The countdown is on and many people have already started their journey to Las Vegas for the 2015 edition of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). I’ve gone over all of the events, talked to contestants and made some predictions. I’ve already written about the bareback riding, steer wrestling and team roping. So here goes with the rest of the events. With $10 million in prize money and gold buckles at stake, anything can happen and it probably will. Again, these are just my opinions and I’d love to hear what you think.
Saddle Bronc Riding – My pick is through and through Cody DeMoss. I remember his first NFR in 2003. He had impressed me at the College National Finals the year before and I’ve always believed in his ability. He is making his 11th trip and is entering in first place for the second time. Cody led the world standings in 2006, won round 7 and placed in others before missing the final round because of a broken back in round nine. He finished second in the world standings for the third consecutive time. In 2012 he was the only saddle bronc rider to ride all 10 horses and won the average. In 2011 he competed in the first four rounds and spent the next six nights with the Justin Sportsmedicine Team with a broken shoulder.
Cody missed the 2013 NFR, came back in 2014 and entered in 12th place. He finished last year in 10th. People have asked all year long what is making the difference for him this year. He claims he isn’t doing anything different. He has been traveling with Joe Lufkin, who just joined the PRCA last year. Cody will tell you that he loves getting on bucking horses and he is having fun. According to the PRCA’s stock stats, he’s having more fun than ever. This year, Cody rode 90.63 percent of the horses he got on. I expect that to continue and for him to keep his position in the world standings and win the title for Louisiana.
THE DARK HORSE –Jacobs Crawley has had the best regular season of his career and is entering his fifth NFR in third place. The red-headed Irishman from Texas has gotten on as many, if not more, bucking horses this year than any other contestant in the field. And, he’s been successful on the majority of them with records showing 117 out of 125 attempts made. His first qualification was in 2011, the same year he won the College National Finals Rodeo. He won the average in 2013. His worst performance in Las Vegas was last year when he rode seven out of the 10 horses and earned over $58,000. He has extra motivation and support this year. Last May, he and his wife Lauren tied the knot. It would be hard to find any contestant that likes to have more fun than Jacobs in and out of the arena. I can’t imagine the party that would go on if he did win the gold buckle, but it would be huge. He would be the first Texan to earn a world title in saddle bronc riding since Bud Munroe won it in 1986.
THE DARK DARK HORSE – I love watching Cort Scheer ride a rank bucking horse. All of the guys that are at the top of the world standings, even the ones that didn’t qualify, can ride and do it well. And, they all love it. Cort just has the ability to make it all look so easy. He’ll enter the Thomas and Mack Center in seventh place, but is just over $20,000 out of first place. That’s one round win. That’s something Cort is going to have to do to win the gold buckle. The average will be a huge factor, but winning the average alone won’t be enough in my estimation. Last year, he finished second to Spencer Wright by less than $20,000. He won one round and was second in the average for the second time. He finished second to Jacobs Crawley in 2013 as well. In his previous four trips, he’s only made the trip to the South Point Hotel and Casino for round buckles three times. I expect Cort to ride all 10 horses again this year. If he does and picks up some round wins, he could take the world title home to Nebraska.
Tie-Down Roping – No surprises here. I think Tuf Cooper is the odds on favorite, not just because he leads the world standings, but because of his previous success in the Thomas and Mack Center. Tuf is making his eighth consecutive trip to the WNFR. Out of the last seven times he’s been here, he’s left three times with the gold buckle and two of those with the average title. He grew up watching his dad compete at rodeos across the country including the NFR. Put pressure on this guy and he pushes back. They can’t out work or out rope him. It’s going to come down to luck of the draw and horse power. Tuf should have both.
