We all knew that with the major increase in prize money at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, records were going to be broken, but no one had a crystal ball and could see how the action would actually play out.
Heading into the 10th round, only two races have been decided and they were the easiest to predict – Trevor Brazile clinched the all-around after round six and Sage Kimzey got his second consecutive bull riding buckle after round nine. In rodeo, nothing is ever for certain, and especially not here.
The jump in prize money from $8.8 to $10 million this year has made the competition even more dynamic with every contestant having a chance at a gold buckle. Sage Kimzey had the biggest lead coming in $52,454 ahead of the field. Cody Teel has made a good run at that. So far, Teel has won $114,231 and is in the overall lead in the Thomas & Mack Center. During the ninth round Kimzey placed second adding $23,731 to his earnings here and bringing his total in Las Vegas to $77,000.
That $23,000 was enough to bring Kimzey’s total earnings to $261,601 and a $54,362 lead. Kimzey is second in the average and when the statisticians did the math, no one can move ahead of him.
A pile of money will be paid at Saturday night’s 10th round of competition. Each round has rewarded contestants with $84,615, divided amongst the top six. Scores and times are added together for the very important NFR standings known in the rodeo world as the average. Ten nights of bumps and bruises, pain and adrenalin will be paid off to the tune of $253,846 in each event.
The biggest check goes to the second most prestigious award in rodeo, the NFR champion. Each of them will win $67,269 tonight, and for many that is nearly as much as their regular season total. The average pays eight places in each event, so more than half of the contestants will get a piece of the $2,030,769 in that category.
While we are breaking and setting new records at the Thomas & Mack Center, events have been going on around town that celebrate rodeo’s heritage and history. One of those, the Gold Card Roundup, was held at the Palms Hotel on Friday afternoon for the third year. More than 600 people were in attendance with representatives from the PRCA, WPRA, Las Vegas Events along with many former world champions visiting.
Among those champions were five-time world champion saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer, and the legendary 7-time world champion all-around Larry Mahan, who still holds the record for NFR qualifications in rough-stock events.
“It’s just great to be here and meet everybody,” Etbauer said. “I just wish that I could remember everybody that I’ve met through the years. It’s great to see everybody and watch these old videos. That’s not something you get to do every day. It shows us how times have changed and how tough those contestants used to be just to get to the NFR.”
I only wish that I had the opportunity to sit down at every table and share the stories that are told at these events. Moving the NFR to Las Vegas 30 years ago changed the dynamics of the NFR and that has given those of us in the media many more stories to tell.