LAS VEGAS – Kaycee Feild responded like a champion Friday night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and was one of several gold buckle winners that moved to the brink of earning another world championship.
Feild won the bareback riding in Round 9 before a sellout crowd of 18,083 at the Thomas and Mack Center, and grabbed the lead in the race for the average title. Last year, he became the first cowboy in any event to win three consecutive world championships while also claiming three straight average titles.
The goal-driven Feild wants to make it four of each.
Also moving into position to add to their gold buckle count were steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, tie-down roper Tuf Cooper, and team ropers Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill. Branquinho and the team ropers should clinch world championships if they post a time in Round 10.
Cooper has a more precarious lead over Matt Shiozawa, who could prevail if he wins Round 10 and Cooper fails to win a check. That would give Shiozawa the average title – he’s currently first in the average and Cooper is second – and push Cooper down to second in the world.
Trevor Brazile and Cade Swor split the tie-down roping in Round 9, as each had a time of 7.6 seconds. Brazile sits third in the world standings – he’s $22,224 behind Cooper – and is third in the average race while Swor is fifth in both standings.
“I didn’t do well enough in this event in the regular season to have a great shot at the title, so I’ve been playing catch-up all week,” Brazile said. “I just have to stay with it and decide if I’m going to gamble that (third place in the) average to try and win a world championship.”
Swor was thrilled to take another victory lap, just as he did after winning Round 2.
“I’m fired up,” Swor said. “I had a good calf tonight, and I just got lucky, I guess. It feels really good to win again.”
Rookie Sage Kimzey clinched his first gold buckle Thursday and continued his dominance of the bull riding by winning Round 9 and clinching the average title. He became the seventh bull rider to win four rounds at one WNFR; four-time World Champion Bull Rider J.W. Harris was the last to accomplish the feat, in 2010.
Kimzey, 20, rode for 87.5 points on Stace Smith Pro Rodeo’s Foolish Man.
Nick Sartain and Rich Skelton won the team roping event with a time of 3.9 seconds to turn around what’s been a disappointing Finals. Despite the win, they sit 15th in the average race.
“We’ve had more trouble than a man on the wrong train this week,” Sartain said. “This run will help us salvage some money out of here. This is a lot more fun than losing. I’ve been getting tired of smiling about that all week.”
Skelton, who is competing at his 21st WNFR, extended his team roping record for WNFR round wins to 35.
“This rodeo is always exciting,” said Skelton, 48. “If you don’t get excited to win a round here, you need to quit. This win is especially exciting, because we’ve been getting our butts handed to us. And most of it’s been self-inflicted.”
Still, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver, one of the television analysts for the WNFR, picked Sartain and Skelton to win Round 9 before the perf.
“Joe and I have been tight a long time,” Skelton said. “I guess he can see into the future.”
Sartain said the partners plan to stay together for the 2015 season.
“Rich and I have become good friends, and we have a good time traveling together,” he said. “This week hasn’t been great for us, but we’re already talking about reloading and going again next year. Rich is such a legend in this sport. He’s always prepared, he always does his job and nothing bothers him.”
Brazile, who already won the steer roping and all-around gold buckles in 2014, was in close contention for the team roping title until he missed in Round 9. Brazile and his partner, Travis Graves, slipped two spots to fifth in the average but they could still surpass world standings leader Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, who took sixth in the round to increase their season earnings to $163,357. Brazile and Graves each have $159,632, although Tryan and Corkill also lead the race for the average title.
If Tryan and Corkill record a time in Round 10, they’re likely to repeat as world champs. For Corkill, it would be three consecutive gold buckles.
Dakota Eldridge won the steer wrestling with a time of 3.3 seconds, just .1 shy of the Round 9 record set by three cowboys, most recently by Luke Branquinho in 2007. Eldridge tied Curtis Cassidy for the Round 7 win.
“I would like to have one more win (Saturday night),” Eldridge said. “I’m just going to go at it again. If you try to back off, then stuff starts going south. You try to nail the barrier every time and have a good steer and just go have fun.”
Eldridge, 23, of Elko, Nev., moved up to sixth in the world standings with $105,464 and is third in the average with a time of 50.7 seconds on nine head.
“You can’t give up until after Round 10,” Eldridge said, “so you might as well go at ’em because it’s almost $20,000 a round. That’s a lot of money, and life-changing money. I can still get out of here with average money and another round, and get out of here with $80,000. That would be a great week.”
Saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell won for the third time at this Finals when he rode for 82.5 points on Big Bend Rodeo’s Broken Camp. Sundell, who is competing in his sixth WNFR, was the worse for wear as he immediately went to the Justin Sportsmedicine room for treatment following his victory. He was listed on the injury report with a contusion of the lumbar spine and is listed as probable for Round 10.
Sundell, who sits seventh in the average, is third in the world standings with $152,835. He also won Rounds 3 and 5.
WNFR rookie Spencer Wright, who was third in Round 9, is in prime position to become the third Wright brother to win a gold buckle, following in the footsteps of older brothers Cody (2008, 2010) and Jesse Wright (2012).
The Wrights made history this year when they became the first set of four brothers to qualify for the Finals.
Jake Wright was second in Round 9 and Jesse Wright placed sixth.
The brothers made more history when three of them placed in Rounds 7-9 this year, as that’s only been accomplished once before, in any event, when the Etbauer brothers – Billy, Robert and Dan – did it in 1996.
Spencer Wright continues to lead the average race by a wide margin over Cort Scheer (728.5 points to 693), and they’re the only saddle bronc riders to post a score in all nine rounds.
Wright, 23, has earned $151,752 and is fourth in the world standings. Heith DeMoss leads the world standings with $163,833, but sits 11th in the average. The 28-year-old Scheer has $156,049 and could win his first gold buckle in his fifth Finals if he earns a big check in Round 10.
Trula Churchill won the barrel racing with a time of 13.67 seconds. This is her third WNFR and her first go-round win.
“I set some goals, and getting a go-round win was one of them,” Churchill said. “Of course, I tipped some barrels this week, which has cost me some money, but I got around them tonight for the win, so one goal is down.”
Fallon Taylor and Lisa Lockhart are battling to the finish for the barrel racing gold buckle. Taylor has a lead of $8,168 in the world standings, but sits second in the average while Lockhart is first.
The 56th annual Wrangler NFR concludes Saturday with the 10th round at the Thomas & Mack Center. The action will be televised live and in HD on CBS Sports Net (DirecTV channel 221 and DISH Network channel 158) from 7-10 p.m. (PT) with hosts Jeff Medders and Butch Knowles.