Updated December 11, 2021 - 5:53 am
It was a foregone conclusion that Stetson Wright was going to win his third consecutive all-around cowboy world championship at the National Finals Rodeo.
That didn’t make it any less special when it happened.
“It means a lot to me because that means I put together a full year where I was doing two of the toughest and most dangerous (events),” the 22-year-old saddle bronc and bull rider said about parlaying his skills in those body-numbing roughstock events to a record-setting season for earnings.
“I think it’s pretty sweet that I had so much luck and kept my body this healthy.”
With one round left, the cowboy from Milford, Utah — a sleepy railroad town of 1,394 residents situated about two hours north of Zion National Park in the southwestern part of the state — has earned $519,664 to eclipse 14-time all-around kingpin Trevor Brazile’s single-season mark of $518,011 set in 2015.
“Any record that he set has a special meaning,” said Wright, who hails from a long line of saddle bronc riders, about overhauling the “King of Cowboys” in the record book. “A lot of people thought it was impossible to break that record.”
By the time the math was completed and all that Wright has accomplished officially was announced late Thursday, rodeo fans at the Thomas & Mack Center had scattered into the wet and chilly night and were unaware the all-around title had been decided.
It was sort of in keeping with the theme of Wright’s NFR performance.
Three in one
His most shining moment came Wednesday when he rode three bulls in 15 minutes, earning 90.5 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Bloomer High Rise to win the round. By then, a throng of NFR fans had headed for the exits after Wright was granted two re-rides.
“No, not this high up,” he said about having covered three bulls in one go-round at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association level. “(Not) a better place to do it than here. There weren’t many people in the crowd, but that was the loudest I’ve heard it.”
Although earning his third consecutive all-around gold buckle and setting the earnings record were landmark achievements, it’s been a relatively modest NFR for Wright, at least according to his lofty standards.
He was not listed among the top 10 in Friday’s Top Gun Standings, an award that goes to the contestant who wins the most money during the 10 rounds of the finals.
Kaycee Feild, a five-time bareback world champion, was leading that competition with $154,0556 earned in Las Vegas, pacing fellow bareback rider Jess Pope, steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack, barrel racer Hailey Kinsel and bull rider Parker Breding, all of whom have enjoyed big weeks at the T&M.
But Wright still leads his brother, Ryder, by $14,033 atop the saddle bronc standings after adding a second place Friday and is in decent position to overtake Sage Kimzey for his second straight bull riding title entering Saturday’s final go-round.
“I’m here to win rounds; I’m not worried about gold buckles right now,” Wright said. “I’ll worry about them when I’m holding onto them.”
NFR titles to be decided on final day
Unlike in the American team sports and NASCAR, pro rodeo doesn’t determine its championships with an official playoff system.
But with the National Finals Rodeo and its lucrative go-round and cumulative payouts serving as a de facto postseason, it’s rare when most of the season championships in the seven disciplines aren’t decided on the final day of competition at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Such will be the case again this year. With spoilers earning most of the go-round victories Friday, the gaps between the leaders mostly stayed constant, setting the stage for what promises to be an entertaining and drama-filled final performance Saturday.
Haven Meged was one of the few leaders who improved his title hopes Friday by winning the tie-down roping go-round.
“Shane (Hanchey) and Caleb (Smidt) are one and two in the average and the world, so I just got to come with the heat, hope I have a great calf and see where I end up, said Meged, who climbed to third place among the money leaders and fourth in the average.
Other ninth go-round winners:
— Caleb Bennett, Corvallis, Montana, in bareback riding (88).
— Jesse Brown, Baker City, Oregon; Tyler Waguespack, Gonzales, Louisiana; Stetson Jorgensen, Blackfoot, Idaho; and Stockton Graves, Alva, Oklahoma, in steer wrestling (3.9, tie).
— Cody Snow, Los Olivos, California, and Wesley Thorp, Throckmorton, Texas; and Coleman Proctor, Pryor, Oklahoma, and Logan Medlin, Tatum, New Mexico, in team roping (3.5, tie).
— Brody Cress, Hillsdale, Wyoming, in saddle bronc riding (91).
— Jordon Briggs, Tolar, Texas, and Stevi Hillman, Weatherford, Texas, in barrel racing (13.48, tie).
— Braden Richardson, Jasper, Texas, in bull riding (89).
Ron Kantowski Las Vegas Review-Journal