I’ve barely been in Las Vegas for 24 hours, and my dogs are already barking and I need a nap.
But that’s the way things go here in “Sin City” when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is in town, and this will be the pace I’m keeping for the next 10 days. Sleep, sweet sleep, will once again be my best friend.
Steve Kenyon roped me into doing a segment on his ProRodeo Radio show at the PRCA booth at Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it was nice to talk about the upcoming Finals while shamelessly plugging this column.
I was at Cowboy Christmas to check out the newest addition to the Wrangler NFR’s entertainment lineup: Cowboy Fanfest. Located in the back right corner of the building, Fanfest is a massive city-like section, complete with a mini-sized version of the Wrangler NFR arena with four bucking chutes and a timed-event chute, and tons more.
Whether it’s a mechanical bull and concert stage or the Rio Grande Grill and the old West-themed “Rodeo Way” town, fans can find plenty to keep them busy at Fanfest. Among the interesting items at Fanfest was one of newly crowned NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge stock cars.
None other than Trevor Brazile himself was there at 10 a.m. to kick off the festivities.
Brazile instructed his 5-year-old son, Treston, and 2-year-old daughter, Style, in a roping demonstration in the arena. Instead of a standard roping dummy, Las Vegas Events had the Brazile trio roping a one-of-a-kind stuffed alligator with horns.
That’s not something you see every day.
Ever gracious with his time, Brazile followed the demo by doing an interview with a local TV station, signing autographs, interacting with fans, doting on his kids and even talking to me. I asked him what he thought about the newest addition to the Finals’ entertainment portfolio and got his thoughts on how fan-friendly the rodeo is in general.
“Fanfest is a great addition,” said Brazile, who is on pace to earn his 10th all-around gold buckle this year. “It’s an amazing place to come spend your day in Las Vegas – as if there wasn’t enough to do here already – and it expands the (reach of the) NFR and rodeo. If anybody has any questions about the shape of rodeo or where it’s headed, I think this is a pretty good example.”
Brazile failed to qualify for the tie-down roping at the Wrangler NFR for the first time in 13 years, so I had to ask him if it was frustrating or a relief to be able to focus completely on the team roping, which he leads with Patrick Smith.
“It is what it is, and you can focus on the negative of it, but I choose to do the other,” Brazile said. “I’m still in good shape for two world titles, and when you come in with those kind of chances, I don’t think you can ever be too disappointed. If there’s a positive of not making it in the tie-down roping, it’s that I’ve been able to do more practicing in the team roping. I think it gives us a better shot, and I feel as prepared as I’ve ever been.
“I’m just focusing on the positive of it all.”
A number of current and former PRCA stars were on the docket to sign autographs at Cowboy Christmas today, including three-time and reigning World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho. I ran into him while he was between autograph sessions and chatted about the impending start to the rodeo.
He gave me my first big scoop of the year when he told me that, in a freak accident on Tuesday, he injured his right knee. Branquinho said a steer fell on his knee while he was practicing and that he tore some cartilage and damaged his MCL.
He wasn’t limping and assured me that he felt much better just two days later. He’s been icing it and receiving electric stimulation treatment for the injury, and I can tell that losing 35 pounds this year has him in the best physical shape he’s enjoyed in years.
“It’s feeling 100 percent better than it was,” Branquinho said of the knee. “My horses are working great, and everything should go well.”
It remains to be seen how the injury will affect Branquinho and his world title chances, but my guess is that he will gut it out and still be dangerous all 10 days. The talented and affable bulldogger had three autograph sessions to do this morning and said it’s often tough to keep from spreading himself too thin while in Las Vegas.
“A guy can, for sure, spread himself too thin,” he said. “I’m more than happy to do more for the fans if I’m able to, but it’s hard. I have about three autograph sessions every day, but I make sure I get back to the hotel for lunch and get a one- or two-hour nap in to feel refreshed for the night’s performance.”
A nap would be glorious right about now, but there are more words that need to be written.