National Finals Rodeo set to begin Thursday in Las Vegas
December 2, 2015
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The Wrangler NFR, rodeo’s season-ending championship event, is a ten-day rodeo held each night this year Dec. 3 through Dec. 12.
The top 15 money earners from throughout the season in each of the seven rodeo events have qualified to compete this year.
This year’s purse at the NFR has taken a substantial bump, going from $6.75 million in 2014, to $10 million in 2015. The increase in prize money means that unlike years in the past, the race for the world championship in each event is just about wide open.
With first place in each round paying out a little over $26,200, up from nearly $19,000 last year, and the overall average title paying just over $67,200 compared to around $48,000 a year ago, in addition to each contestant being paid $10,000 just for qualifying, the money this season is no doubt unprecedented in the sport of rodeo.
In each event, every contestant will compete once per night over the course of 10 nights, and after all is said and done, the average champion in each event is the cowboy with the highest total score on 10 in roughstock events, and the fastest total time in timed events.
Roughstock events consist of bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. The timed events are steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, and the ladies’ event of barrel racing.
When all is said and done, nine world championship titles will be awarded to those who have earned the most money throughout the regular season and the NFR in each event.
Current world champion: Trevor Brazile
Most titles won: Trevor Brazile (12)
Favorite this year: Trevor Brazile
Dark-horse: Tuf Cooper
- Trevor Brazile $282,241
- Tuf Cooper $140, 686
- Jojo Lemond $138,876
For the 10th consecutive year, and 13th year overall, the All-Around world championship is already all but sewn up by Trevor Brazile of Decatur, Tex.
As the only contestant to qualify to the NFR in two different events, Brazile has the inside track to yet another world championship to add to his already record total.
Once again qualified in the team roping as a header, and in the tie-down roping, just about the only thing that would prevent Brazile from once again claiming the title, is injury.
His closest competition, Tuf Cooper, who also happens to be Brazile’s brother-in-law, sits over $140,000 behind him in the standings and has qualified in just the tie-down roping. However, Cooper comes to Vegas as the leader in the tie-down roping standings, and with that being said, anything could happen.
The absolute dominance displayed by Trevor Brazile over the last fifteen years cannot be overstated. It appears that for someone else to claim the All-Around world championship, Brazile will need to retire.
Predicted world champion: Trevor Brazile
Current world champion: Kaycee Feild
Most titles won: tie, Joe Alexander, Bruce Ford (5)
Favorite this year: Kaycee Feild
Dark-horse: Will Lowe
NFR arena record score: 91.5 points tie, Justin McDaniel 2007, Will Lowe 2007, Bobby Mote 2008 (twice)
- Kaycee Feild $118,145
- Austin Foss $98,741
- Jake Brown $97,993
- Evan Jayne $93,019
- Bobby Mote $88,485
- Clint Cannon $86,686
- Tim O’Connell $86,564
- Tanner Aus $85,660
- Will Lowe $82,982
- Orin Larsen $81,627
- Caleb Bennett $81,302
- Seth Hardwick $80,639
- Clint Laye $80,307
- Steven Peebles $80,085
- Winn Ratliff $75,754
Aside from Trevor Brazile, perhaps the most dominant rodeo cowboy over the last few years is bareback rider Kaycee Feild.
Feild enters this year’s edition of the NFR as the No.1 ranked rider in the world standings. Feild has captured both the world championship and the NFR average title each of the last four years, and there is no reason to believe that streak won’t continue this year.
With just one more world championship, Feild will tie prorodeo legends Joe Alexander and Bruce Ford for the most world titles won in the bareback riding. Both Alexander and Ford are members of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Another example of Feild’s absolute dominance is the fact that he was forced to sit out three months during the most important part of the rodeo season, slipping from first to 19th during his absence. When he returned, Feild rallied, and heads into the NFR with a $20,000 lead over the rest of the field.
This year the 15 qualifiers in the bareback riding offer a wide variety of storylines. First-time qualifers Jake Brown, Evan Jayne, Tanner Aus, Orin Larsen, Seth Hardwick, and Clint Laye, are sprinkled throughout the field.
Jayne, born in France and now residing in Rockwall, Tex., will become the first ever European-born competitor to qualify to the NFR.
