Ryder Wright enters rarified air: Wins four rounds in a row at Wrangler NFR
December 5, 2016
LAS VEGAS – Ryder Wright doesn't intend to leave the winner's circle – perhaps for the duration of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Polaris RANGER.
Wright entered some rarified air in Round 4.
Wright's 85.5-point trip on Flying 5 Rodeo's Sundance earned the 18-year-old his fourth consecutive WNFR round win, which is something only two other men in roughstock events have ever accomplished – saddle bronc riding brothers Billy and Robert Etbauer.
Robert, a two-time world champion, is the only man to win four straight rounds outright – in 1991. Billy, a five-time world champion, won or split the win in four consecutive rounds in 2005.
"I have no idea, I must be living right," Wright said of his current hot streak. "I come and get ready to get on my grand entry horse and just do what the bronc riders do – do what I grew up watching."
He's now just $1,000 behind defending World Champion Jacobs Crawley for the world standings lead, and Crawley bucked off tonight.
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"It's crazy to come in at 14th and then move that high up in four rounds," Wright said. "I try not to think about it because I get nervous and then I don't do good. So, I stay calm and think about other stuff. Just anything, like what color the sky is."
Another side effect of Wright's pure domination at this WNFR is that he's now the clear-cut leader to take home the RAM Top Gun Award, which goes to the WNFR competitor who earns the most money in a single event.
Through four nights, he's earned as much as a competitor mathematically can – a cool $114,923. If he keeps up this pace, he'll be taking home a new RAM truck, a custom buckle from Montana Silversmiths and a commemorative firearm.
"It's awesome that RAM does that for the PRCA, and I'd be tickled pink to get that truck and buckle – if there's a gun too, even better," Wright said.
The Minor brothers are doing some major damage in the team roping field.
Riley and Brady are roping as well as any duo in Las Vegas, and they took the victory lap for the second straight night in Round 4.
A night after they tied for the win with Matt Sherwood and Quinn Kesler, the Minors were alone at the top with a time of 4.4 seconds.
"We were third out, so we didn't know what was going to happen," Riley said. "But we try to make the same run every time, and just be smooth.
"They were second on that steer in the first round, and I liked him then. I didn't handle him as good as I'd like – I had a little extra slack and didn't set him up as well as I like to – but it worked out."
Brady had to make a slight adjustment mid-run, but handled it like an eight-time WNFR veteran. It resulted in another win, and another big check, bumping both men to No. 2 in the world. They've both earned a total of $73,038 through four nights.
"All professionals react fast. I was a little close, not in perfect position, but I adjusted," Brady said. "Our goal was to win $100,000 here this week, so we're (more than) halfway there."
Marty Yates wasn't having the WNFR he had hoped for when the fourth round started. But he got everything back on track in 6.8 seconds.
The 22-year-old tie-down roper clocked the third-fastest fourth-round time ever, and washed away the no-times he took the previous two rounds.
"It's the best feeling in the whole world," Yates said of being 6.8. "I'm very fortunate just to get to rope in the Thomas & Mack. There are a lot of people sitting at home, wishing they were here with us. So to be able to get here, shine, do well and flirt with a record, that's awesome."
It was the first tie-down roping run of these Finals under the seven-second mark, and was only a tenth of a second off Yates' personal best time – a 6.7-second run to win Round 4 in 2014.
"There's just something about first place to me," he said. "I've laid in bed at night, wishing I could catch more of them and be smarter about it. But when someone sticks 6.8 in front of me, I want to be 6.7. That's how my mind ticks. I don't know what it is, but it has worked for me this far."
Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness decided he didn't want to share first place in Round 4, one night after he tied for the Round 3 victory with Tyler Waguespack.
The 22-year-old from Appleton, Minn., stopped the clock in 3.8 seconds, edging out Waguespack and Jason Thomas by one-tenth of second.
"Last night was the ice breaker," Struxness said. "The second round, the nerves were still there, and I was trying to look for my first round win. That didn't happen, and I stubbed my toe. After I got the Round-3 win, I got the momentum rolling, and I need to keep it rolling. My family is so excited to be here, and round wins are just a bonus."
He moved to third in the world standings, and has earned a check in three of the first four rounds at his inaugural WNFR.
"I just want to try and stay on top of that barrier, where you're hitting it every night and getting good starts," he said. "You have to take good starts so you can catch steers in a spot where you can win money."
Bareback rider Jake Vold had come close to the first WNFR round win of his career when he competed at the event for the first time, in 2014.
Sunday night, the Ponoka, Alberta, native put his name in the record books as a WNFR go-round winner, and the reigning three-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association champion couldn't stop smiling.
"This feels phenomenal," Vold said. "The first time I was here, I won or split second a few times and came close, but couldn't get it done. To finally get one is a great feeling, and it's pretty cool to be able to say I won a go-round at the NFR."
He rode for 89.5 points on Flying U Rodeo's Lil Red Hawk, electrifying the crowd and collecting a large check, which moved him to sixth in the world standings, and fifth in the WNFR average.
"That mare is phenomenal, and she's been around a long time," Vold said. "I knew if she showed up and did her part, and I did mine, it would be a big score. She looked good in the back pens, and when I saw my name next to hers on the draw, it was pretty exciting. I was fast with my feet, and went after it hard. The week is young, but I feel healthy and ready to go. Canada will be excited about this – it'll be quite the night up there."
Brennon Eldred had never won a round at the WNFR. He changed all that with an 86.5-point trip on Calgary Stampede's Wranglers Extreme in Round 4.
"Oh man, it's my personal record at the NFR," an ecstatic Eldred said. "But it's just another day at the office. Hopefully we can keep besting it for the rest of the week, and just keep raising it."
The 22-year-old from Purcell, Okla., has had a rough go of it at the WNFR in his young career, only riding three of his previous 23 bulls. He's hoping the big ride Sunday night will turn it all around.
"It's huge – it boosts my confidence so much," he said, "I rode my first bull (for 83 points in the first round) and got skunked on the next two, and then to come in and get the fourth-round win. I am pumped to get on the next six bulls."
Bull rider Cody Teel, the 2012 world champion, suffered a fractured left clavicle, and is listed as out on the Justin Sportsmedicine injury report. More information about his status will be available Monday.
Barrel racer Michele McLeod grabbed her first check of the 2016 WNFR, and did so in style with a victory.
She and horse Slick put together a run of 13.49 seconds, which ties Taylor Jacob's 2013 time for the fastest Round-4 time in Finals history.
"Oh, my gosh, it is just awesome," she said. "I think I rode more aggressively tonight than I have in the previous rounds. All of my barrels were better tonight than before. I have a bit of trouble getting the correct angle at that first barrel. Slick did get by it just a little, but he never stopped moving. The second and the third were just perfect."
The 58th annual Wrangler NFR continues Monday with the fifth round at the Thomas & Mack Center. The action will be televised live and in HD on CBS Sports Net (DirecTV channel 221 and DISH Network channel 158) from 7-10 p.m. PT .