Anyone looking for rodeo’s stars of tomorrow would have found quite a few at the annual PRCA Permit Challenge at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa arena on Thursday morning.
The first rodeo competition of the week in Las Vegas, the Permit Challenge pitted the top five-ranked PRCA permit holders in bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and bull riding for two rounds of action for buckles and cash. The sport’s top permit cowboys nodded their heads in front of a solid crowd that was hungry for rodeo.
Rusty Wright, one of two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright’s four sons, won the saddle bronc riding with a 157-point total. He finished five points clear of Dalton Davis of Holcomb, Kan., for the top prize and had the luxury of having his famous father helping him in the chutes.
“Being here with the top five guys in the permit standings and coming out on top, I’m really blessed and couldn’t ask for a better year,” said Rusty Wright, who turned 19 in November. “It’s really cool to get on a bronc here and walk behind the chutes and have four of the best bronc riders in the world right there to give you advice.”
Cody was a proud papa after watching Rusty cover a second-round re-ride for 76 points to claim the title.
“It was pretty dang neat,” Cody said. “For him to be able to get in this was pretty neat, and it’s really exciting to see him win it. I’m a lot better with Rusty (nerves-wise) than I was with my brothers, but I still get pretty nervous.
“I think he’s got all the talent in the world, and if he’s willing to make the sacrifices it takes to get here and works at it, I think he’s got as great a shot as anybody.”
Like the rest of the permit holders, Rusty has his sights set on competing down the road at the Thomas & Mack Center alongside his father and uncles in future years.
“This just fuels my fire and makes me hungry,” Rusty said. “We’re only 10 minutes from the Thomas & Mack, and you want to be 10 minutes further down there. That’s my goal, and next year I’m going to shoot for it and work at it really hard. Hopefully I’ll end up there with the Top 15 in the world.”
Wyatt Bloom won the bareback riding with a 160-point total and was a bit in shock after winning the challenge.
“Just to make it here is cool, and I can’t explain it,” said Bloom, a junior at Montana State University. “It’s exciting. I went to high school with Austin Foss, and just being around him lets me know I can do it too.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited about it.”
Noah Lassa’s 8.8-second two-head total was best in the steer wrestling, and he was all smiles after the nearly three-hour rodeo.
“It was fun, and I had a good time,” said Lassa, of Merrill, Wis. “I had a friend go through this last year, and he said it was a good deal, and I think it’s a good thing to have. It’s high pressure, a lot of fun and there’s a lot going on.
“I think I’m going to put (the buckle) on right away.”
Tucker Dale of Timer Lake, S.D., and Dustin Searcy of Mooreland, Okla., were tops in the team roping with a 5.3-second run as all five teams had no-times in one of the two rounds. Cole Robinson’s 18.6-second total won the tie-down roping, while the bull riding went to Tyler Taylor and his 84-point ride in the second round.
“I’ve been working real hard all summer and fall for it, and I stuck it out and got the win here,” said Taylor, of Stephenville, Texas. “This is a good way for permit holders to get their feet wet and come to Vegas and see what it’s about. Hopefully, I can march right on to those yellow bucking chutes at the Thomas & Mack.”
Roger Mooney announced the rodeo, which was also attended by two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bareback rider Foss, 2014 Wrangler NFR bull rider Brennon Eldred, five-time Wrangler NFR saddle bronc rider Rusty Allen, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Clint Johnson, PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman and PRCA Board member Fred Boettcher, who did his part by helping untie calves in the tie-down roping.
With Wrangler NFR cowboys like bull riding world standings leader Sage Kimzey and bareback riding first-timer Tim O’Connell among the Permit Challenge alumni, the event has developed into a pipeline for ProRodeo stars. Most people expect this year’s crop of winners to follow in their footsteps and go on to nod their heads at the Wrangler NFR in the coming years, and it’d be tough to bet against them.
“Maybe they come down here and get a feel for what’s going on and then they make dang sure they come back (for the Finals),” Cody Wright said.