Jake Finlay was happy to get on Mo Betta Rodeo’s Midnight Sun. He was even happier when he got off.
The Panhandle State saddle bronc rider pumped both his arms exuberantly after riding to a score of 81 Wednesday night at the College National Finals Rodeo.
“That was a good little horse,” Finlay said. “I’ve been waiting to get on that horse for a long time. I’ve always figured I’d get along with that little fella. I’ve been waiting to get him, and I got him here. What better place to have him than Casper, I guess?”
It was the first 80-point saddle bronc ride of the rodeo, and it gave Finlay a 10.5-point lead in the average with 229.5.
“I’ve seen him before,” he said of Midnight Sun. “I’ve seen he takes a lot of rein, and he’s a horse that really lets you flash yourself up. You can be a lot of points on that horse and really show your stuff. But I mean, in saying that, he’s no day off, either, if you stub your toe. He’s going to make you know.”
Finlay took fourth at the college finals last year on three head (228.5).
“It’s good to get three down already and be going better,” he said.
Part of Finlay’s joy came from the score he surely knew it would merit. Part of it, though, came from the excitement of the ride itself.
“It’s not so much about the winning for me,” the Australian said. “It’s more of coming here, seeing all me mates, having a good time. Casper, as much as you think it’s the finals, it’s a good little refresher, I guess, before we get going for the summer. We don’t have many days off now.
“So, it’s good to sit back here, get on a few good horses, talk to my friends and kick about. Can’t ask for anything more.”
Bareback Bronc Riding
Will Martin paid attention during his first two trips to the CNFR.
“Just be patient,” he said of what he learned. “Some things might not go right there at the beginning, and if you keep going and do your job, everything will come together.”
The Panhandle State bareback bronc rider has taken that to heart in his third CNFR. In the first go-round, he rode to a 65.5. His second ride produced a 74. Then, Wednesday night, he led the group of eight bareback bronc riders with a score of 79. It’s his best score at the CNFR.
“I mean, I felt like I’ve rode pretty good all week,” he said. “I’ve drawn a little better every time. So it’s gone pretty good. Just keep pecking away.”
Martin said the Casper Events Center crowd helped him to his performance, which leaves him in fifth place in the average with a score of 218.5.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Martin said. “I mean, it’s always fun to get on bucking horses, but when you’ve got a good crowd like we do here, it’s just electric.”
He rode Harry Vold’s Hot Valley, a bucking horse he knew about from New Mexico State coach Logan Corbett.
“(Corbett) got on him last year,” Martin said. “He said he was going to do just what he did there. I was pretty excited to get on him.”
Martin’s goal for the college finals was pretty straightforward.
“Win it,” he said with a laugh. “But no, that was my goal. I feel like I’m riding the best I ever have. I just haven’t had the draws yet. But it’s starting to turn around.”
Martin hopes to return to the CNFR next year as a master’s student. But he likely still has one more chance this week to “keep gassing it,” as he put it.
“Just keep accelerating,” he said, “going as hard as you can.”
Montana State’s Jesse Nelson was second in the section with a 74.5, which put him at fourth in the average (227.5).