Feild isn’t the only world champion among the bareback riders this year. Bobby Mote, now of Stephenville, Tex., has also claimed four world championships, while Canyon, Tex.’s Will Lowe has won three titles in his career.
Look for Lowe to make a run from his relatively far down position, and become a serious threat to win the title.
However, Feild’s dominance should continue, and I fully expect Feild to be the first person since Joe Alexander in the 1970s to win his fifth consecutive bareback riding world championship.
Predicted world champion: Kaycee Feild
Current world champion: Luke Branquinho
Most titles won: Homer Pettigrew (6)
Favorite this year: Clayton Hass
Dark-horse: Trevor Knowles
NFR arena record time: 3.0 seconds tie, Steve Duhon 1986, Bryan Fields 2001
- Clayton Hass $95,181
- Hunter Cure $92,393
- Ty Erickson $89,780
- Nick Guy $83,288
- Kyle Irwin $76,586
- Luke Branquinho $76,191
- Tyler Waguespack $75,245
- Seth Brockman $71,559
- Baylor Roche $71,555
- Trevor Knowles $71,128
- K.C. Jones $70,985
- Dakota Eldridge $67,553
- Tanner Milan $66,327
- Casey Martin $65,156
- Blake Knowles $64,747
There might not be another event at this year’s NFR that is as wide open as the steer wrestling. With just over $30,000 separating first place from 15th, anything can happen over the course of the ten-day rodeo.
Leading the way is Clayton Hass from Terrell, Tex. This will be Hass’ second consecutive qualification to the NFR, as well as his second time overall, and his first as the leader of the pack.
Trailing him by a little less than $3,000 is 2013 world champion steer wrestler Hunter Cure of Holliday, Tex.
Cure is making his third appearance at the NFR, with the last time coming in 2013 when he left town with a world title.
Sitting in sixth place is the reigning and five-time world champion, Los Alamos Cal.’s Luke Branquinho. Branquinho’s world titles came in 2004, 2008, 2011-12, and 2014.
With the amount of money available at this year’s NFR, Branquinho figures to be a dangerous competitor for those who are in front of him.
The dark-horse candidate this year however, is Trevor Knowles of Mount Vernon, Ore.
Knowles arrives in Las Vegas for his 12th consecutive qualification to the NFR, and yet he has never walked away with a world championship.
Last year, Knowles entered the NFR as one of the top ranked men in the standings, and ended up finishing in sixth. Look for Knowles to be a spoiler, if not a major player in the race for the world championship.
However, with the money available at this year’s event, it is hard to pick against one of the all-time greats in Luke Branquinho. As long as this man is in the field, he is a threat to win another world title.
Predicted world champion: Luke Branquinho
Current world champions: Clay Tryan (header), Jade Corkill (heeler)
Most titles won: Speed Williams (header), Rich Skelton (heeler) (8)
Favorites this year: Clay Tryan, Jade Corkill
Dark-horse: Colby Lovell, Kory Koontz
NFR arena record time: 3.3 seconds Chad Masters, Jade Corkill 2009
- Clay Tryan $130,497
- Derrick Begay $94,868
- Chad Masters $92,658
- Trevor Brazile $92,268
- Aaron Tsinigine $83,768
- Jake Cooper $80,933
- Colby Lovell $78,830
- Erich Rogers $78,669
- Nick Sartain $74,079
- Luke Brown $72,410
- Jake Barnes* $71,911
- Clay Smith $71,228
- Coleman Proctor $70,130
- Riley Minor $67,592
- Matt Sherwood $67,436
- JoJo Lemond $65,803
- Jade Corkill $130,497
- Clay O’Brien Cooper $95,988
- Patrick Smith $92,268
- Travis Graves $85,265
- Ryan Motes $82,637
- Kollin VonAhn $79,024
- Travis Woodard $78,519
- Kory Koontz $78,468
- Paul Eaves $77,430
- Cory Petska $74,827
- Rich Skelton $74,079
- Junior Nogueira $71,333
- Jake Long $68,344
- Brady Minor $66,263
- Russell Cardoza $66,080
The only event in rodeo in which two cowboys compete together as a team, is of course the team roping.
Two world championships are crowned in the team roping; one for the header who ropes the steer’s head, and one for the heeler who ropes the steer’s hind feet.
