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After a year hiatus, Ellensburg came back in a big way, opening Labor Day weekend with a crowd size topping previous Friday attendance numbers from years past and entertaining fans desperate for rodeo action with big scores and quick times.

Big scores and one-upping was clearly evident in the saddle bronc riding where Ryder Wright set the initial bar 82 points high on Big Bend’s Jamboree, before quickly getting back behind the bucking chutes to help his uncle Spencer Wright before the elder Wright’s 83 points on Calgary Stampede’s Y U R Friskey. Minutes later Rusty Wright bested ‘em all with an 86 on Corey and Lange’s Bay Wolf.

“That’s a great horse of Mike Corey’s that I’ve seen Zeke Thurston, Wade Sundell and a couple other guys get on him and I knew it was gonna be good if I did my part,” the elated 25-year-old said. “I didn’t know which direction it was gonna go or what it exactly was going to do. I try not to think about what the horse is gonna do, I think about what I have to do whether they go left or right or sideways.”

While Ryder is the world leader in the event and Spencer is in the 15th and final spot to make the coveted National Finals Rodeo (both are previous world champions), Rusty is on the outside looking in to earn his sixth NFR bid. His 86 has a great shot at winning Ellensburg’s long-go, but even if it doesn’t, he’ll be back for Monday’s short round for another shot at day money as well as the average payout. Regardless, he’ll be traveling hard looking for paydays through the end of the regular season this month.

“Oh yeah, this is what I do for a living so I’m gonna go regardless, but it’s a good time to start riding good, especially with where I’m at in the standings,” he said of his 35th world ranking. “There’s a lot of money to be won. If I win enough, I can still make the finals.”

Another cowboy looking for a paycheck is Orin Larsen. The Canadian bareback rider is inside the top 15, but not by much and an Ellensburg check might help him breath a little easier. However, it’s crowded at the top. Fourth-ranked Caleb Bennett, 25th-ranked Seth Hardwick and 11th-ranked Larsen all finished Friday with 83-point rides, creating a logjam at the top with two more performances to clear it out before the first round is completed for the event.

“That’s a good ol’ horse from Flying 5 that’s probably as old as Ellensburg itself,” Larsen joked about James Bond. “It’s just a good, reliable horse.”

Larsen has relied heavily on medical tape this summer — what roughstock cowboy hasn’t? — but has healed up and is stronger as the summer gives way to the fall push.

“I’ve had some riding elbow problems here and there, but we’ve got that figured out and we keep on working on that,” he said of the partnership with the sports medicine team. “I had to turn out of a few like Deadwood and a couple in the beginning of August.”

The roughstock rides all had one thing in common, in addition to the four, 83-point scores between the bronc and bareback events, the bull riders got into the mix as well. Specifically, it was sixth-ranked JB Mauney – yes, the same Mauney who won $7 million and two world championships during his time in the PBR — who added to the 83-point total when he spun his way on Corey and Lange’s 625. However, it was another Wright — this time defending bull riding and All-Around world champion Stetson Wright — to take the lead in the bulls, spurring Corey and Lange’s Black Friday for an event-leading 88.

She’s not leading the event, but there’s a good chance that Thorp’s Libby Gibson will be back for Monday’s barrel racing finals. She’s fourth in the second round with a 17.62-second run during Friday’s performance and her total on two puts her fourth in the average where the top 12 come back for short round and average money.

Tie-down Hunter Reaume took top billing during Friday’s second round performance with a 9.8-second run, which might win go-round money, but with two more performances to go in tie-down’s second round, the Wyoming cowboy probably shouldn’t bet on it. However, Stetson Vest should count on coming back for Monday’s short round as the roper leads the average with John Douch with 17.5 on two. Ellensburg’s Jake Pratt is in the middle of the pack with a 20.9 on two. If Saturday and Sunday’s performances are like Friday’s (which included plenty of no-times and runs in the teens) Pratt has a chance to get back to the finals.

Oklahoma bulldogger Levi Rudd led Friday night’s steer wrestling performance with a 4.5-second steer. Yet with four bulldoggers splitting sixth with 4.1-second times in the second round, Rudd won’t earn a dime for Friday’s work.

Today’s performance begins with the 12:45 Grand Entry with tonight’s Xtreme Bulls beginning at 8.

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