The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the event that all cowboys and cowgirls in rodeo work towards making every year. Winning that gold buckle is a dream come true.
For Steven Dent it is a dream that he is close to reaching. He has qualified for the WNFR four times, including last year, where he finished fourth overall. This year he wants to leave as the champion.
“This has been a great year for me and I am focused on finishing strong and leaving Las Vegas with the gold buckle,” he said on his website.
Dent, who was born in North Platte, Neb., currently resides in Mullen, Neb. He rides both saddle and bareback bronc horses. He is currently ranked second in the all-around, which is where he will likely stay behind Trevor Brazile.
After being ranked number one almost all season in the bareback bronc riding, Dent fell to second after the River City Rodeo, which was held in Omaha, Neb., September 27-30. He trails Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah, by just $858.
Feild was one cowboy who turned his win in Omaha to a lead in the regular standings. His 90-point ride on Lancaster and Pickett Rodeo’s Top Flight won the bareback riding final, and his $16,603 in total earnings put him just ahead of Dent.
Feild, who is the reigning world champion, had not led the world standings for a single day until this final weekend of the season.
“My whole goal coming here was to go into the lead,” Feild said. “I led last year and was last out on the first night of the NFR. You are mentally ready to ride, you’re not thinking ‘I need to do this or that.’ You just go out and try to dominate.”
Feild felt he had a good horse, and was excited for the opportunity to finally get to ride him. “I got a great horse. I’ve seen Top Flight four times, and it always seemed like I was one away from drawing him. He does that same thing every time, where he jumps 3-feet in the air. He reminds me of MGM Deuces Night.”
The race for the gold buckle will likely come down to Dent and Feild, but Will Lowe of Canyon, Texas, may also be in the race. He is currently ranked third and is $13,712 behind Dent.
The second cowboy to post a big win was Wade Sumpter of Fowler, Colo., who posted a time of 3.7 seconds in the steer wrestling event to win the Justin Boots Championship, and take home a check for $19,853.
This win, along with his win two weeks ago at the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash., propelled him to second overall in the standings heading into the NFR, behind Ethen Thouvenell of Napa, Calif.
“I had an ugly start there and here, but I finished well,” Sumpter said. “It was frustrating not making it to the NFR last year, so this was a relief. There was no big change in how I did things this year. I was just more consistent. My horses are working good and (traveling partner) Billy Bugenig has done a great job hazing for me.”
Sitting behind Sumpter in the standings is Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb. He finished sixth in total money earned. Gorsuch is headed to his seventh NFR, where he has won two world titles.
In the saddle bronc riding, Jesse Wright was also able to use his first place finish at the River City Rodeo to springboard him into the number one spot heading into the finals.
Wright’s win in the saddle bronc riding at the Justin Boots Championships on Sept. 29, paid him $26,739, and because he moved into first place in the final regular-season standings here, he also got a $7,500 PRCA bonus check for what he calls “this awesome season.”
“I feel like I’m No. 1 every time I go to a rodeo, and being at the top of the standings is great,” he said. “Every one of us comes out here feeling the same way. When you are going against the best in the world, it brings out the best in you.
He added, “The ultimate goal is to go for that gold buckle, to be the best of the best. This has been my best season, the most consistent season. I can’t wait to get out to Vegas and try to win the gold buckle.”
Nebraska native Cort Scheer of Elsmere, Neb., will also be heading to the finals in the saddle bronc event. He currently ranks 10th, and this will be his second trip to the NFR.
Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Texas, repeated as the tie-down roping champion with a 6.8-second run in the final round, and he’s hoping that the momentum gained here can help him repeat as world champion.
“My dad (eight-time World Champion Roy Cooper) told me to just come out here and win about $25,000,” Cooper said. “I didn’t exactly do that ($20,781), but it worked out OK. Now, I’ve got two months to practice and nobody will practice harder than me.”
Cooper is currently ranked second behind Justin Maass of Giddings, Texas. He leads by $19,580.
J.W. Harris continued his hot streak, winning both the semifinal and final rounds to finish with rodeo-best earnings of $30,066. He closed it out with a 91-point ride on Rafter H Rodeo’s Wicked Spot after both Trevor Kastner and Cody Teel had put 89s on the board.
“This is probably the best run I’ve ever had to close the year,” Harris said. “I’ve been riding well and drawing perfect. You get pumped up in the four-round when everybody’s riding great. I didn’t want to be the only that got bucked off.
He added, “When you are on a hot streak like this, you just want to keep going.”
The other champions were team ropers Luke Brown and Martin Lucero, who won the finals in 4.0 seconds, and Sherry Cervi, who had a 13.72-second run in the barrel racing finals. Brown and Lucero are ranked sixth heading into the NFR. The total payoff for the rodeo was $637,188.
The Wrangler Nationals Finals rodeo will be held in Las Vegas, Nev., from December 6-15. The top 15 competitors in each event make the finals. Dent, Gorsuch and Scheer are the only three Nebraskan cowboys to make the event. ❖
“This has been a great year for me and I am focused on finishing strong and leaving Las Vegas with the gold buckle.”
~ Steven Dent