J.W. Harris wasn’t focused on sending any sort of message on the first night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
He did anyway.
The three-time world champion bull rider came to the Thomas Mack Center entrenched in one of the most intriguing battles – trailing long-time 2012 world standings leader and NFR rookie Cody Teel by a little more than $7,000 – but erased it and took over the world lead in front of 17,460 fans, winning the first round with a 90.5-point ride aboard Four Star Rodeo’s Stink Eye.
“I wouldn’t even call it a statement; I just come out here and do my job and let the secretaries and all those other people figure the rest of the stuff out,” the Mullin, Texas, cowboy said. “Any time you can ride for 90, it’s special. I don’t care if you’re at a little $1,000-added rodeo or here at the NFR. Usually if you’re 90 out here, you’re going to win the round.”
Harris won $18,257 for his efforts, but Teel answered with a qualified ride of his own. The Kountze, Texas, bull rider finished fourth in the first round, and now trails Harris by $3,361 in a race that could last until the 10th night in Las Vegas.
“I don’t feel like I could be riding better,” said Harris, who trailed Teel by $45,303 on Sept. 4, just 26 days before the end of ProRodeo’s regular season. “But I’m sure there’s something I could work on to make myself even better.”
Harris is attempting to win his fourth world title in five years, one year after finishing second to Shane Proctor.
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A pair of reigning world champions made some noise in Round 1, as well.
Tie-down roper Tuf Cooper – like the rest of the field – was chasing after season-long world leader Justin Maass, but that race got much more interesting in the span of just 7.4 seconds.
Cooper, of Decatur, Texas, posted that time to edge longtime friend Shane Hanchey by two-tenths of a second. Maass followed up with a 9.9-second run that finished out of the money, and Cooper will enter the second round trailing by less than $1,400.
Reigning World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Taos Muncy wasted no time announcing his presence, either.
The two-time world champion entered the NFR in fourth place, but quickly moved into second thanks to an 87-point ride aboard Andrews Rodeo’s Fire Lane. The score topped the rest of the field by 2.5 points, but it still leaves him $26,762 behind world leader Jesse Wright, who tied for second place Thursday night.
“After the first two jumps, he stayed underneath himself and was really an awesome horse that I’d like to get on every day,” Muncy said. “I love the atmosphere here and the way the fans are; it’s something that you can’t explain and it’s just unreal.”
Fire Lane earned the night’s Wrangler Bucking Stock Award in the saddle bronc riding, along with Southwick’s Rocky Mountain Rodeo Company’s Hard Times in the bareback riding and Beutler Son Rodeo’s Gang Buster in the bull riding.
Steer wrestler Casey Martin enjoyed a much better start to his second WNFR than his first.
As a rookie one year ago, Martin never even left his mount in the first round, suffering a no-time. He didn’t earn a check until the rodeo’s sixth night.
But in 2012, the Sulphur, La., cowboy got off to a roaring start, winning the first round with a time of 3.4 seconds.
“Last year, I didn’t even [jump] off on my first one. I tried [to shake it off], but I just kind of made it even worse,” Martin said. “That’s kind of a little downer to start off the week.
“It’s a whole lot better to start off this way.”
Martin’s first-place check vaulted him from seventh place all the way to third, behind Ethen Thouvenell, who finished third in the first round, and two-time World Champion Dean Gorsuch, who took second on the rodeo’s first night.
Four team ropers celebrated first-place checks on the first night when partners Kaleb Driggers and Jade Corkill and Brock Hanson and Ryan Motes put together matching 4.7-second runs.
The victory was particularly special for Hanson, who was roping his first set of horns at the NFR.
“We’ve been practicing hard in these conditions and studying film for the last three weeks, but you can’t practice the emotions and feelings and noise you get in this building,” the Casa Grande, Ariz., cowboy said. “I felt like I was the weakest part of our team – my partner has been here before and I have confidence in my horse – so I was comfortable just trying to control my part of it.”
The other header among the tying teams, Driggers, is no stranger to the NFR. He qualified for the third straight year, but rode a rookie mount to the first-round victory.
“He’s a horse I call Dré; I bought him from Jake Barnes in August after my good horse, Champ, died,” the Albany, Ga., header said. “I was worried about him because he’s green and he’s never been anywhere like this, but he was great.”