Over the years, the team roping at the NFR has become a bit of a crap-shoot, meaning with many factors at play for each team, there really is no telling who may walk away with a world championship.
The team of Tryan and Corkill has won the world championship each of the last two years together, with Corkill having won the last three titles in the heeling. Tryan also won the heading world title in 2005 with Patrick Smith heeling.
This year, Smith is heeling with Trevor Brazile doing the heading. They enter the NFR this year in contention for the world title, with Brazile sitting fourth in the heading, while Smith is third in the heeling. The two won the team roping championship together in 2010.
Split world championships, world champion headers and heelers who don’t rope together, are rare but have happened. In fact, Jade Corkill’s first world championship was earned while heeling for a different header than that year’s world champion.
Koontz, the veteran between the two, is making his 20th appearance at the NFR, and still searching for his first world championship.
Known as one of the very best heelers in all of prorodeo, Koontz is a perfect pairing with Lovell, who carries a reputation as a high-risk, high-reward style of roper. The two are liable to make some serious waves before they are done.
Unfortunately though, the team roping had a dark shadow cast over it late last week when Jake Barnes, who entered this year’s NFR in 11th place and is also a seven-time world champion header, was severely injured during a practice session with his heeling partner Junior Nogueira.
Barnes’ horse fell with him, and as a result, Barnes was hospitalized where he still remains with what is being called a traumatic brain injury, and a broken ankle.
This year was the 27th NFR qualification for Barnes, 56, who is a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame as a result of seven world championships won with Clay O’Brien Cooper from 1985-94.
O’Brien Cooper, qualified in the second place spot in the heeling world standings along with his partner Derrick Begay, who also sits second in the heading standings.
JoJo Lemond who finished the regular season in 16th, will compete at the NFR in Barnes’ place, and will rope with Nogueira, who last year, became the first Brazilian-born cowboy to compete at the NFR in team roping.
As far as this year’s world championship goes, it’s nearly impossible to bet against the team of Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill. The two have one back-to-back titles together, and three each overall, and this year hold a commanding $35,000 lead over the rest of the field. They should be able to pull off the three-peat.
Predicted world champions: Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill
Saddle Bronc Riding
Current world champion: Spencer Wright
Most titles won: tie, Casey Tibbs, Dan Mortensen (6)
Favorite this year: Cody DeMoss
Dark-horse: Spencer Wright
NFR arena record score: 93 points Billy Etbauer 2003, 2004
- Cody DeMoss $119,397
- Rusty Wright $115,987
- Jacobs Crawley $108,862
- Isaac Diaz $103,566
- Taos Muncy $98,654
- Wade Sundell $94,680
- Cort Scheer $88,737
- Jake Wright $85,424
- Chuck Schmidt $84,910
- Spencer Wright $74,338
- Zeke Thurston $72,278
- Bradley Harter $71,310
- Heith DeMoss $68,354
- CoBurn Bradshaw $66,146
- Tyrel Larsen $61,172
Rodeo’s “classic event,” saddle bronc riding, could prove to be the most exciting event at this year’s NFR.
With less than one round win separating the entire top six in the world standings entering the NFR, it truly is anybody’s guess who will walk away with the coveted world championship title when all the dust settles.
Leading the charge this year is Cody DeMoss of Heflin, La. This is DeMoss’ 11th qualification to the NFR, and despite the fact that he has finished second in the final world standings an unbelievable five times, including winning the average title in 2012, DeMoss is still searching for his first world championship.
Unfortunately for DeMoss, if he is going to win his first world championship this year, he will have to beat an extremely competitive field.
Sitting in second place is 2014 rookie of the year Rusty Wright. This is the first NFR qualification for Wright, however it is far from the first appearance for his family, as his dad Cody is a two-time world champion in 2008 and 2010, who just missed the cut this year to join his son. They would have been the first father-son duo to qualify together in a roughstock event.
Cody’s brother Jesse also missed out this year. Jesse took home the world championship himself in 2012.
Not to be outdone however, is 2013 NFR average winner Jacobs Crawley from Boerne, Tex., Isaac Diaz of Desdemona, Tex., and two-time world champion Taos Muncy of Corona, N.M. Muncy’s titles came in 2007, and again in 2011.
It’s hard to call the reigning world champion a “dark-horse,” but that’s exactly what Spencer Wright is this year.
