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NFR finale: 20-year-old rookie among 8 world champions crowned

The bright lights on the final night of rodeo’s biggest stage didn’t faze 20-year-old bareback rider Keenan Hayes in his first appearance at the National Finals Rodeo.

He saved his best run of the 10-round event for the end, which officially clinched him the world championship.

Hayes claimed the 2023 bareback riding world title Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, winning the last go-round with a score of 90, his only go-round victory at NFR.

“It’s been amazing. The main thing I was thinking tonight was, ‘Go get it,’ ” Hayes said. “It’s been a whole year’s worth of work, don’t put it to waste. It was pretty amazing, and I’m just blessed to be here.”

Hayes was one of eight world champions crowned. In steer wrestling, Tyler Waguespack entered Saturday fourth in the world standings, but tied for first in the 10th go-round with a time of 3.8 seconds to claim $27,487 in earnings and moved up to third in the average to claim his fifth world title and third straight.

“The adrenaline rush in that arena I just had right here, it’s unmatched,” Waguespack said. “The ball was in my court, and I had to put the gas on it. That’s what we did tonight, and it worked out.”

Stetson Wright won his fifth consecutive all-around title to become the fifth competitor to win five or more consecutive all-around titles since the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was founded in 1929.

Wright was ruled out for the remainder of NFR on Monday with a lingering right hamstring injury that will require surgery. The 24-year-old from Beaver, Utah, fell off both his saddle bronc runs in the first and second rounds, and did not attempt a bull riding run.

Waguespack was under $40,000 behind leader Dalton Massey coming into the night. He erased the deficit by sharing the go-round win and added an extra $13,000 in earnings by jumping up one spot in the average, as Massey and third-place finisher Stan Branco did not place to claim any earnings in their runs Saturday.

“I love this building because I love the pressure,” Waguespack said. “To start a little behind, and backed in a corner, I came out fighting. I was not happy about the steer I had, but I was able to get a great start. … It was an unbelievable run to come together the way it did.”

Hayes, a Hayden, Colorado, native, took home $434,050 in total earnings this season to run away with the world championship, including $168,154 at NFR. He added an extra $78,7474 to his total NFR earnings by winning the average by half a point over Jess Pope.

“Once I got off, I wasn’t sure what the score was that they were going to give me,” Hayes said. “It was up in the air. I had no idea. When they said that 90, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt in my life. Everything I’ve ever worked for as a kid came to fruition.”

Tyler Wade and Wesley Thorp held on to win a close team roping world title, and Zeke Thurston won the average in saddle bronc riding, which helped him claim the world title. It’s Thurston’s fourth title and second straight.

The 2023 NFR champions:

Bareback riding

Keenan Hayes

Hayden, Colorado

Age: 20

World championships: First

Season earnings: $434,050

2023 NFR earnings: $168,154

2023 NFR go-round wins: 1

Steer wrestling

Tyler Waguespack

Gonzales, Louisiana

Age: 33

World championships: 5

Season earnings: $303,575

2023 NFR earnings: $156,928

2023 NFR go-round wins: 1

Team roping (header)

Tyler Wade

Terrell, Texas

Age: 31

World championships: First

Season earnings: $308,057

2023 NFR earnings: $153,131

2023 NFR go-round wins: 2

Team roping (heeler)

Wesley Thorp

Throckmorton, Texas

Age: 28

World championships: 2

Season earnings: $325,284

2023 NFR earnings: $153,131

2023 NFR go-round wins: 2

Saddle bronc riding

Zeke Thurston

Big Valley, Alberta

Age: 29

World championships: 4

Season earnings: $456,356

2023 NFR earnings: $234,247

2023 NFR go-round wins: 4

Tie-down roping

Riley Webb

Denton, Texas

Age: 20

World championships: First

Season earnings: $452,851

2023 NFR earnings: $172,446

2023 NFR go-round wins: 1

Barrel racing

Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi

Lampasas, Texas

Age: 39

World championships: 3

Season earnings: $496,499

2023 NFR earnings: $225,935

2023 NFR go-round wins: 1

Bull riding

Ky Hamilton

Mackay, Australia

Age: 23

World championships: First

Season earnings: $595,413

2023 NFR earnings: $341,249

2023 NFR go-round wins: 2

All-around

Stetson Wright

Beaver, Utah

Age: 24

World championships: 8 (5 all-around)

Season earnings: $479,620

2023 NFR earnings: $20,000

2023 NFR go-round wins: 0

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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