South Dakotans must love to ride hard around the arena floor of the Thomas & Mack Center.
Veteran saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer led the state’s contingent in the grand entry ceremonies to open the 50th annual National Finals Rodeo on Thursday night.
About an hour later, Bryce Miller of Buffalo, S.D., earned a victory lap after being scored for 89 points on Calgary Rodeo’s Knife Money to win the go-round and $16,766. Etbauer placed second.
“Everybody up there is real proud,” he said of the four from South Dakota in saddle bronc. “We go to two or three different send-off parties that (residents) throw for us.”
Etbauer, 45, won $13,251 and moved to within $8,432 of leader Cody Wright, who placed out of the money.
Chris Harris of Itasca, Texas, won the go-round but gained little on money leader Steve Dent of Mullen, Neb., who placed second. That extended Dent’s lead to $38,400 over three-time world champion Will Lowe of Canyon, Texas, who placed out of the money.
Luke Branquinho won his third consecutive NFR go-round when he turfed his steer in 3.6 seconds and took the lead in the world standings from Wade Sumpter of Fowler, Colo., who didn’t cash.
Branquinho closed last year’s Finals by winning the ninth and 10th rounds.
“It actually didn’t feel like a very good run,” said Branquinho, who won the 2004 world title.
Garrett Tonozzi of Fruita, Colo., and Kinney Harrell of San Angelo, Texas, were the first pair out, and their time of 4.6 seconds held up for the win.
“It was very nerve-wracking sitting down there watching the 14 best teams in the world go,” Tonozzi said. “We were just hoping it was going to work out for us.”
Randon Adams of Logandale and teammate Matt Sherwood of Pima, Ariz., struggled to a 10.5-second time.
Hunter Herrin of Apache, Okla., won the go-round in 7.50 seconds and moved to within $19,380 of leader Josh Peek, who placed seventh but didn’t earn a check.
“The crowd creates a lot of momentum,” said Herrin, 24. “It’s hard to stay calm, but the main thing is just to stay focused.”
Jill Moody of Letcher, S.D., won on opening night for the second consecutive year. She and Dolly completed the course in 14.02 seconds.
Bobby Welsh of Gillette, Wyo., rode Reeces Pieces of Andrews Rodeo Company for 89.5 points, and seven of 15 riders made the eight-second horn.
Las Vegas resident Colin McTaggart was bucked off.
It was the second win of the night for Andrews, which owns Power Play, the horse Harris rode to win in bareback riding.
JEFF WOLF/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL