It’s all in the family
Rusty Wright has watched his father and uncles take victory laps many times over the years in Las Vegas, and now he’s experiencing his own.
The 20-year-old saddle bronc rider won Round 7 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Polaris RANGER with an 83-point trip on Frontier Rodeo’s Tip Off. It was his second win in four nights, as he also was tops in Round 4.
Wright has been battling illness the past few days, but there were no effects of it tonight.
“I had the stomach flu last night – and rode like it,” he said. “It was a 24-hour deal. I woke up sicker than a dog (Tuesday) and didn’t come to the arena until about 6:30 (p.m.); I’m usually here by 5. I was here just in time to get on my horse for the Grand Entry. I should’ve rode better. I’ve ridden sick before and done OK. I was 120 percent better tonight, especially after winning.”
Rusty’s biggest fan is his father, two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright. After Rusty’s first go-round win of his young career three nights ago, Cody couldn’t have been happier.
“I didn’t see him for a couple of hours, but he texted me and said, ‘Good work and congratulations.’” Rusty said. “He said he was proud of me.”
If asked who the best saddle bronc rider in his family is – a family which also includes world champs Jesse and Spencer Wright, and perennial WNFR rider Jake – Rusty has an answer without hesitation.
“My dad,” he said. “I’m going to keep working at it to be the best – and maybe someday it’ll happen.”
The win puts Wright third in the world standings – just $22,000 behind Cody DeMoss, who took second place tonight.
DeMoss passed the previous world standings leader, Jacobs Crawley, after Crawley split fourth place in Round 7. However, Crawley leads the average and still has the inside track on the gold buckle if he continues to ride well.
Matt Shiozawa is one of the most talented tie-down ropers competing in the PRCA – and on the short list of best ropers who hasn’t yet won a gold buckle. He showed that talent tonight, when he won with a time of 6.7 seconds, which ties the WNFR Round 7 record with Trevor Brazile (2007) and Cody Ohl (2013).
“It means a lot, and that’s great company to keep,” Shiozawa said of joining Brazile and Ohl in the record books. “I feel like I started my run last night as good, if not better, and I had to make some mental adjustments as far as not making those mistakes.”
The 6.7 was Shiozawa’s personal-best time at the WNFR, surpassing his 6.8-second run which split for the Round 8 win with Brazile in 2014. Shiozawa is no stranger to success at the WNFR, as he won the average title in 2011. The money is much more significant this year than in 2011, which means a bigger check for a dominating run like Shiozawa had tonight.
“For $26,000 a night you have to walk that line,” he said. “Tonight, the main thing was that calf tried. I knew she would split the gates and run, and take the tie. So, I could be as aggressive as I dared at the start, and with a calf that’s fast, things happen fast, and that’s kind of what you saw tonight. As far as moving forward, we have three more (rounds) so we will see what happens.”
With a second-place finish in Round 7, Marty Yates has put himself right in the middle of the world title race. Yates trails defending world champ Tuf Cooper by a mere three dollars for the top spot. Brazile remained third in the standings after not earning a check tonight, and trails Cooper and Yates by about $8,500.
Four-time and defending Bareback Riding World Champion Kaycee Feild took another step toward his fifth consecutive gold buckle tonight, winning his third round in the last four days. Feild emerged from a tough pen of bareback horses, winning with an 82.5-point ride on Rafter H Rodeo Livestock’s Storm Cloud – the lowest score for a round winner at this WNFR.
“The last rounds are important, but each of these last rounds I have to go out and take care of business on the horse I have,” Feild said. “I have to put the pressure of the situation aside and mark my horse out and stay focused. As soon as you start letting other things affect you, that’s not what you want. You want a picture-perfect ride in your mind and nothing else.”
Feild now leads Steven Peebles by nearly $35,000 in the world standings, and remains second in the WNFR average – behind Peebles. With only three rounds left now, Feild says it’s starting to be crunch time.
“It’s starting to feel like July now where the pressure is on and it’s getting close to the bottom of the ninth,” he said. “This is when you really need to push yourself and not make any mistakes, and go out there and do whatever it takes and spur every jump.”
One night after clinching his 23rd gold buckle for winning his 13th world all-around title with a tie-down roping win, Trevor Brazile did some damage in the team roping. He and heeler Patrick Smith clocked a 3.6-second time to earn their first round win at this WNFR.
