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You never know what to expect at the National Finals Rodeo, but you can expect to have some surprise each night. We’re certainly getting that as Texas continues to do a heckuva job putting together it’s first NFR since 1961. It’s been interesting to see the National Finals look different — huge arena, more roughstock chutes, multiple sets of timed event chutes — while cowboys and cowgirls use up an arena that’s usually a baseball diamond.

There are five more rounds to go, but here are a few storylines:

1. Richmond Champion, Tim O’Connell and Kaycee Feild are neck and neck at the top of the bareback average. Just one point separates the three of them. O’Connell is No. 1 in the world standings, followed by Feild, some $32,000 behind. O’Connell and Feild have won seven of the last nine world championships. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them pull it off again.

2. I noticed just three tipped barrels through the first four rounds. But Monday’s round five had seven tipped barrels. That’s a swing of momentum as a whole. However, Hailey Kinsel is on a roll. The two-time defending world champion just won her second straight round (16.92, first competitor under 17 seconds this week) and third round overall. She’s won money in four of five rounds and leads the average by 0.65 seconds over Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi. Pozzi-Tonozzi is having a great NFR too, placing second twice and third twice. What a battle between two strong champions.

3. Australian Ky Hamilton continues to lead the bull riding average. Perhaps more notable is his lead in the standings over six-time defending world champion Sage Kimzey. Kimzey hasn’t had a good Finals. He’s ridden two bulls to Hamilton’s four covered rides. There are five more rounds to go, but Kimzey needs some good luck, mixed with bad luck for others to not only climb in the average, but the standings too as he’s eighth in the average and fifth in the world standings, some $52,000 behind Hamilton.

4. I love to see the camaraderie between competitors and you can always find it all around the arena. The bulldoggers always seem to be slapping backs and high fiving. Obviously, they’re competing against each other but so many of them haze for a fellow bulldogger. They want their friend to do well. Same can be said about the Wrights. This family is famous for so much success in rodeo (5 bronc titles, one All-Around, probably more to come), but what gets me night after night is seeing Rusty, Ryder and Stetson absolutely going nuts for each brother.

With a change in venue (thanks a lot COVID) there’s obviously going to be some comparisons between Last Vegas and Arlington, Texas. Here are some things I like about the Texas NFR:

1. Camera angles. It might be technology that was set to be included no matter where the venue was, but the multiple camera angles have been really fun to watch, especially the overhead cameras. I’ve been watching the NFR since 2000 and this is the first year I’ve seen so many perspectives.

2. I’ll stay up late to watch the NFR no matter what, but I will admit to enjoying the 5 p.m. start. I’m still watching a recording late into the night or re-watching certain runs or specific events, but the option to watch it two hours earlier is nice. It’s especially welcomed for my buddy “Country” who is managing a toddler and a newborn with his wife. He’s not as exhausted at 5 p.m. as he would be at 7 p.m.

3. They’re putting on a heckuva a show. I wasn’t sure how this would look and maybe there’s been a glitch or two — what live performance thrown together over a couple of months after 35 years in Vegas won’t have that? — but Texas has done well and I’ve enjoyed the opening ceremonies each night, including Sunday. Local fans — shoot, many rodeo fans whether it’s Washington, Texas, California or Colorado — noticed a familiar face in Sunday’s ceremony honoring those who passed. I was thrilled to see Frank Beard’s picture as part of the ceremony. Frank Beard did so much for rodeo. The PRCA obviously agrees. Thanks for honoring him.

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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