It won't be easy for NFR finale to top first nine exciting days

Well folks, we’re here again.

On the precipice of history, with just one more round remaining at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, only two hours of competition separate certain contestants from gold buckles and immortality. Tonight, eight of ProRodeo’s best will join World Champion All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile in earning world titles at the Thomas &Mack Center.

This is the day they’ve been waiting for all year, and with gold buckles on the line, the action is going to be intense and the pressure immense as the next set of names is added to the record books. Round 10 is always a thrilling capper for the 10-day rodeo, and there will be hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars doled out when the dust settles.

It has been one heck of a Wrangler NFR so far, and I’ve been happy to do my part to help bring you some behind-the-scenes access and coverage from the 55th annual “Super Bowl of Rodeo.” From Day 1, heads have been turned, dreams realized and dashed and a host of memorable events have transpired in Las Vegas.

Names like Sherry Cervi, Jake Wright, Cody Ohl and Taylor Jacob have become common conversation topics the past nine days as those contestants took their skills to a new level. Cervi has three round victories under her belt, Wright, Ohl and Jacob have four, and Jacob, a rookie, set a new arena record with a 13.37-second run in Round 6.

In addition, Trevor Knowles in Round 1 and Dean Gorsuch in Round 4 came within one-tenth of a second of tying the Wrangler NFR steer wrestling record with their 3.1-second runs.

Throw in a rodeo-high 90-point ride by bull rider Cody Campbell while winning the third round, and there has been plenty of fireworks through nine rounds.

Brazile made the big news of the rodeo by clinching his 11th career all-around world title on Dec. 10 during the sixth round. The gold buckle gave Brazile 19 for his likely Hall of Fame career, one more than 18-time World Champion Steer Roper Guy Allen, who had owned the PRCA record for some time.

The Decatur, Texas, cowboy was ecstatic after earning yet another gold buckle.

“This is a little bit surreal,” Brazile said after setting the record. “World titles never get any easier to win, and that’s why they all hold something special for me. I’ve been blessed way more than I could ever believe.”

Brazile will go down in history as one of the greatest ProRodeo cowboys of all time, and I definitely put him in my top five with the likes of Jim Shoulders and Bill Linderman. He can win as many gold buckles as he wants in the coming years, and it will be fun to watch him do it.

A blond beauty from Mississippi was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2014 on Monday, and Paige Nicholson is a great example of all that is right and great with the Western world. She will do a fine job promoting the sport as its top ambassador, and ProRodeo once again will be in good hands during her reign.

We’ve had Memorial Night, where former Wrangler NFR heroes are honored and remembered, Rookie Night, where the first-year stars are recognized, and Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night, when the industry celebrates the sport’s No. 1 fundraising and charity endeavor.

Tonight is Wrangler National Patriot Night, when the sport pays homage to the U.S. military with a big and bright celebration. You won’t find any more patriotic people than rodeo fans, and so it will be a special and emotional night for all.

As I said, contestants will claim gold buckles tonight, and here are my picks. In the bareback riding, I see Kaycee Feild — who won Rounds 8 and 9 — to earn his third consecutive championship.

Steer wrestling is a bit of a toss-up, but my money is on Gorsuch to win gold buckle No. 3. The team roping should go to Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill in an extremely close race with Riley and Brady Minor, while Wright will join his brothers, Cody and Jesse, as a world champion saddle bronc rider.

The tie-down roping battle is going down to the wire, but I think the amazingly consistent Shane Hanchey will edge Brazile for his first world title, while Cervi is almost a sure bet to win her fourth world title. That leaves the bull riding, where three-time World Champion J.W. Harris will end two years of being the runner-up with his fourth piece of gold hardware.

Of course, I could be wrong about some of these selections, but that’s part of the fun of prognosticating. There will be at least one surprise, as is the custom, and rodeo fans will be turning to each other and muttering the word “Wow” throughout the night.

In my first column this year, I mentioned that this was my 10th trip here for the Wrangler NFR, and it has been a blast. I can’t believe this is No. 10, and the fact that it’s already coming to a close is even more of a head-shaker.

Thank you to all of the Las Vegas casinos, businesses and residents for helping to truly make this a “Cowboy Town” during the Wrangler NFR. Goodbye until next year.

A freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., Neal Reid spent six years as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News. His writing has appeared in USA Today, Newsday, Western Horseman, American Cowboy and the Denver Post, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @NealReid21.