Updated December 6, 2022 - 10:24 am
With the completion of Monday’s fifth go-round, the National Finals Rodeo has reached its halfway point. Meaning there still are five nights of memorable moments waiting to happen for the world’s best cowboys and barrel racers.
But the most poignant one may have already occurred. It transpired Sunday — not in the Thomas &Mack Center arena, but in the UNLV Lady Rebels’ practice gym in Cox Pavilion that doubles as the NFR media center.
Long after another sellout crowd had lined up for taxis and rideshares back to their hotels, Stetson Wright was talking about his second winning bull ride in four nights. He was asked about the yellow bandana tied to his shoulder.
The bandana is the calling card of the Golden Circle of Champions, a charity that raises awareness and funds for children battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The three-time world champion all-around cowboy had interacted with many of the young patients in that afternoon’s special event, and recalling it moved him to tears.
“It’s about kids that are in a much bigger world title race than what we are,” Wright said in a halting voice. “I’m just grateful my family’s healthy, and I’ve got a little girl and, geez, I didn’t think I would get this emotional. But there are much bigger things going on than me winning four (all-around titles), and this is one of them.”
After regaining his composure, the sport’s 23-year-old superstar gave every reporter who had requested a moment of his time at least five or 10 minutes of it for posing less meaningful questions.
“I’m in a good spot right now. I’m not trying to put pressure on myself about any gold buckle,” he said of his stated goal of earning a rare triple championship in the all-around, bull riding and saddle bronc riding at this year’s NFR.
He’s leading the all-around by an insurmountable margin, has padded his big cushion in the bulls and trails leader Sage Newman by around $60,000 in saddle bronc earnings with still lots of time left to catch up.
Wright won Sunday’s bull riding with 92 points aboard Salt River Rodeo Company’s Belly Dump, tying the fourth-round NFR record — “I’d seen him once and knew he was an exception bull, really electric,” Wright said — giving him two firsts in five outs after scoring 86.5 points for fourth-place money on Monday.
But he said not everybody in the Wright clan — his brother, Ryder, sits eighth in saddle bronc season earnings — saw the first one Friday night.
Bryson Barnes, Utah’s backup quarterback behind Cam Rising, is Wright’s cousin. Stetson Wright said there were family members who skipped the rodeo to watch the Utes defeat Southern California in the Pac-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium, and that he was looking forward to supporting his relative at the Rose Bowl against Penn State.
But first he wants to enjoy the rest of the NFR Super Bowl in Las Vegas and hear a few more car horns blare.
“You want to soak up everything — back here doing interviews, sitting in the bucking chutes, being in the locker room (with friendly rivals) or even just driving here and having a hundred people honk at you,” Wright said.
Yes, said the confident but grounded cowboy from Milford, Utah. He even gets beeped at while navigating the bustling Las Vegas thoroughfares that are fast becoming his home away from home.
“Yeah, well, my name is plastered on the trucks, so I never know if it’s that or I’m just driving bad,” he said.
California bareback rider in the pink after win
It was Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night at the National Finals Rodeo, which is just what R.C. Landingham was in winning Monday’s bareback riding go-round.
The Visalia, California, competitor scored 90. 5 points on Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Notch in notching the victory on the night NFR cowboys wear pink to create awareness in and raise funds for breast cancer research.
“I had been on that horse twice before here at the NFR, and it didn’t go well because I was battling a shoulder injury,” Landingham said after improving to second-place in the average standings and third in season earnings. “Tonight, that horse was everything I thought it would be.”
So was the horse’s rider, who said taking home first-place money on Pink Night was extra special after his mother, Wendy Skiver, died of ovarian cancer in 2017.
“It is pretty emotional,” Landingham said. “This is her rodeo dream, and she is living it with me.”
Other fifth-round winners:
— Ty Erickson, Helena, Montana, in steer wrestling (3.9)
— Clay Tryan, Billings, Montana, and Jade Corkill, Fallon, and Coleman Proctor, Pryor, Oklahoma, and Logan Medlin, Tatum, New Mexico, in team roping (3.8, tie)
— Logan Hay, Wildwood, Alberta, Canada, in saddle bronc riding (89)
— Marty Yates, Stepehville, Texas, and Kincade Henry, Mount Pleasant, Texas, in tie-down roping (7.3, tie)
— Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, Texas, and Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, South Dakota, is barrel racing (13.52, tie)
— Tristen Hutchings, Monteview, Idaho, in bull riding (90.5 points)
Quoteworthy: “You gotta have the mentality that you’re always in second place. I keep getting on, last guy out, but I still picture myself being No. 2. And I will until I get a gold buckle.” — Dominant all-around cowboy Stetson Wright, on staying focused at the NFR.
National Finals Rodeo
When: 5:45 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV: The Cowboy Channel, RFD-TV; Channels 603 and 345 (DirecTV); Channels 231 and 232 (DISH Network).