Despite enjoying his eighth trip to the NFR, bareback rider Wes Stevenson still admits to being nervous at the Thomas Mack Center.
It didn’t seem to bother him on Thursday night. Stevenson, from Lubbock, Texas, rode J Bar J’s Freckled Doll for 87 points and the Round 1 victory.
“I’m pretty pumped – it’s an important win,” Stevenson said. “But a guy needs to keep doing good. Every single time I come here, it’s a new experience. I don’t get … butterflies anymore, but I do here.”
In the barrel racing, Mary Walker’s dream season continued when the 53-year-old NFR rookie took the first round in 13.75 seconds.
The NFR continues with the second round Friday night at the Thomas Mack Center. All 10 rounds will be televised live on Great American Country and broadcast live on ProRodeoLive.com.
54th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Thomas Mack Center, Las Vegas
First round, Dec. 6, 2012
Bareback riding: 1. Wes Stevenson, Lubbock, Texas, 87 points on J Bar J, Inc.’s Freckled Doll, $18,257; 2. Winn Ratliff, Leesville, La., 85.5, $14,429; 3. Casey Colletti, Pueblo, Colo., 85, $10,895; 4. Kaycee Feild, Payson, Utah, 84.5, $7,656; 5. Caleb Bennett, Morgan, Utah, 84, $4,712; 6. Bobby Mote, Stephenville, Texas, 83.5, $2,945; 7. (tie) Steven Peebles, Redmond, Ore., and Justin McDaniel, Porum, Okla., 82.5 each; 9. Will Lowe, Canyon, Texas, 82; 10. (tie) J.R. Vezain, Cowley, Wyo., and Matt Bright, Azle, Texas, 77 each; 12. Steven Dent, Mullen, Neb., 76; 13. Brian Bain, Culver, Ore., 75.5; 14. Jessy Davis, Power, Mont., 75; 15. Jared Keylon, Uniontown, Kan., 74.5.
Steer wrestling: 1. Casey Martin, Sulphur, La., 3.4 seconds, $18,257; 2. Dean Gorsuch, Gering, Neb., 3.5, $14,429; 3. Ethen Thouvenell, Napa, Calif., 3.6, $10,895; 4. Les Shepperson, Midwest, Wyo., 3.7, $7,656; 5. (tie) Beau Clark, Belgrade, Mont., and Tom Lewis, Lehi, Utah, 3.8, $3,828 each; 7. (tie) K.C. Jones, Decatur, Texas, and Bray Armes, Gruver, Texas, 4.1 each; 9. Trevor Knowles, Mount Vernon, Ore., 4.2; 10. Gabe Ledoux, Kaplan, La., 4.7; 11. Todd Suhn, Hermosa, S.D., 7.6; 12. Matt Reeves, Cross Plains, Texas, 13.3; 13. (tie) Wade Sumpter, Fowler, Colo.; Luke Branquinho, Los Alamos, Calif., and Billy Bugenig, Ferndale, Calif., NT.
Team roping: 1. (tie) (tie) Kaleb Driggers, Albany, Ga./Jade Corkill, Fallon, Nev.,and Brock Hanson, Casa Grande, Ariz./Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, 4.7 seconds, $16,343 each; 3. Trevor Brazile, Decatur, Texas/Patrick Smith, Lipan, Texas, 4.8, $10,895; 4. Chad Masters, Cedar Hill, Tenn./Clay O’Brien Cooper, Gardnerville, Nev., 5.1, $7,656; 5. Derrick Begay, Seba Dalkai, Ariz./Cesar de la Cruz, Tucson, Ariz., 5.8, $4,712; 6. Keven Daniel, Franklin, Tenn./Chase Tryan, Helena, Mont., 5.9, $2,945; 7. Colby Lovell, Madisonville, Texas/Russell Cardoza, Terrebonne, Ore., 6.5; 8. Charly Crawford, Prineville, Ore./Jim Ross Cooper, Monument, N.M., 11.3; 9. (tie) Luke Brown, Stephenville, Texas/Martin Lucero, Stephenville, Texas; Clay Tryan, Billings, Mont./Travis Graves, Jay, Okla.; Dustin Bird, Cut Bank, Mont./Paul Eaves, Millsap, Texas; Travis Tryan, Billings, Mont./Jake Long, Coffeyville, Kan.; Erich Rogers, Round Rock, Ariz./Kory Koontz, Sudan, Texas; Spencer Mitchell, Colusa, Calif./Dakota Kirchenschlager, Stephenville, Texas, and Turtle Powell, Stephenville, Texas/Dugan Kelly, Paso Robles, Calif., NT.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Taos Muncy, Corona, N.M., 87 points on Andrews Rodeo’s Fire Lane, $18,257; 2. (tie) Jesse Wright, Milford, Utah, and Jake Wright, Milford, Utah, 84.5, $12,662 each; 4. Cody Wright, Milford, Utah, 83.5, $7,656; 5. Jacobs Crawley, College Station, Texas, 83, $4,712; 6. Tyrell Smith, Cascade, Mont., 82.5, $2,945; 7. Cody Taton, Corona, N.M., 82; 8. (tie) Cody DeMoss, Heflin, La., and Bradley Harter, Weatherford, Texas, 81.5 each; 10. Cort Scheer, Elsmere, Neb., 80; 11. Wade Sundell, Boxholm, Iowa, 77; 12. Chad Ferley, Oelrichs, S.D., 75.5; 13. Cole Elshere, Faith, S.D., 67.5; 14. (tie) Sterling Crawley, College Station, Texas, and Isaac Diaz, Desdemona, Texas, NT.
