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The plan was unraveling one tenth of a second at a time. A good run and a little bit of help would give the Minor brothers a healthy average payday. However, when Riley Minor threw his loop, it was the worst possible outcome. The rope initially hit the steer in the back of the horns, but some sort of miracle intervened in the 10th and final round of the National Finals Rodeo.

“Man, I had a steer that was really good,” Riley said. “I was worried he was gonna stop. He was almost too slow for as fast as my horse is. I never got a better start for the NFR than I did tonight. And I split the horns, which is terrible. I did that two years ago in the 10th round. I was too close and too fast. I’m very, very thankful that I fished it on and Brady did a good job and made us $30,000 tonight.

“I’m glad I didn’t pull my slack right there because when you pull your slack, you’re done,” he continued. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I did this.’”

On the heel side, Brady just patiently waited for his turn, confident that his younger brother would get the rope and steer to cooperate.

“I was watching it but our game plan still ended up happening,” Brady said. “He fished it on, caught him, turned him.”

Coming into the 10th round, the game plan was to go for a paycheck — not necessarily first — and secure at least sixth in the average. They knew with teams going for broke (typical of the last round of the NFR) there could be a chance they could move up in the average as well.

It happened. The Ellensburg duo roped a 6.8-second steer and with Chad Masters/Joseph Harrison suffering a no-time, the Minors moved into the fifth spot in the average, an improvement of roughly $6,300. The go-round paid the brothers fifth-place money of $6,769, with the average ($22,846) wrapping up the NFR with $29,615 on the final day.

“At the time, I didn’t think it would do any good in the go-round,” Brady said. “It was a $30,000 fish-on that Riley caught. That was our plan, but it didn’t include fishing one on. You’ve got to look at that at such a blessing, a bonus.”

A blessing both are thankful for.

“I should have won the round tonight, but I’m just thankful that we came down there and Brady caught him,” Riley said.

The Minors placed and picked up checks in seven rounds, including the go-round win in the sixth round. Including the average, they left Las Vegas with $111,058 to finish the year with $207,707 and fifth in both the header and heeler standings. It was the third time they’ve finished above $200,000 in a season.

“We won 100-grand,” Riley said. “Obviously you want to win the world, but that didn’t happen, but I’m just thankful to win that much money.”

Brady agreed.

“We placed in seven rounds, that’s a pretty good Finals,” Brady said. “We weren’t driving home depressed. No one leaves pleased, unless they win first, but that’s a good Finals.”

The team roping finished the year with split winners. Clay Smith came into Las Vegas with a healthy lead and held on to win it all. His partner Jade Corkill finished fourth in the world, and Wesley Thorp (who won the average with his partner Cody Snow) was the top heeler in the world.

Kimzey again can’t be beat

It might seem as though Sage Kimzey is 90 points every time he nods his head, but that’s not true. What is true is that the Oklahoma bull rider continues to add to his dominant career as he earned his sixth straight bull riding Gold Buckle.

Kimzey was 88 points on Pete Carr’s River Monster to place second in Saturday’s 10th round. It secured the average win (709 on eight head) and the $88,000 he won between the round and the average pushed the six-time champ to a record $480,797 in earnings.

Speaking of record earnings, Clayton Biglow cashed in $425,843 on the season to win his first bareback title. Biglow won five rounds at the NFR — including a 93-point score on Northcott Rodeo’s Stevie Knicks in the 10th round — and beat three-time world champion Tim O’Connell by 15 points in the average.

While it wasn’t a record in earnings, Hailey Kinsel overcame a tipped barrel in the first round to place in seven rounds (and two go-round wins) winning her second straight barrel racing world title, the first time that’s been done since Kelly Kaminski’s double in 2004 and 2005. Ivy Conrado-Saebens won the average with eight go-round checks. Kinsel finished with $290,020, with Conrado-Saebens placing second ($264,673).

Similar to Kinsel, Zeke Thurston won his second event title as well. The Canadian saddle bronc rider was bucked off twice during the 10-round NFR, but when he did ride, he cashed in. Thurston won three rounds and placed in seven total to end up fourth in the average and first in the world standings with $347,056. The 2019 title goes well with his buckle from 2016. Brody Cress was the average winner, as he was the long rider to make all 10 rides. Cress placed in nine of 10 rounds.

The All-Around, bulldogging and tie-down roping winners were first timers on the podium. Steer Wrestler Ty Erickson overcame a slow start on the week — losing his lead in the world standings — to progressively get better in the average. The Helena, Mont., cowboy finished fifth in the average (Matt Reeves won the 10-round aggregate) and ended up on top of them all with $234,491. Haven Meged never won big in tie-down roping, placing in five rounds and never better than third, but his consistency earned him the average win, propelling the 21-year old to the Gold Buckle with $246,013.

The All-Around crown went to a roughstock rider for the first time in 24 years when Stetson Wright (third in bull riding; 10th in saddle bronc) flirted with $300,000 in earnings. The rookie out of Utah finished the year with $297,923 in All-Around earnings.

The National Finals paid out $10 million in 10 days.

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