By the time the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning the best cowboys and cowgirls in the world will be just 81 days away from the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. That also means time is running out to get more earnings in by the Sept. 30 cutoff. Cowboy Christmas is over, it’s crunch time.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for cowboys to climb the ranks if they’re standing outside of the top 15. So with under three weeks left, here’s a quick breakdown of who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble in each event.
Saddle bronc riding
The field is loaded with returning big names, including Hillsdale native and last year’s NFR average champion Brody Cress. Cress, who finished second in the world standings in 2017, stands No. 5 in the earnings, despite suffering a broken ankle last month, just two weeks after winning Cheyenne Frontier Days for the second year in a row.
Cress told prorodeo.com at the time that he should be back in time for the finals but likely would not compete before then. Cress was second in the standings at the time of his injury.
On the bubble is Spencer Wright, who has to make up $1,700 in three weeks in order to hurdle Chase Brooks.
There’s room for movement among the top 15 for the headers but a noticeable gap after that. That discrepancy could be made up but it may be too little, too late for the cowboys with local connections.
Standings among heelers, however, is a horse of a different color. Reigning College National Finals Rodeo champion Trey Yates (Casper College) stands comfortably in fifth with more than $96,000 earned this season. That keeps him in contention for a possible world championship buckle as the race to the top gets tighter.
In early July it appeared Junior Nogueira would run away with the title, but Paul Eaves has since closed the gap and the two are now separated by less than $700.
Bareback bronc riding
The top 10 are basically set. Springville, Utah, native Mason Clements sits 10th with nearly $100,000 in earnings while Tilden Hooper, who sits 11th, is more than $13,000 back.
That leaves Hooper, Breuer, Shane O’Connell and Cowley native JR Vezain somewhat on the bubble. However, there’s some cushion there, as Vezain — a two-time state wrestling champion at Rocky Mountain and former Casper College rider — has almost a $9,000 lead over No. 15 Wyatt Denney. And that’s where things get interesting.
Just on the outside is Ranchester native Seth Hardwick at No. 17. He’s successfully recovered from hip surgery and needs to gain $5,000 worth of ground to make the cut.
Tuf Cooper stands in prime position for the all-around title as he leads this race by over $18,000. Trevor Brazile’s just about $40,000 back in sixth.
More cowboys keep falling off the bubble for the elusive No. 15 spot but as of now Cody Lee (Gatesville, Texas) holds it with a $2,900 advantage. That should be enough to hold his spot for three more weeks unless Roger Branch (Wellston, Okla.) hits the jackpot.
On the outside looking in is Douglas native Troy Tillard and Kaycee native Reo Lohse. Tillard sits at No. 22 while Lohse trails Tillard by one spot in the standings and $1,400.
This is all Sage Kimzey. Yet again Kimzey holds a commanding lead, this time by $97,000 going into the final weeks of the season.
That means the real excitement has been unfolding on the bubble as Garrett Tribble (Bristow, Okla.) tries to close the $1,100 gap on Trevor Kastner (Roff, Okla.) for No. 15.
Yoder native Clayton Savage stands at No. 33 with more than $53,000.
There’s not a whole lot of local suspense here. Nearly $20,000 separates first from sixth and over $4,000 stands between No. 14 and No. 15.
That elusive final spot remains up for grabs between Cole Edge (Durant, Okla.) and Tanner Milan (Cochrane, Alberta). With early December creeping up, just over $1,000 separates the two. Baring some late theatrics, the race will come down to those two.
Brazile has all but clinched another appearance at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, as he stands in fifth. However, it would take a dramatic turn of events to give him world title No. 24 as he is over $37,000 back of the tight race at the top.
Cooper (Decatur, Texas) leads with $125,486.80 while Tyson Durfey (Weatherford, Texas) has earned $125,013.74.
From there the earnings drop off so a championship will likely come down between those two.
Comfortably out in front is Hailey Kinsel (Cotulla, Texas), who holds a $45,000 lead at this point in the season. That could be enough to keep her atop the world standings by the end of the NFR.
Meanwhile, lower in the standings, Amberleigh Moore (Salem, Ore.) has a $3,000 lead over Jessica Telford (Caldwell, Idaho) for the No. 15 position.
And since there’s just $4,000 separating No. 11 and No. 15, the real drama could be at the lower end of the leaderboard during this year’s event in Las Vegas.