Tie-down roping: 1. Tuf Cooper, Decatur, Texas, 7.4 seconds, $18,257; 2. Shane Hanchey, Sulphur, La., 7.6, $14,429; 3. Houston Hutto, Tomball, Texas, 8.1, $10,895; 4. Adam Gray, Seymour, Texas, 8.2, $7,656; 5. Ryan Jarrett, Comanche, Okla., 8.7, $4,712; 6. Monty Lewis, Hereford, Texas, 8.8, $2,945; 7. (tie) Fred Whitfield, Hockley, Texas, and Matt Shiozawa, Chubbuck, Idaho, 8.9 each; 9. Clif Cooper, Decatur, Texas, 9.2; 10. Cody Ohl, Hico, Texas, 9.6; 11. Justin Maass, Giddings, Texas, 9.9; 12. Clint Robinson, Spanish Fork, Utah, 10.8; 13. Bradley Bynum, Sterling City, Texas, 10.9; 14. Hunter Herrin, Apache, Okla., 13.5; 15. Cory Solomon, Prairie View, Texas, 13.7.
Barrel racing: 1. Mary Walker, Ennis, Texas, 13.75 seconds, $18,257; 2. Kelli Tolbert, Hooper, Utah, 13.77, $14,429; 3. Brittany Pozzi, Victoria, Texas, 13.86, $10,895; 4. Lee Ann Rust, Stephenville, Texas, 13.99, $7,656; 5. Christy Loflin, Franktown, Colo., 14.03, $4,712; 6.Sherry Cervi, Marana, Ariz., 14.04, $2,945; 7. Trula Churchill, Valentine, Neb., 14.09; 8. Benette Barrington-Little, Ardmore, Okla., 14.11; 9. Kaley Bass, Kissimmee, Fla., 14.20; 10. Nikki Steffes, Vale, S.D., 14.23; 11. Christina Richman, Glendora, Calif., 14.30; 12. Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., 14.35; 13. Brenda Mays, Terrebonne, Ore., 14.40; 14. Lindsay Sears, Nanton, Alberta, 18.99; 15. Carlee Pierce, Stephenville, Texas, 29.11.
Bull riding: 1. J.W. Harris, Mullin, Texas, 90.5 points on Four Star Rodeo’s Stink Eye, $18,257; 2. Cody Whitney, Sayre, Okla., 86.5, $14,429; 3. Beau Schroeder, China, Texas, 83.0, $10,895; 4. Cody Teel, Kountze, Texas, 74.5, $7,656; 5. Trey Benton III, Rock Island, Texas, 73.5, $4,712; 6. (tie) Ardie Maier, Timber Lake, S.D.; Trevor Kastner, Ardmore, Okla.; Seth Glause, Cheyenne, Wyo.; Tate Stratton, Kellyville, Okla.; Cody Samora, Cortez, Colo.; Shane Proctor, Grand Coulee, Wash.; Clayton Savage, Casper, Wyo.; Kanin Asay, Powell, Wyo.; Tag Elliott, Thatcher, Utah, and Brett Stall, Detroit Lakes, Minn., NS.