Last season, Wright won his first world championship by going from 13th to first over the course of ten rounds, making it the largest deficit overcome in the history of saddle bronc riding. This year he enters the NFR in 10th place, and there’s no reason why he can’t do it again.
However, the sentimental favorite Cody DeMoss will be hard to beat, if the pressure of winning his first world championship doesn’t affect him. Hopefully, DeMoss’ time has finally come.
Predicted world champion: Cody DeMoss
Current world champion: Tuf Cooper
Most titles won: Dean Oliver (8)
Favorite this year: Tuf Cooper
Dark-horse: Shane Hanchey
NFR arena record time: 6.5 seconds Cody Ohl 2003
- Tuf Cooper $130,803
- Timber Moore $112,799
- Marty Yates $99,281
- Hunter Herrin $93,813
- Trevor Brazile $91,978
- Caleb Smidt $87,450
- Ryan Jarrett $85,967
- Matt Shiozawa $84,989
- Marcos Costa $84,343
- Monty Lewis $82,903
- Cory Solomon $82,483
- Cade Swor $77,873
- Sterling Smith $72,297
- Tyson Durfey $72,060
- Shane Hanchey $70,457
Over the years for whatever reason, tie-down roping has come to be dominated by the state of Texas. In fact, since 1990, only two non-Texans have won the world championship.
This year alone, 10 of the 15 qualifiers currently call Texas home.
Out in front, is reigning world champion and three-time world champion overall, Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Tex. At just 25 years of age, this year will already be Cooper’s eighth qualification to the NFR in tie-down roping.
Cooper’s world titles came back-to-back in 2011-12, and then again last year. The son of Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame roper Roy “Super Looper” Cooper, a six-time world champion himself, Cooper has done well so far in his career of living up to the family name by following in his legendary father’s footsteps.
Chasing Cooper this year are Timber Moore of Aubrey, Tex.; Marty Yates of Stephenville, Tex.; brother-in-law Trevor Brazile; 2004 world champion Monty Lewis of Hereford, Tex.; and 2013 world champion Shane Hanchey of Sulphur, La.
Along with Hunter Herrin of Apache, Ok.; 2005 All-Around world champion Ryan Jarrett of Comanche, Ok.; Matt Shiozawa of Chubbock, Id.; and the first tie-down roping qualifier ever to come from Brazil, Marcos Costa, who now makes his home in Childress, Tex., this figures to be a very competitive field this year.
Hanchey qualified via just barely squeaking into the NFR field on the last day of the regular season, and thus he sits in the 15th spot.
However, Hanchey’s 2013 world championship was won by Hanchey overtaking the field from the bottom five of the bunch, and so he has experience making a big charge to the top from far down, which makes him an excellent dark-horse pick for the world championship.
The only problem: Tuf Cooper. Cooper has been thoroughly dominant for the majority of the season, and arrives in Vegas with an $18,000 lead and a fourth world championship title on his mind. When all is said and done, there’s a good chance that when his career is finally over, Tuf Cooper will be talked about as if not the greatest, one of the greatest tie-down ropers of all time.
Predicted world champion: Tuf Cooper
Current world champion: Fallon Taylor
Most titles won: Charmayne James (11)
Favorite this year: Lisa Lockhart
Dark-horse: Taylor Jacob
NFR arena record time: 13.37 seconds Taylor Jacob 2013
- Callie Duperier $166,923
- Lisa Lockhart $151,520
- Sarah Rose McDonald $134,599
- Mary Walker $110,104
- Sherri Cervi $104,743
- Nancy Hunter $96,685
- Fallon Taylor $86,828
- Cassidy Kruse $81,345
- Taylor Jacob $80,508
- Carley Richardson $77,820
- Michele McLeod $70,397
- Jackie Ganter $69,318
- Vickie Carter $62,768
- Jana Bean $60,162
- Deb Guelly $59,769
The only event in rodeo exclusively for women, is also the only event not officially sanctioned by the PRCA. Instead, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) officially presides over the barrel racing, although the barrel racing is required at all PRCA-sanctioned rodeos.
A year ago at the NFR, one of the closest and most exciting races for the world championship came down to the final round of competition between eventual world champion Fallon Taylor now of Collinsville, Tex., and runner-up Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D.
