The bright lights of Vegas: Area cowboys, cowgirls ready for Wrangler NFR, reflect on the regular season
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the PRCA world championship, runs Dec. 6-17, with the top fifteen in each event competing for a world title. The rodeo consists of ten rounds, starting at 6:45 PM MST each night and is held in Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack Arena, the home arena for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Whether you’re lucky enough to score tickets to the Wrangler National Finals and you’re headed to watch, or you’re at home watching on TV, here’s a rundown on our local contestants.
Sage Newman, #2 saddle bronc rider; $247,263 won in the regular season
Three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier (2021-23)
How has this year been different from last year? “This year has treated me really well again. I got my winter kicked off by winning Rodeo Houston again (he won it in 2022 also.) I did good at San Antonio and Forth Worth. It seems once you get rolling in the winter, it goes into the summer. I was blessed to draw really great horses all year and stay healthy.”
Memorable wins: “Rodeo Houston. That one has treated me good the last two years. Cody, Wyo. was on my bucket list, and I got that one won. I won Belle Fourche (Black Hills Roundup), and that was a fun rodeo. I went to the Extreme Broncs in Palmer, Alaska, and won it. That was an awesome experience.”
How are you preparing for the Finals? “After Pendleton, I went home and forgot about rodeo. I went hunting. We have a ranch here in Melstone, so I helped with fall work, shipping and working cattle.”
Newman traveled with Chase Brooks, Kolby Wanchuck and Tanner Butner, as he has the last couple years. Three of the four men have qualified for the Finals: Newman, Brooks and Butner. “The whole rig did good all year. It was fun.”
“Right now I’m starting to get it on my mind and get rolling. It’s go time, these next thirty days. I’ll get on the bucking machine and work out and get on a few practice horses right before the Finals.”
The top four men in the saddle bronc riding are within $30,000 of each other. “It’s all close,” Newman said, “and anybody can jump ahead. That’s the thing about Vegas. There’s so much money there (to win), it’s anybody’s game.
“And the bronc riding is so danged tough. There are so many good bronc riders nowadays, all of them are tough. You’d better bring your A-game because everybody rides good. It’s a good time to be a bronc rider right now.”
Richmond Champion, #15 bareback rider; $111,687 won in the regular season
Eight-time Wrangler NFR qualifier (2014, 2016-21)
Home: Stevensville, Montana
How has this year been different from last year? “This year was important, just because I was out with last season with an injury (a cervical fusion.) I was really wanting to come back strong, and I was starting to realize that I’m one of the older guys in the group. There are so many young guys that ride really well, and I wanted to get on par with them and prove to myself that I can still compete with them. That was my goal, and I was successful. I’m excited to be headed back to Las Vegas.”
Champion won ten regular season rodeos this year. “I don’t think I’ve ever won first place this many times in a season.”
Champion and wife Paige Lawrence’s son was born Sept. 7, so after Puyallup, Wash., he went home till the Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls on Sept. 28-30. “I was in the top fifteen for most of August and September, and after Puyallup, I didn’t go anywhere else till the Governor’s Cup.
“I put all my eggs in one basket, at the Cup, and hoped that the basket didn’t get smashed.” He didn’t place on his first horse in Sioux Falls, and got smashed in the chute on his second horse, so wasn’t able to finish the rodeo. “It came down to what Mason Clements and Jacob Lees did at the Cup, and how Kaycee Feild did at Mona (Utah.)”
How are you preparing for the Finals? “I usually go through equipment, get on the bucking machine, and spend lots of time in the gym. I have a trainer who has specific training for me, and I’ll spend six or seven hours a week” in the gym. “I’ll get on practice horses at the end of November, test out my equipment, and make sure I’m feeling good and nothing needs to be changed.”
Family: wife Paige Lawrence; son, Forrest Champion, “who rules the roost.”
Lisa Lockhart , #5 barrel racer; $134,591 won in the regular season
Seventeen-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier (2007-2023)
Home: Oelrichs, S.D.
How has this year been different from last year? This year was more in line with previous years, not counting 2021 and 2022, which were anomalies. “The last two years were in a world of their own for me,” she said, due to having to rodeo harder to qualify for the National Finals. “This year started out more normal, and I’m thankful for that. I started better, stayed consistent, and my horses stayed sound. I got to choose which one I wanted throughout the season. Having your team available and not having to have a horse out is huge.”
Memorable wins this year: “Getting back to Calgary was a huge help for me. I started the winter off better and won more at San Antonio. Any time you can get a good start and get more won in the middle of the summer, is good. July was a really good month for us, with a decent Fourth (of July holiday run). Calgary, the NFR Open (in Colorado Springs), Sheridan and Nampa were a really big turning point.”
How are you preparing for the Finals? “I don’t do anything different than I do the other twelve months of the year. We always prepare for the types of events that are ahead. Being an indoor rodeo, that’s the biggest difference. I’ll get horses into some smaller arenas and more comfortable with smaller confines. You have to be prepared for a quicker setup and have (the horses) happy, healthy, fit and ready to do their job, no matter what you throw at them.”
Family: husband Grady, daughter Alyssa and her husband Garrison Allen, sons Thane and Cade.
Brody Cress, #12 saddle bronc rider; $132,743 won in the regular season
Seven-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier (2017-2023)
Home: Hillsdale, Wyo.
How has this year been different from last year? “It was an interesting year, to say the least. I’m glad I made it to the Finals, but I wasn’t happy with my consistency throughout the year. There were things I needed to work on, and I have been working on them, and I feel 100 percent better going into the Finals than I was all year.”
Memorable wins this year: “One win that really stands out to me was winning Dodge City (Kan.) That’s a rodeo I’ve always wanted to win. Everybody knows that rodeo.” He drew Frontier Rodeo’s Miss Ellie, a horse he’s been bucked off three times prior. “Going into it, I knew I had to get even with her, and it would put me in a position to win that rodeo. I knew I had to be at the top of my game and be doing my job, to win that rodeo, and change the record to 1-3.”
How are you preparing for the Finals? “I started training for the Finals throughout the summer, so I’m three months ahead of anybody else. (Going to a gym while on the road) is (traveling partner) Lefty (Holman’s) and my big thing. Some guys golf or hang out when they have time off. We are working out and rehabbing. We have Planet Fitness memberships, and they have that chain in most towns. We get in at least an hour-long workout, and if we’re sore, we’re stretching.
“In the saddle bronc riding right now, the level of competition is so high, this is the first year I’ve worried about making the Finals. I hate that feeling, but it shows the level of competition in bronc riding these days, and that is amazing, and that will help continue to grow our sport.
“To get to be part of that is amazing and it’s humbling. There’s more work to be done, if you want to end up a world champion at the end of the year.”
Family: wife Sierra Cress.
This year, the Wrangler NFR has a record-setting payout of more than $11.5 million. First place in each round wins $30,705; first place in the average (the highest combined score in the roughstock events or the lowest combined times in the timed events after ten nights of rodeo) wins $78,747.
The Wrangler NFR will be broadcast on the Cowboy Channel.
For more information, visit ProRodeo.com.