Whitfield excited to return to Finals

Doctors don’t make good patients, and rodeo champions don’t make good spectators.

Fred Whitfield learned that last year when injuries kept him from qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo for only the second time in 21 years.

“We sat at home and watched most of (the Finals). It wasn’t much fun,” he said.

Whitfield attended a few nights of the rodeo after making sponsor appearances in Las Vegas during the event, but that wasn’t much fun, either.

“It’s not good for me to sit in a seat and watch the Finals,” he said.

The 43-year-old roper from Hockley, Texas, will be back in the saddle when the NFR opens its 10-day run at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Whitfield, a seven-time calf roping world champion and the 1999 all-around winner, is qualified ninth in the 15-man field led by reigning champion Trevor Brazile.

Brazile, who will probably clinch his eighth all-around championship early in the rodeo, has won $142,736 in calf roping and leads Tuf Cooper by about $35,000. Whitfield is $58,000 behind Brazile.

“I’ve got an outside shot,” said Whitfield, who last won the calf roping title in 2005. “I’ve never won $100,000 in the NFR, but I’ve left there with about $70,000. There’s more money out there these days, but the competition is younger, too.”

Whitfield said age has softened his approach to the Finals, and missing two of the past three years makes him appreciate being in the $5.87 million rodeo more.

“I’m looking forward to just being out there again. I’m excited,” he said. “Back in the days when I was almost guaranteed a spot, I sort of took it for granted. It’s not that way anymore.”

■ WRIGHT BREAK — Rod Hay’s bad news was good news for saddle bronc rider Jesse Wright.

Hay qualified ninth for the NFR but withdrew from the event last week because the right leg he shattered in competition June 20 had not healed sufficiently.

That opened the door for Wright, a 21-year-old from Milford, Utah, to get his first spot in the Finals. He ranks 16th in earnings and missed the 15th and final qualifying spot by $428.

“If I’m going to go (to the NFR), I want to be a threat and believe I have a chance,” said Hay, 41. “I didn’t feel I would be at that level.”

This would have been the 20th NFR for Hay, an eight-time Canadian saddle bronc champion.

Wright, the 2009 rookie of the year in his event, is the younger brother of 2008 world champion Cody Wright, who is qualified third.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Go to lvrj.com/rodeo for more NFR information.

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