THE DARK HORSE – Marty Yates made more trips to the press room for round wins than any other roper at last year’s NFR. A year can make a big difference in a roping career and I’ve seen that in Marty this year. In 2014, he led the average at both the CNFR and the Reno Rodeo, had a hiccup and left without titles. This year at Cheyenne, Wyo., he entered the finals in second place, made a flawless run and left with the championship package from the “Daddy of ‘em All,” a place where there are plenty of opportunities for hiccups. Regardless of the outcome in the arena, his fans will be among the most notorious in the stands at the Thomas and Mack Center. Marty’s family support is unprecedented and they are not shy.
THE DARK DARK HORSE – Matt Shiozawa has as good a mental game as any tie-down roper in the field. He learned a lot about mental toughness playing football and basketball in high school. We often talk about the mental game in bull riding, but it comes into play in other events as well. When the chips are down it’s hard to pick back up and get back to winning. Matt has that edge. He can put things behind him and focus on the here and now very well. He’s coming to Las Vegas to win money. If a world title comes with it that will be the bonus. He won the average in 2011 and moved from 11th to 2nd. He comes in this year in 8th place. He will have his wife and three daughters in the stands and would do anything in the world for his girls.
Barrel Racing – Lisa Lockhart has had the best regular season of her career. She won Calgary and Cheyenne, but that certainly doesn’t mean that she and her great horse Louie don’t perform in small arenas just as well. They won the average at the NFR last year and $143,897, finishing second in the world standings. She enters her ninth NFR in second place behind Callie DuPerier by about $15,000. Louie is in his prime at 12-years-old and I expect them to pick up some round wins and place high in the average. Louie’s registered name is An Oakie With Cash and in 2011, he was voted the horse with the most heart. He’s gotten even better since then and he and Lisa make an incredible team.
THE DARK HORSE – Sarah Rose McDonald is making the longest trip to Las Vegas this year coming all the way from Brunswick, Ga. She and her horse Fame Fling N Bling made the trip across the United States part of the winter and all summer to compete. Not only did they win the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo last February, they placed first in every category winning over $20,000. I expect this duo to do really well in the Thomas and Mack Center as they grew up riding in small indoor arenas. Bling loves the limelight and Sarah is focused so even though this is their first appearance, that shouldn’t affect them. They start the competition in third place.
THE DARK DARK HORSE –Never count Fallon Taylor out. She has proven her tenacity again and again and again, in and out of the arena. Her horse Baby Flo is making her third appearance at the NFR and will come in rested after having several months off of the rodeo trail. They enter in seventh, and while they are about $80,000 behind, they love the Thomas and Mack Center and the NFR loves Fallon and Baby Flo.
Bull Riding – If there was a shoe in at this year’s NFR, it would have to be Sage Kimzey. He has the biggest lead going into the competition in any event. He has already won $166,632 and is over $50,000 ahead of Brennon Eldred. And, he is building on a very successful appearance in the Thomas and Mack Center last year. He was the high money earner last year of all contestants and rode 8 out of 10 bulls. I believe Sage will become the fourth man in the history of the NFR to ride all 10 bulls. He may not do it this year, but I know that is his intention and it won’t be for lack of effort.
THE DARK HORSE – Parker Breding just happens to be the man in second place behind Sage and he’s also had a phenomenal regular season. This is Parker’s second qualification. He missed last year, partly due to a broken arm that happened midway through the season. In 2013, he placed in three rounds in his debut in the Thomas and Mack. He’s going to have to do much better than that to overtake Sage. However, he is one of the quiet unassuming guys that can sneak up and make a big move. He doesn’t really like giving interviews either, especially when he needs to talk about himself. He is as humble as they come and I hope he wins several rounds and has to come to the media room to talk to all of us.
THE DARK DARK HORSE –Joe Frost fans are happy to see him making a second NFR appearance. A late-season push sees him entering in sixth place. Joe finished second in the world standings last year after beating Sage out of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association title in June. Then he went on and added his name to the list of RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo champions. He entered last year’s NFR in 11th place, won two rounds and finished second in the average. He is now a college graduate and can mark that off his to-do list. I see a gold buckle in his future, maybe not this year, but I believe it will happen.