“That steer was one of the toughest steers we’ve had this week, so there was no back-up plan,” Brazile said. “We had to go for first in order to just get him caught. We both maxed him out at each end and it felt really great.”
The win moved both men to fourth in the world standings, where they trail leaders Derrick Begay and Clay O’Brien Cooper by a little more than $30,000. For Smith – a two-time world champion – a change in mount paid off in a big way.
“I made a horse change (from Amigo to Lil Kim) a few nights ago,” he said. “Sometimes you just need to make a change. I hadn’t been doing a very good job getting in the right spot here this week. You’d think after 12 trips here I’d adjust quicker.
“Confidence ties it all together, and this is a tough place to back off and build confidence back up when you’re running low. Things happen so fast here in this building that you really need to rely on muscle memory and reaction. That’s what we did tonight, and it all came together for us.”
The top three teams in the world standings all failed to earn a check tonight, meaning there was no shakeup at the top. Begay and Cooper still lead the field by about $10,000.
While Brazile and Smith are WNFR veterans, steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack battled the nerves of competing in his first WNFR early on in Las Vegas, failing to earn a check in the first four rounds. However, tonight he took the top spot with a 3.2-second run – the fastest any bulldogger has posted through seven rounds.
“I had a great steer,” the 24-year-old said. “That was the steer in this herd that I wanted. I got a good start and a great haze by Tyler Pearson, and I got to ride his horse, Sketch, and everything kind of came together and worked out great.”
Waguespack’s time was one-tenth of a second off Matt Reeves’ Round 7 record of 3.1, which was set in 2013. It’s tied for the second-fastest time in Round 7 at the WNFR with Rod Lyman (1989) and Cash Myers (2001). It was two-tenths of a second behind the arena record of 3.0 seconds.
After his win, Waguespack knew exactly who he wanted to celebrate with.
“I know I have to go talk to my dad (Mike),” he said. “He’s the first person I’m going to go see as soon as I leave here. My dad has been with me, I believe, for every steer I’ve ever run. I think it will hit me that I won when I see him. I know he’s probably more excited than I am. This was a dream of both of ours to get here (the WNFR).”
The merry-go-round at the top of the steer wrestling standings continued, with Clayton Hass taking over the No. 1 spot after placing fourth in Round 7. He leads by less than $6,000 over 44-year-old K.C. Jones, who was second tonight with a 3.4-second time. The third and fourth men in the standings – Hunter Cure and Ty Erickson – are each less than $12,000 out of first place.
Barrel racer Sarah Rose McDonald may be competing in her first WNFR, but the 23-year-old is riding like she’s been here plenty of times.
Aboard her horse, Bling, McDonald won her third round in four nights with a 13.67-second run, and took over the world standings lead by $214 over Lisa Lockhart.
“I am not wanting to even think about that,” McDonald said of taking the world lead. “There are three more rounds to go here, and with this much money up each night anything can happen. I just need to concentrate on the run that I’ve got ahead of me.”
Bling has been one of the stars of the barrel racing event thus far, and has McDonald in a position to collect a gold buckle.
“My horse is just working awesome,” she said. “The first night, when I ran at the bottom, it was hard waiting for so long in the alley. Tonight, running first was easier. Bling got a good take-off and a real good angle to the first.”
Bull rider Ty Wallace earned his first WNFR go-round victory tonight when he rode for 88 points on Andrews Rodeo’s Hard Knox. The Collbran, Colo., native earned a second-place check in Round 5, but this was his first victory lap in 17 career tries.
“It’s awesome; I can’t even describe it,” Wallace said. “I’ve been looking for it for (the last) two years here.”
Wallace has been looking forward to being on stage at the South Point for his first go-round buckle presentation for quite awhile.
“It’ll be crazy and a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve been trying to avoid going out there until I could win. Now I won’t have that monkey on my back, telling me I shouldn’t go out there. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Cody Teel had another big ride tonight, as he shaved another $10,000 off Sage Kimzey’s world standings lead. Teel rode for 87 points to place second, and remains No. 1 in the WNFR average race. Kimzey was fourth tonight, and still holds a lead of almost $45,000 over Teel with three rounds left. Teel’s large check moved him to first place in the RAM Top Gun standings, as his $113,231 in earnings at the WNFR is $635 more than McDonald’s total in barrel racing.