There are always a lot of surprises at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and this year was certainly no exception.
The surprises aren’t always in who rises to the top. The ability of rodeo contestant’s to rebound always amazes me and is a testament to their dedication, resilience and perseverance. If you would have told me on Dec. 3, that barrel racer Sherry Cervi would come into the tenth round of competition and not have won a dime, I never would have believed it.
But that’s exactly what happened. She was poised to get a check for being fifth place overall, but even that was dependent upon the 10th round. Most of the time Sherry rides a palomino mare named Stingray. She also has had success on two horses owned by Trip DuPerier, Atlas and Arson. She came into the Thomas & Mack on Saturday night on Arson and had the fastest time of the rodeo at 13.55 seconds. That took her earnings from zero to nearly $50,000.
It was a sweet night for Trip as he first watched Sherry and Arson, then watched his daughter win both the NFR and the world title on her horse, Dillon. This was the first time for Callie to make it here, but not the first time for Dillon.
Dillon made his first appearance in the Thomas & Mack Center in 2008 with Annesa Self who trained him. Then he was back again in 2011 and 2012 with Carlee Pierce. They set the arena record in 2011 at 13.46 which was broken in 2013 by Taylor Jacob.
So, this gold buckle is as much Dillon’s as it is Callie’s.
It’s always interesting to watch the competition unfold and see whose stars are shining. I don’t know if it was the increased prize money, but in most of the events the prize money was spread across the top 15 contestants. In fact, there were only two contestants that didn’t place in any round or the average, Bradley Harter in the saddle bronc riding and Dustin Bowen in the bull riding.
Bradley had a huge accomplishment winning the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days this summer. He has struggled in Las Vegas before, but we can’t just say that he has had bad luck. He has been on 100 horses in the Thomas & Mack and has made some outstanding rides. Only one time has he gotten a go-round buckle. In 2006, he tied with Chad Ferley for the win in the ninth round. He told me he’s made some of the best rides of his life here, would be waiting in the back to make the victory lap and then someone would beat him by a point or even half a point.
This was Dustin’s first qualification and for a kid who grew up near Hershey, Pa., that’s quite an accomplishment in itself. He deserved to be here and I hope he makes it back and gets to the pay window on multiple occasions.
Announcer Boyd Polhamus compared the tie-down ropers to a bunch of kindergartners, because they all did such a good job of sharing. They did spread the money and the go-round wins out. Because of ties in two of the rounds, 11 of the 15 got round buckles. Fans watched as Tuf Cooper struggled, but he emerged victorious in the 10th round to tie with Tyson Durfey with 6.7-second runs.
We started this year’s competition without Jake Barnes in the team roping who was injured while practicing at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. JoJo Lemond, the man in 16th in the standings replaced him and roped flawlessly with Brazilian Junior Nogueira for nine rounds. They were on pace to break the arena record for the fastest total on ten head of 59.1 seconds that was set by Jake and Clay O’Brien Cooper in 1993. Disaster struck in the 10th round when JoJo lost his rope and they got a no time. JoJo’s reaction in the arena said it all. He wanted to win, not just for him, but for Jake and Junior. He and Junior still left Las Vegas with $117,404 apiece.
The drama of the NFR will never be repeated at any other rodeo. And with increased prize money and gold buckles at stake, the pressure will never decrease. Handling the pressure of the competition is just element of every contestant’s experience here. There are so many commitments and demands on their time. They may say treat it like any other rodeo, but it’s not and never will be.
The 2016 season is already underway and the lucrative building rodeos are just around the corner. I hope everyone has a blessed Holiday Season and takes time to enjoy family and friends. Personally, I’m going to take time with my family, my animals, and thank God daily for allowing me to live the Western Lifestyle.