This year, a newcomer, Callie Duperier makes her first qualification to the NFR, and does so leading the world standings this year.
Knocking on the door in second place once again is Lisa Lockhart. Also trailing Duperier, are world champions Mary Walker of Ennis, Tex. who won in 2012; four-time world champion Sherri Cervi of Marana, Ariz.; and reigning world champion Fallon Taylor.
Joining the field for the second time in her career is 2013 WPRA rookie of the year Taylor Jacob of Carmine, Tex. Jacob burst on the scene in 2013, by winning four of the ten rounds at the NFR, and also breaking the arena record for the clover-leaf pattern around the barrels.
Jacob could be a major player in the world championship picture, especially considering the massive amount of money available.
Despite the fact that she arrives in second place, Lisa Lockhart has to be considered the favorite here. How close she came to claiming her first world title last season, combined with the fact she only trails Callie Duperier by a little over $15,000 despite competing at less than half the amount of rodeos Duperier went to, and combine that with Duperier’s lack of experience on this big of a stage, and it could finally be the veteran’s year to win it all.
Predicted world champion: Lisa Lockhart
Current world champion: Sage Kimzey
Most titles won: Don Gay (8)
Favorite this year: Sage Kimzey
Dark-horse: Shane Proctor
NFR arena record score: 96 points Cody Hancock 2001
- Sage Kimzey $174,601
- Parker Breding $122,247
- Brennon Eldred $110,041
- Wesley Silcox $105,778
- Chandler Bownds $88,441
- Joe Frost $83,812
- Cody Teel $83,018
- Shane Proctor $79,014
- Brett Stall $76,089
- Dustin Bowen $65,250
- Clayton Foltyn $65,227
- Caleb Sanderson $65,114
- Ty Wallace $63,905
- Reid Barker $63,847
- Kody DeShon $62,633
Since the creation of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) in 1992, the majority of the world’s top bull riders have eventually made their away to the PBR, and stayed their full-time.
The unfortunate truth is this: the PBR features larger payouts for the riders, and as such, usually features better riders than what is seen at a typical PRCA rodeo, and even the NFR these days.
Over the years, the PRCA has been relegated to second-class citizen status in the world of bull riding, with most riders who are good enough, eventually making their way to the PBR.
Occasionally a cowboy will come along who competes in both associations simultaneously but that is fairly rare. This year, the NFR features one man who also qualified to the PBR World Finals this year as well.
Shane Proctor, an example of the rare crossover success story, returns to the NFR for the first time since 2013. Proctor first qualified to the NFR in 2011, and walked away with the world title in bull riding. Making return trips in 2012-13, Proctor sat out most of 2014 all together due to injury.
He will definitely be one to watch, as he should be a key figure in the bull riding title race.
Joining Proctor will be 2007 world champion Wesley Silcox, who returns to the NFR for the first time since 2011. The Santaquin, Ut. cowboy comes to Vegas as a serious threat to take home the title, as he enters the NFR in fourth place.
Another former world champion, Cody Teel of Kountze, Tex., who won his title in 2012, is making his fourth consecutive trip to the NFR this year, after also winning the average title in 2013.
Fellow contenders Parker Breding of Edgar, Mont., and Brennon Eldred of Sulphur, Ok. lead a group of contenders intent on toppling the reigning world champion.
Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Ok., since joining the PRCA full-time in 2014, has already won over $500,000 in his short, but very illustrious career.
Kimzey arrives at the NFR as unquestionably the man to beat, as he sits in the No.1 spot in the standings by over $52,000. This comes a year after Kimzey had arguably the greatest season by a bull rider in PRCA history in 2014.
Not only did Kimzey win the world championship last year,becoming just the second rookie to win the world championship in bull riding, he also finished less than $2,000 short of breaking the PRCA bull riding single-season earnings record of $320,766 set in 2005. Along the way breaking the NFR bull riding earnings record, winning $175,466, while also winning a NFR bull riding record-tying four rounds during the ten round event, also winning the average title.
While there are some talented bull riders in the field, we haven’t seen someone of the talent level of Sage Kimzey come along in quite some time. Assuming he stays healthy, which is a big if considering just how rough bull riding can be, Kimzey should not only win his second consecutive world championship this season, but also many more in the future.
Predicted world champion: Sage Kimzey