RENO - Jeffrey Willert's luck in Reno hasn't been good.
He's never cashed a check here, and his bad luck continued at last week's Pace Chute-out when he lost a stirrup on his first ride and fell off on his second ride.
Willert, who was carried off on a stretcher here after a bad spill a few years ago, hopes his luck is changing after he posted a first-go score of 82 aboard Nitro in saddle bronc riding Thursday night at the Reno Rodeo at the Reno Livestock Center.
His score was a good start and put him in prime position to qualify for Saturday's championship round. He'll ride again tonight needing only a score of somewhere in the mid-70s to make the top 12.
"I started OK," said Willert, who is currently ranked second in the world. "It's the first time I've ever seen this horse. I talked to Justin Arnold, who rode the horse a couple of weeks ago, and he told me what he was about.
"A couple of more good horses is all I can ask for. The last two rides (before this) have been really crappy. I finally got my head out of my butt."
Willert is competing in 14 events over Cowboy Christmas (July Fourth weekend), so this would be a nice time to catch a hot streak.
Rod Hay posted a 79, Josh Reynolds 78, Ryan Mapston 77 and Denny Hay 73. All four have a bonafide shot at making the top 12 with rides in the high 70s or low 80s.
Matt Mosher and Bobby Mote, who is ranked fifth in the world in bareback riding, both posted 80s on their first-go. Forest Bramwell was next with a 79, Bo Casper 78, Clayton Foltyn 75 and Jason Havens 72 rounded out Thursday's top five.
Mote was aboard Spider Monkey, and he said the small horse gave him some problems because of his height.
"It was all right," Mote said. "I felt I could have rode better. I've never won here before. Maybe this will be the year. I'm tall, and there's not a lot of front end to grab a hold of."
Mote will need around a 75 or 76 to make the finals. Davey Shields is the current leader at 164, followed by Rowdy Buechner 163, Heath and Royce Ford 158 and Eric Swenson 157.
"I'll be out trying to win the round (tonight)," Mote said. "You just have to let things take care of themselves."
Mosher, aboard Dusty, was happy with his ride. An 80-point ride is nothing to sneeze at.
"I'd never been on him before," Mosher said. "I asked around a little bit. I heard he was a pretty good horse. He was a lot faster than I thought. Guys are good about that. They will tell you pretty straight.
"It's a great start. I'm ecstatic. If I have pretty good horses I have a chance to make some money here."
For the fifth straight night, the bull riders found the going extremely difficult. Only two riders - No. 5 nationally Zack Oates (84) aboard Broken Bone and Steven Lambert (73) aboard Zero - posted scores.
The 84 puts Oakes into a tie for fifth with 10th-ranked B.J. Schumacher.
In fact, only 15 riders have posted scores going into tonight's final round of qualifying.
"I actually had him at the NFR last year in the sixth round I think," Oakes said after his ride. "I scored 86 I think. That bull has been out there a long time. They ride him pretty good.
"I could go back out there and re-trace his steps. He does the same pattern every time."
Houston Hutto posted the top time Thursday night in the tie-down roping with an 8.5. Justin Maass recorded a 9.5.
Only two teams (out of eight) posted scores in team roping. Jay and Ryon Tittel recorded a 6.5 for a two-day total of 13.8 which should be enough to reach the final 12. Waco McGill and Matthew Hussman of Topaz were clocked in 12.8. The duo posted a no score in the first round.
There is a new leader in barrel racing. First-round leader Linda Vick followed her 17.11 with a 17.13 for a two-ride total of 34.34. Four riders broke 17.20 in the second go.
Laurie Sutton is second at 34.46, Kelly Kaminski is third at 34.54, Shali Lord fourth at 34.59 and Tiffany Fox is next at 34.60. Jana Jarreau moved into sixth with a 17.14 for a combined total of 34.63. Liz Pinkston was timed in 17.14 to move into seventh with a 34.67. Debbie Beede recorded a 17.19 and moved into the top 10.
Brock Andrus recorded a 5.8, the low time of the night in steer wrestling. His two-go total is 10.3. Todd Suhn is the current leader at 9.6. Jason Lahr is third at 10.6 and Shawn Greenfield is fourth at 10.7.
Notes: The Western States Drill Team competition is being held at the indoor arena. Starting times are 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. .. At 9 a.m., there is a barrel slack race. No admission will be charged ... A check for $1,100 was presented to the Black Stallion Literacy program during Thursday's performance. The program encourages kids, especially high-risk kids to read. Rodeo officials, including Selena Ulch, Miss Rodeo America, visited 13 schools. Children were given books to keep, got to meet various rodeo queens and got to pet a horse.