LAS VEGAS, Nev. Let the games begin. The 49th edition of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo began with a bang in front of a crowd of 17,269 at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, with a variety of contestants picking up big checks and go-round buckles.
Heading into the $5.5 million event, everyone knew steer wrestling would be one of the most hotly contested events, with less than $5,000 separating first and second place. Wade Sumpter claimed the steer wrestling title in Round 1, stopping the clock in 3.5 seconds. His $16,394 moved Sumpter to first place in the Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings with $109,677, but he'll be a hunted man the rest of the nine remaining rounds.
"Everybody's got a shot, and you've always got a shot here," Sumpter, of Fowler, Colo., said. "They give away so much money, and you never know what's going to happen. You can come from a long way behind and win lots of money."
Sumpter's aggressive approach paid off for him.
"The steer was good, and I got a good start and it worked out," Sumpter said. "In this building, it's hard to be careful. With all the talented guys here, you have to be aggressive. You can't back off once. You have to go for first place on every run."
Veteran Jason Jeter won the first round of the Wrangler NFR for the first time in his career, taking the round buckle with an 86.5-point mark on Calgary Stampede's Coconut Roll. Jeter, of Mansfield, Texas, has won several rounds at the Wrangler NFR in the past, but never the opening round, and he pocketed $16,394 on the Wrangler NFR veteran horse, a horse he had never previously ridden.
He got a tip from 2002 World Champion Bareback Rider and Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings leader Bobby Mote about how to ride the horse.
"That was one horse I'd always wanted to get on, and what a great place to do it," Jeter said. "I'd actually rather had her at the $50,000 round at RodeoHouston, and that's what Bobby (Mote) won it on. I'm the kind of guy who likes to hold my spur out for a couple of jumps to figure out what the horse is going to do and then let them roll. Bobby said that, when you do that, she'll travel (cover some ground). I thought back to all the years I've watched her buck, and the guys who did that, she'd travel with a little bit. Bobby said that, when she hits the ground, she'll want you to pull her back off the ground, and he said she'll come to you and she did that."
No team roping team was quicker than Travis Tryan and Michael Jones in Round 1. The duo roped its steer in 4.3 seconds to finish two-tenths of a second ahead of Chad Masters and Allen Bach.
They credited their horses for the round victory.
"I think our horses played a big role in our run because they are such a big part of what we do," Jones, of Stephenville, Texas, said. "Travis is riding the head horse of the year, and I am riding a really good horse."
Jones is riding Jackal, a horse he owns and the one that Bach rode at the 2006 Wrangler NFR en route to his fourth world title. The team also credited their draw for helping contribute to the win.
"We knew we had a pretty decent steer tonight," Tryan, of Billings, Mont., said. "He was a little stronger, and we just had to go at him with our regular game plan. I tried to get it on him fast, and Michael took care of the rest."
In the saddle bronc riding, Cody "Hot Sauce" DeMoss, the runner-up to the world title the last three years, won the opening round for the first time in his career. The Heflin, La., cowboy spurred Flying Five Rodeo's Spring Blues for 85 points and the win.
DeMoss took over first place in the Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings with the $16,394 first-place check, ending the night with $127,475 in season earnings. Canadian Rod Hay finished second in the round with an 84.5-point ride on Bar T Rodeo's Round Robin and pocketed $12,957 for his efforts.
It was DeMoss' first career trip on the talented and powerful horse.
"I wouldn't mind buying that horse," DeMoss said after the ride. "That was just a really good horse, and I'm just tickled pink. I'm ready to go now."
Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Cody Ohl served notice that he may not, after all, be out of the race for this year's gold buckle. The Hico, Texas, cowboy won the first round in 7.6 seconds to move from eighth to sixth place in the Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings thanks to his first-place check.
Wrangler NFR rookie Josh Peek, who also qualified in the steer wrestling, finished second behind Ohl with a run of 8.8 seconds. Trevor Brazile, who is gunning to become the first Triple Crown winner in the PRCA since Roy Cooper in 1983, finished out of the money in 13.9 seconds, but did not lose any ground to second-place Houston Hutto, who also finished out of the money in 11.6 seconds.
It was a win Ohl needed.
"I came in $53,000 behind, so that's the way I have to go at it all of them this week," said Ohl, who missed part of the season with a shoulder injury and an injured horse. "Just to get one (a win) pulled off right off the bat, it's always a confidence-booster. I had a great calf, and I made one bobble on him. I didn't really want to only put one wrap on him, but ended up doing it. Sure, the guys right in front of me didn't win much, so it's gotta add pressure."
Jill Moody was the top barrel racer, finishing the cloverleaf pattern in 14.00 seconds to claim the $16,394 first-place prize. She finished a single one-hundredth of a second ahead of Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings leader Brittany Pozzi-Pharr, who was riding 2007 AQHA/PWBR Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Stitch. Pozzi-Pharr, of Victoria, Texas, widened her lead in the world standings to $65,936 over Lindsay Sears heading into Round 2.
Moody was thrilled to pick up the round win, which moved her up one spot to third in the world standings.
"Well, it was a typical Dolly run," Moody, of Letcher, S.D., said of her horse's sprint at the Thomas & Mack Center. "When my eyes are about as big as saucers and I have no idea where we're going is usually when she clocks pretty well. I was going across to the second barrel thinking, "Uh oh, which side are we going to go on?' and she got a little tight on the third, but luckily we got by."
J.W. Harris took home the first-place check in bull riding after scoring 89 points on Growney Brothers' Lights Out. Wes Silcox finished second with an 86.5-point ride on Frontier Rodeo's Nervous Waters. The win moved Harris from fifth to third in the Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings on a night when only six of 15 bull riders made the eight-second whistle.
Reigning World Champion B.J. Schumacher, who leads the world standings, and second-place Kanin Asay were two of the nine to get bucked off, but they remained atop the world standings heading into Round 2.
For Harris, of May, Texas, it was his first career Wrangler NFR round victory in his second Wrangler NFR appearance. He had never ridden the bull, but got some good advice from his peers prior to the ride.
"I saw him here last year with Wes (Silcox), and he (the bull) fell down," Harris said. "I also talked to Ted (Bert) and Colin (McTaggart) about him. They said he would go down to the end of the gate and around to the left, but he turned back there to the right and stayed in it (the spin). It turned out great."
For more information on the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo visit prorodeo.org