World title races heating up down the stretch

It’s officially crunch time ladies and gentlemen!

With three rounds remaining in this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the world title races are coming into focus in each event. Contestants have had seven rounds to make their moves, and time is running out for those on the outside looking in.

Three more rounds remain at the Thomas & Mack Center for contestants to make a charge for gold buckles.

Three more rounds remain at the Thomas & Mack Center for contestants to make a charge for gold buckles.

I decided to take an in-depth look at the battles that will play out the next three nights, explore the “what ifs” and make my predictions on who will take home the gold buckles. Here we go.

Bareback riding

Kaycee Feild made a huge move – and statement – by winning Round 7 last night. He’s been hampered by back issues earlier in the Wrangler NFR, but said last night that he feels 100 percent. His round win moved him to first in the world standings, and perhaps even more importantly, first in the average race as well.

Four-time World Champion Bobby Mote is second in the world, roughly $14,000 behind Feild, but he’s 11th in the average after a no-score in the sixth round. Three-time World Champion Will Lowe is third in the world and fifth in the average, but Feild is in the driver’s seat. Mote’s hiccup in the sixth round will prove costly on Saturday, and Lowe not cashing in Round 7 cost him ground on Feild.

Kaycee Field is looking to win his third gold buckle, two less than his Hall of Fame father, Lewis.

Kaycee Field is looking to win his third gold buckle, two less than his Hall of Fame father, Lewis.

Despite being in great position heading into the final three rounds, Field said last night he doesn’t feel like he’s locked anything up just yet.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. “When you set your gear down back there with the Top 15 in the world, you know anybody can take advantage like I did tonight. I feel like I’m doing what I want, what I intended. I haven’t made any mistakes.”

My pick: It’s Feilds to lose, and I don’t think he will. Kaycee Feild wins his third straight gold buckle on Saturday.

Steer wrestling

This one is going to get interesting. Steer wrestling was one of the most wide-open events coming into this year’s Finals, and it has remained that way through seven rounds. Casey Martin has done an admirable job holding onto the No. 1 spot so far and has three checks so far. He is first in the world ($129,371) and second in the Wrangler NFR average, so he has a great chance to earn his first gold buckle.

Matt Reeves moved into second place in the world with his Round 7 victory with $127,626, but is ninth in the average. Third-place Trevor Knowles ($124,965) is 12th in the average after a no-time in Round 6, and that may cost him dearly.

Lurking in fourth is two-time World Champion Dean Gorsuch with $120,391, and the big Nebraskan is heating up big-time. He won Rounds 4 and 6 and has cashed in four consecutive rounds to earn an event-best $56,040 in Las Vegas and stands third in the average.

My pick: I’d love to tell you Martin is going to pull it out, but Gorsuch’s hot streak has been eye-opening. I think he’s dialed in and on a specific path toward his third gold buckle. Dean Gorsuch wins on Saturday, but if I’m wrong and Martin stays on top, that’d be just fine.

Team roping

We could see another split here for gold-buckle winners. Top-ranked Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill lead the world by roughly $30,000 apiece, but two no-times (Rounds 3 and 6) have them languishing in fifth place in the average.

Header Luke Brown and partner Kollin VonAhn are the only team to rope all seven steers so far and therefore have a pretty firm grasp on the average lead. I see them making workmanlike runs from here on out and targeting that average money.

Brown is fourth in the world standings, $52,399 behind Tryan, but another round check and a $47,776 check for winning the average could make things interesting. VonAhn is eighth in the heeling standings, so Brown has the best chance to hoist a gold buckle on Saturday from that team.

The Minor brothers, Riley and Brady, are both second in the world and second in the average by a wide margin (15.4 seconds), so they likely are going to be part of the final discussion on Saturday.

Kaleb Driggers and Travis Graves stand third in the world standings, but three no-times have them 11th in the average. That virtually eliminates them from consideration.

My pick: Brown needs to win the average and pick up a few more round checks to overtake Tryan, but the Minors could jump Tryan and Corkill if they stay second in the average. A quick round could move Tryan and Corkill up in the average, and the way team roping has gone so far, anything can happen. This one is almost 50-50 for me, but I say Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill place in at least one more round and get it done in the end.

Saddle bronc riding

Which Wright brother will it be? That’s the question most people were asking themselves before the Wrangler NFR began, but I think that’s been answered after Round 7.

Jake Wright won his third round of the Finals to move into the top spot in the world standings with $156,905 and third in the average. Two-time World Champion Cody Wright is now second in the world with $154,244, but 11th in the average after three consecutive buck-offs in Rounds 2-4.

Jake Wright, left, is in position to join his brothers, Cody, center, and Jesse as world champion saddle bronc riders.

Jake Wright, left, is in position to join his brothers, Cody, center, and Jesse as world champion saddle bronc riders.

Reigning World Champion Jesse Wright trails Jake by more than $24,000 and is 12th in the average because of three buck-offs of his own, so his chances have been erased. So, who does Jake have to contend with in the home stretch?

Chad Ferley, who won a gold buckle in 2006, trails Jake by almost $7,000 in the world standings, but is fourth in the average heading into Round 8. Cort Scheer is the average leader, but is seventh in the world more than $30,000 behind Jake Wright.

Wade Sundell, who has two round wins at this year’s Finals, is fourth in the world ($134,898) and fifth in the average, so he has at least a chance to make some noise with another round victory or two.

My pick: Jake Wright is having a blast, and his confidence is sky-high. He’s going to become the third Wright brother to take gold in Las Vegas.

Tie-down roping

Cody Ohl has captured the headlines at this year’s Wrangler NFR with four round victories in five days to take over the No. 1 spot in the world standings with $167,509. A 17.5-second run in Round 2 may prove costly though, as he is sixth in the average.

Shane Hanchey has been a model of consistency, leading the average with an average time of 7.8 seconds in each round. He’s cashed in six out of seven rounds, and that has moved him to third in the world with $141,266.

If the world title was given out after Round 7, Hanchey would be holding a gold buckle by nearly $10,000. But it’s not, and Ohl has three more rounds to move up the average.

Trevor Brazile is fourth in the world and in the average, but needs another big round check to move him up the average and give him a better chance to win a fourth tie-down roping gold buckle. Don’t count him out, though.

Cody Ohl has won four of the last five rounds and has a great chance to win his sixth tie-down roping gold buckle.

Cody Ohl has won four of the last five rounds and has a great chance to win his sixth tie-down roping gold buckle.

My pick: How do you pick against Cody Ohl? I can’t do it, although, I think Hanchey is going to make things very difficult for the steely veteran.

Barrel racing

This one doesn’t take much deliberation. Sherry Cervi and Stingray have been stellar in Las Vegas so far.

Cervi leads the world standings with $222,638 and is first in the average. Second-place Mary Walker, the reigning world champ, is seventh in the average because of two tipped barrels, and third-place Taylor Jacob – who has won four of the last five rounds – is sixth in the average.

My pick: Sherry Cervi makes three safe and seamless runs to easily claim her fourth gold buckle on Saturday.

Bull riding

This one is pretty easy, too. J.W. Harris has ridden five of seven and holds a lead of more than $56,000 over Round 7 winner and reigning World Champion Cody Teel.

Harris is first in the average, with Teel in second, and is dialed in. Teel has also ridden five bulls and has a fighting chance if Harris is bucked off at least two of his next three buckers.

My pick: J.W. Harris wins his fourth world championship after back-to-back runner-up finishes.

Well, that’s it. We will see how much of a Nostradamus I am in a few days. One thing is for certain though, it’s going to be a heck of a finish at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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