Wrangler NFR hodgepodge, Take 1

Well, we’re three days into the 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and there’s already been enough odds and ends for an edition of Wrangler NFR hodgepodge.

It’s been a hectic and interesting three nights at the Thomas & Mack Center and an action-packed week in Las Vegas, so there’s plenty to talk about. From record runs and celebrity visits to injuries and a new queen of rodeo, the “Entertainment Capital of the World” has been buzzing with everything Western this week.

Trevor Brazile won his 12th all-around gold buckle on Saturday night to extend his record to 21 career world titles.  --PRCA photo by Tom Donoghue

Trevor Brazile won his 12th all-around gold buckle on Saturday night to extend his record to 21 career world titles. –PRCA photo by Tom Donoghue

The biggest news out of Round 3 was Trevor Brazile clinching his 12th career all-around championship and 21st gold buckle. He and Travis Graves finished second in the team roping for $15,018, and he took fourth in the tie-down roping for another $7,969 and now has $361,046 in total season earnings with seven rounds remaining. Brazile and Graves are second in the team roping world standings and eighth in the average, and he stands second in the world and leads the average in the tie-down roping, opening the door for a possible third Triple Crown.

“I never expected anything like this, so it almost doesn’t seem real,” Brazile said. “I think (world titles) mean more to me the older I get. At some point, there’s going to be a changing of the guard, so every gold buckle means more as time marches on. I never take winning championships for granted.”

On Saturday, Oklahoma State University graduate Lauren Heaton, Miss Rodeo Oklahoma, won the title of Miss Rodeo America 2015 at MGM Grand. Heaton, who plans to pursue a master’s of business administration after her reign as MRA 2015, won the appearance category and was also the Sherry Smith Memorial Scholarship recipient.

Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Lauren Heaton was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2015 at MGM Grand on Saturday afternoon.  --PRCA photo by Eva Scofield

Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Lauren Heaton was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2015 at MGM Grand on Saturday afternoon. –PRCA photo by Eva Scofield

Also on Saturday, ProRodeo Hall of Fame announcer Bob Tallman hosted the 7th Annual Bob Tallman Celebrity Bowling Tournament at the Gold Coast Hotel & Spa, an event that raised money for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and the Las Vegas chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. Celebrities including actor and TV host Chris Hardwick and ProRodeo Hall of Famers Don Gay, Gary Leffew, Ote Berry, Clint Corey and Byron Walker were among the nearly 200 people who attended and participated in the popular event.

Two rounds into the rodeo, team ropers Turtle Powell and Dakota Kirchenschlager not only had back-to-back round victories, but also record times for those rounds. Their 4.0-second time in Round 1 was the quickest in the history of the rodeo for the opening round, and a 3.8 in the second round also established a new mark. Powell is the 2011 world champion header, while Kirchenschlager is roping in his second career Finals. Speaking of records, four-time World Champion Luke Branquinho’s split of first place in Round 2 extended his steer wrestling record for most Wrangler NFR round victories to 23. Not to be outdone, Cody Ohl bested his previous Round 3 record of 6.7 seconds from last year with a blistering 6.6-second run on Saturday night.

He was pumped up before and after the run, which was just one-tenth of a second off the Wrangler NFR record of 6.5 seconds he set in Round 10 of the 2003 Wrangler NFR. Ohl now has 53 career go-round victories in Las Vegas and owns the record time in six of the 10 rounds.

“I knew I was fast, and it’s funny to say, but I could’ve broken the arena record right there,” Ohl said. “I was already like a quarter of the way to the calf, and I didn’t think there was any way I got out. I kind of had a little hitch there when I flanked him, but my mind was like, ‘Man, I broke the barrier.

“Then, I throw my hands up, and I’m looking at the judge and he’s holding the barrier up there and it’s not broke. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Bareback rider Justin McDaniel, the 2008 world champ, survived the “eliminator” pen of barebacks in Round 3 with an 89-point ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Delta Ship. That’s the same horse he set the Wrangler NFR arena record of 91.5 points on in 2007, and he leads all contestants with $45,463 through the first three rounds. McDaniel was tickled about picking up $19,002 after the successful ride.

“At about six seconds, he jumped so high and I was right in time with him, and that’s what you dream about since you’re a kid,” McDaniel, who is first in the Wrangler NFR average and fifth in the world standings through three rounds, said of the talented horse. “He’s my favorite horse. And when the crowd at the NFR stands up and cheers for you, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Wrangler NFR first-timers have showed few nerves so far, with tie-down roper Marty Yates and bull rider Joe Frost winning their events in Round 1. Steer wrestler Kyle Irwin followed suit in Round 2 by splitting first with Branquinho before winning Round 3 on his own the next night, and Aaron Pass and Sage Kimzey kept the trend going in the bull riding by taking the second and third rounds, respectively. Barrel racer Kassidy Dennison stopped the clock in 13.94 seconds to win the third round and take over the Wrangler NFR average lead.

The first three rounds also included a couple of extremely rare occurrences. In Round 1, the team of Jake Barnes and Junior Nogueira were awarded a re-run after their steer decided to take a nap in the chute. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in 11 years at the Finals, and most everyone I talked to also had trouble remembering the last time they’d seen that happen. Ohl snapped his rope in Round 2 en route to a no-time, another random head-scratcher of an event that most people had not seen in quite some time. Strange happenings on these wild nights in Las Vegas, as the good “doctor” Hunter S. Thompson used to say.

Las Vegas events released time-lapse videos showing the setup of the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, Cowboy FanFest and the Cowboy FanFest Priefert Arena, and it’s pretty interesting watching. Check out Cowboy Christmas coming to life through this link, follow this link to see of Cowboy FanFest going up, and enjoy this look at the arena taking shape. You’ll need to download the files, but it’s worth it in the end.

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited the Wrangler NFR for Round 2 on Friday night.  --PRCA photo by Greg Westfall

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited the Wrangler NFR for Round 2 on Friday night and took a ride on a stagecoach to say hello to the Thomas & Mack Center fans. –PRCA photo by Greg Westfall

The Wrangler NFR is always a popular place to be, and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Phil Lyne was among the distinguished guests who attended the rodeo on opening night. Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney took a ride in the arena on a stagecoach during Round 2 on Friday night, and actors Hardwick and Lydia Hearst were in the crowd for the third round.

I’ll have to do another hodgepodge installment next week to catch up on more tidbits that come along, and I’m sure it’ll be chock full of more interesting stuff.

On deck

Look for me to write about reigning World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi, Berry hazing for Clayton Hass and Wrangler NFR Secretary Sunni Deb Backstrom in the coming days.

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