Hughes split Round 9 victory

Sharing was all right for tie-down ropers Tuf Cooper and Westyn Hughes.

The tie-down ropers clocked identical 7.1-second runs to split the Round 9 victory.

“I was the last roper and 7.1 (seconds) was winning the round. You know you need to go ahead and be aggressive,” said Cooper about his first NFR round win in 2023. “Fortunately, I had a really good calf and a good game plan coming in. My horse worked phenomenal and made it easy on me. What a round to win. This is the third time I’ve won Round 9 in my career, so Friday night has been good to me.”

Cooper, who made a frantic push in the final week of the regular season to qualify for his 15th NFR, has moved up from 15th to fourth in the world standings with $241,456. The four-time world champion – three in tie-down roping (2011-12, 2014) and all-around (2017) – has earned $127,130 at the NFR.

Westyn Hughes, who is making his third NFR appearance, has placed in three rounds at the Thomas & Mack. Hughes is eighth in the world standings with $196,964.

“It all started off with my horse. He was exceptional tonight. That was his first ever run in the Thomas & Mack (Arena), so it’s pretty crazy he took it all like that,” Hughes said. “It’s crazy the way it all turned out, so I guess I’m going to try him again tomorrow night. I’m just blessed to be here and happy to put together a little bit of money in my pocket. Next season is what it’s all about. Being able to put some money together in the meantime is great for building that cushion. It allows you to sit back and focus on roping. That definitely helps.”

Steer wrestler Cody Devers gets his first career NFR round win

The 2023 Wrangler NFR didn’t go as planned for Cody Devers through the first eight rounds, but things changed for the Balko, Okla., cowboy in Round 9.

Devers delivered the win with a 3.5-second run, his first career NFR round win.

“Oh, it means the world to me. I’ve been trying so hard to get here, I’ve got a great team behind me that’s been pushing positive thoughts and sending prayers” said Devers, who is making his second NFR appearance. “My family, my friends, my sponsors that have helped me out all year long and to finally achieve a round win, it’s spectacular.”

Devers is 14th in the world standings with $144,839.

“You know it is hard, but you know it’s just like life,” said Devers about the adversity he has faced at the NFR. “They knock you down you got to get right back up. You got to believe in yourself, you got to have confidence and each night you just got to give it your all.

“I just wish the NFR would’ve started (Thursday). I’m finally getting good starts, drawing good, doing my job now, so this momentum is going to roll all the way into next year and I’m dang sure hungry for that next year.”

Jeff Askey leads Round 9 in Bull Riding

Bull rider Jeff Askey took the lead in Round 9 with his 89-point ride on Salt River Rodeo’s Belly Dump.
Askey’s leading the bull riding after Round 9 because world standings leader Ky Hamilton has an option to take a re-ride Saturday.

“Yeah, I wanted to settle the score with that bull,” Askey said. “He threw me off at Lovington, N.M., really quick and it doesn’t happen too often to me with bulls that go out to the right. So, I was a little mad at him and wanted a little payback. He kicked out there around the right tonight and I was able to get by him and make it work.”

Askey has now collected three checks in the nine rounds.

“It’s all about how you think about it and what you make of it. I think of it as 10 one-day rodeos not a 10-day rodeo. Every day is a new opportunity. They can throw you off five, nine times in a row but that next day is a new chance. If you carry yesterday’s success or failure around with you, it can haunt you the following day.”

Barrel racer Kassie Mowry snares Round 9 title

Make it back-to-back wins for barrel racer Kassie Mowry.

The Dublin, Texas, cowgirl won Round 8 (13.30 seconds) on Thursday and followed that up with a Round 9 win Friday with a 13.37-second run.

Mowry has had a strong NFR placing in five rounds – and she has moved up to second in the world standings with $272,076. She has earned $138,274 in Vegas.

“This has been mind-blowing and I’m just in disbelief,” Mowry said. “You just don’t have high expectations when you roll out a five-year-old horse through there. But I felt like if he could get into a groove, he could be really good in this arena. He seems like he’s comfortable back there and having a lot of fun. It’s been a fun experience for me, and he’s made it enjoyable.”

Mowry, who is considered one of the best trainers in the sport, acknowledged competing with her young horse wasn’t an easy decision.

“It is really tough for me. I was asking my fiancée before the run, ‘I don’t remember what I did to make it so fast’ and he told me it was fast the day before, so just let it happen,” Mowry said. “And I did, and I feel like that was key. I went in there and when he put his nose out wanting to brake, I just let him go. He’s making the right decisions and getting more confident with each run. I’m going to just try and stay out of his way.”

Courtesy of PRCA

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