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Steiner starts strong, Wright battles injury on NFR Day 1 — PHOTOS

Updated December 8, 2023 - 10:20 pm

Bareback rider Rocker Steiner didn’t get his father, Sid, the 2002 steer wrestling world champion, anything for his birthday Friday.

The younger Steiner hopes an opening night go-round victory at the National Finals Rodeo will suffice.

“Last year for his birthday, I got bumped off (at NFR),” Steiner said. “I have to repay him, somehow. I didn’t get a gift today, so that’s about the best thing I can think of.”

Steiner opened up the first night of competition with a score of 87.0 and a payout of $30,706 in bareback riding to take the win in the first go-round at the Thomas &Mack Center. Thursday’s planned opening night of this year’s NFR was canceled because of the shooting at UNLV on Wednesday.

“The main thing,” Steiner said, “was just being ready.”

Friday’s biggest development involved four-time defending all-around champion Stetson Wright, who fell off and failed to post a score on his saddle bronc ride and then did not attempt a run in bull riding at the end of the night. According to the Cowboy Channel broadcast, Wright was battling a groin injury coming into NFR and will have surgery after the event.

Wright came into NFR with a virtually insurmountable lead of more than $300,000 in the all-around standings, but his leads in bull riding (more than $114,000) and especially saddle broncs (more than $4,000) are more tenuous.

Meanwhile, Steiner, of Weatherford, Texas, entered seventh in the bareback standings, more than $122,000 behind leader Keenan Hayes ($265,895.60), a 20-year-old rookie. Hayes finished sixth with a score of 83.5 and earnings of $6,438.

While it’s a tall task, nothing is out of the realm of possibility with all the money on the line over the 10 rounds, but Steiner said he’s fully aware of what he needs to do to close the gap.

“There’s a big leader at the top,” Steiner said. “Keenan’s had a really good year, and he’s a ways ahead. I don’t know how far ahead of me he is now. But I need to start winning some go-rounds to catch them. So that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing.

Steiner, 19, enters his second NFR after racking up 13 event wins this season. The 2022 bareback rider rookie of the year finished 10th in the world standings after last year’s NFR.

While Steiner had a strong rookie year, he didn’t come into NFR fully healthy as he suffered a broken left foot and right heel after jumping off a roof in September 2022. He said he couldn’t walk for nearly a month and was on crutches for another three weeks as he lost valuable time to prepare for his first NFR.

“I only had maybe like a month to get ready for the finals,” Steiner said. “Going to the finals last year off an injury was hard. This year I came in clean, with no injuries. So that’s the best thing.”

It isn’t just his father with ties to the rodeo. His grandfather, Bobby, won the bull riding world championship in 1973. His mother, Jamie, qualified for the 2000 NFR in barrel racing, and his grandmother, Joleen, was also a barrel racer.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be rodeoing,” Steiner said. “Without them, I wouldn’t know anything about the rodeo. I wouldn’t be able to practice the way I can. Without my family, I’d be (in) a slum on the streets.”

Along with lessons from his family, Steiner said he learned from last year’s NFR the importance of taking care of himself by eating enough and getting enough sleep.

“All 10 days (last year) I probably ate 15 times,” Steiner said. “I wasn’t fueled. I was tired the whole time, kind of sick, and just didn’t take care of myself. The next eight days it’s going to be taking total care of my body.”

While he won’t “party too hard,” Steiner said a celebration is in store for his go-round win and father’s birthday.

“I’m definitely going out,” Steiner said, “just not like I did last year.”

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

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