If Cody Ohl decides to play some roulette while he’s in Las Vegas, he better not bet on nine.
The number has been Ohl’s nemesis in the National Finals Rodeo, where he has a record 48 round wins in tie-down roping but none in the ninth go-round.
The 40-year-old suffered a devastating knee injury in the ninth round here in 2001 and appeared poised to claim his seventh world title — sixth in tie-down roping — in each of the last two years before faltering in round nine.
“I’ve always had a speed bump in the ninth round,” Ohl said Thursday night after tying for second place in the NFR’s eighth round at the Thomas &Mack Center. “I was $60,000 behind (entering) last year’s (NFR), and if it had been over in the eighth round, I would’ve been the world champion.”
Winning four of the first seven rounds at this year’s NFR, Ohl erased a deficit of more than $40,000 to two-time defending tie-down roping world champion Tuf Cooper to put himself in position for another gold buckle.
“Coming in here this far behind, it’s gonna be a special victory if we can pull it off,” said Ohl, who was looking forward to redeeming himself in the ninth round. “I’ll be buckled down, buddy.”
Ohl was ready Friday night, but the calf wasn’t. It literally walked out of the chute, causing Ohl to break the barrier and incur a 10-second penalty on his way to a time of 29.50 seconds. The disappointing run dropped Ohl out of the NFR average race and all but eliminated him from world title contention.
Ohl still leads the world standings by more than $20,000 over Shane Hanchey and more than $30,000 over Trevor Brazile, but the average money paid out after today’s 10th and final round should propel either Hanchey or Brazile to the title.
Hanchey won the ninth round with a time of 7.40 seconds and leads the average race with 71.70 seconds on nine head. Brazile is second in average with 74.40 seconds on nine head as he pursues his record 20th world title.
A distraught Ohl wasn’t available for comment after the round, but Hanchey said Ohl was in tears following the run.
“We knew that calf was slow. They broke that barrier on that calf in the second round. But I don’t think nobody would’ve ever guessed he’d be that slow,” Hanchey said. “It’s just a tough break, man. It’s hard when a guy you’ve looked up to and a guy you’ve traveled with and that you really can say you love — it’s hard to see him teared up walking in the back, when we just passed in the hallway, because I know how bad he wanted it. It’s the same for myself.
“I simply told him I loved him no matter what comes out of this. I still admire him. I still think he’s the greatest calf roper to ever pick up a rope in this generation.”
Tie-down roper Ryan Jarrett, who won the eighth round and placed third in the ninth round, also had high praise Thursday for Ohl, a 19-time NFR qualifier from Hico, Texas.
“Roy Cooper changed roping, but Cody Ohl put it where it’s at today, for sure,” Jarrett said. “He’s an animal, especially right here in this arena. He’s deadly.
“You better have more than a $50,000 head start over him because he’s coming to get you right here at the Thomas &Mack. He’s going for first, and more times it works out that way than not.”
Ohl owns six NFR round records for fastest tie-down roping run — in rounds one, three, four, five, six and 10, in which he set the overall NFR record for fastest round at 6.5 seconds in 2003 to secure the world title.
Making that feat more impressive is that Ohl missed most of the previous season recovering from the right knee injury suffered in the ninth round of the 2001 NFR in which he tore three ligaments that required three surgeries to repair.
Despite the setback, Ohl won the 2001 all-around and tie-down roping titles.
Ohl, who last claimed a world crown in 2006, has cut back his schedule in recent years to spend more time with his three children. Despite competing in only half as many rodeos as his younger counterparts, Ohl finished the regular season in third place with earnings of $94,943.
“It’s very impressive,” Jarrett said. “When he gets on a roll in the summer, you better part the waters.”
Winning his final four regular-season events, Ohl was on a roll when he arrived in Las Vegas.
“I felt really confident coming in,” he said. “I knew I was on my game, and I came here healthy. That’s a big deal.”
If only the NFR ended after eight rounds.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.