NFR Zeke Thurston

Zeke Thurston won the saddle bronc at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas Wednesday night with a 92.5 on Northcott Macza’s, Get Smart.

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Wednesday’s seventh round of the National Finals Rodeo solidified the idea that a handful of arena athletes are clearly in the driver’s seat for world titles, another handful of athletes can’t catch a break, and while many aren’t there to win a world title, they’re instead trying to win enough money to keep them on the road for next year.

For Ellensburg’s Brady and Riley Minor, their already slim world title hopes suffered a huge blow with a no-time in Wednesday’s team roping. Their second no-time during this year’s NFR, it doesn’t mean they won’t win any money for the rest of the week, but the likelihood of winning big average money on Saturday night is minimal as they currently sit in the eighth and final hole to get paid aggregate money.

What helps the Minors is the fact that with five caught, they are just one catch behind the leaders as every team finds itself with at least one no-time, including current average leaders Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp (Wednesday’s round winners), who have a 28.7-second aggregate on six runs through the seventh round. The Minors have a 28.4 on five.

Up for grabs of course is the nightly go-round win, paying $26,231 per man, which on Tuesday the Minors picked up, proving every night presents a different opportunity.

CLEAR-CUT LEADERS

Bareback rider Clayton Biglow had a great regular season and that clearly has transitioned well into a great NFR. The California kid won his third straight go-round with a 91.5 on Rafter G’s Ankle Biter. It keeps him in first place by nearly $40,000 in the world standings, but something of more immediate importance is the fact that his run of great scores keeps him atop the average standings. He has a 7-point cushion over three-time defending champion Tim O’Connell.

Keeping with roughstock, five-time defending world champion Sage Kimzey is very close to making it Gold Buckle No. 6 as the Oklahoma man covered Cervi Championship Rodeo’s Smoke Wagon for 90 points and the win. Kimzey is first in the average with six covered bulls (Boudreaux Campbell is second with five qualified rides) and with $363,816 in season earnings, Kimzey owns a $113,378 advantage over Campbell in the world standings. Between the final three go-round wins and taking home the top average payday, there is a total of $145,962 to be won. That basically means that Campbell needs to win nearly everything and Kimzey needs to win next to nothing in the final rounds for Campbell to unseat Kimzey as champion. Possible? Maybe a sliver of a chance. Realistic? Don’t bet on it.

Perhaps the odds are more advantageous in steer wrestling. While Tyler Waguespack is leading the average and is just $7,500 behind Ty Erickson in the world standings, what Waguespack has over Erickson is a significant hold on the average as Erickson is ninth after seven rounds. Waguespack leads the aggregate on seven with a 29.7-second time, more than 4 seconds ahead of Matt Reeves and Cameron Morman. However, Reeves and Morman are 12th and 14th in the world standings. Stetson Jorgensen won Wednesday’s round with a 3.4-second steer, which is the fastest run in the NFR this year.

In saddle bronc, Zeke Thurston leads the world standings by $16,000 over Ryder Wright and to add insult to injury, Wright is not a factor in the average, having covered just three of his broncs at the NFR. Thurston is fourth in the average and he won Wednesday’s round with a 92.5 on Northcott’s Get Smart — the 2019 saddle bronc horse of the year. While they’re 1-2 in the average and currently third and fourth in the world standings, Brody Cress and Rusty Wright are some $85,000 behind Thurston in the world standings, so they most likely need to maintain their position in the average, keep winning go-round money and hope Thurston slips up a bit.

ELSEWHERE AROUND THE ARENA

Defending world champion Hailey Kinsel won her first go-round of 2019 with a 13.60-second pattern around the Thomas and Mack arena floor. Kinsel maintained her lead in the world standings with $236,713 and is sixth in the average. Amberleigh Moore is second in the world with more than $207,000 won but is 12th in the average after knocking over the first barrel in Wednesday’s run. Average leader Ivy Conrado-Saebens overtook Emily Miller for the top spot with a 96.88-second time on seven. She has placed in every round except the first round.

Tyler Milligan’s 7.5-second calf in tie-down roping got his first go-round win this year for $26,231. Haven Meged (60.2 seconds on seven runs), Tuf Cooper (61.2 on seven) and Tyson Durfey (62.5 on seven) are 1-2-3 in the average. World leader Shane Hanchey is ninth in the average that will eventually pay the top eight places, so the Louisiana cowboy will have to win as much go-round money as possible to increase his lead in the world standings. His $209,928 is $27,200 over second place Riley Pruitt, who is fifth in the average.

WHO IS STILL WAITING FOR A CHECK?

Of the 120 competitors at the NFR, five haven’t earned a go-round check at all through seven rounds. Bull rider Josh Frost has yet to make the eight-second whistle and is last in the average. Tie-down roper Rhen Richard is 14th in the event’s average and has two no-times. Saddle bronc rider Mitch Pollock has just one qualified ride this week. Bulldogger Tanner Brunner was just a tenth of a second out of sixth place with Wednesday’s 4.1-second steer wrestling round. Perhaps the athlete with worst luck of them all could be named rider Steven Dent. The bareback rider is sixth in the average, has covered all seven of his horses, but has yet to earn a check as he’s barely missed the top six in each round. Both Tuesday and Wednesday’s scores were a half of a point out of sixth place.

Tonight’s eighth round starts at 7 p.m.

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