LAS VEGAS, Nev. Bareback riders have been climbing in the chutes at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for 28 years longer than Justin McDaniel has been alive, but the 21-year-old Porum, Okla., cowboy did something no one else had ever done Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
McDaniel, a Wrangler NFR rookie, spurred J Bar J Ranch's Delta Ship for a Wrangler NFR and Thomas & Mack Center arena record 91.5-point ride in front of a crowd of 17,523 to take top honors in the third round and earn $16,394.
McDaniel's ride, his first on the J Bar J Ranch horse, eclipsed Will Lowe's previous record of 91 points on Big Stone Rodeo's Chester Bandit in 2002. It was also McDaniel's career-high bareback ride.
"I'd seen that horse with Kelly Timberman in Omaha, and he's really wild and kind of a young horse that really, really gets up in the air," said McDaniel, who ranks second in the Crusher Rentals PRCA World Standings behind Bobby Mote. "I knew I could win on him if I just did my part right, and I'm just thankful it worked out like it did. There's no better feeling than to set a record, especially at the National Finals. It's a very cool feeling."
An equipment switch, McDaniel said, proved to be a factor in his record ride.
"Tonight I changed riggings," McDaniel said. "I went back to my old one. I was fighting my rigging in the first two rounds and had cracked out a new one here like a dummy. I shouldn't have, but I went back to my old one and things felt great. I'm a lot more confident with it and ready to win."
Timberman, the 2004 World Champion Bareback Rider from Mills, Wyo., finished second to McDaniel with an 88.5-point mark on Stace Smith's RD Mercer.
Bulldogger Jason Miller, who won a share of the average title at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days this year, won the steer wrestling in 4.0 seconds, finishing just one-tenth of a second ahead of Jule Hazen and Trevor Knowles for the round buckle.
Miller, of Lance Creek, Wyo., has placed in all three rounds at this year's Wrangler NFR, and his $16,394 first-place check in Round 3 pushed his earnings total to $36,226 through three days of the 10-day event.
Miller, who is competing in his second straight Wrangler NFR, was pleasantly surprised to end up on top of the steer wrestling heap.
"I thought my 4.0 might place, but I didn't think it would win the round," Miller said. "I thought we'd be a little quicker on these steers than we were. I think I had a really good steer, and I didn't make as good a run on him as I could have. I came in pretty low (in the standings), so in order to have any chance at all, I need to start winning as much money as I can. I'm just trying to go at them in the go-rounds every night."
For the third straight night, a team roper with the last name of Tryan will appear on the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa stage to accept a round championship buckle. Travis Tryan won at least a share of first place in the opening two rounds with teammate Michael Jones, and his older brother, Clay, made his way to the winner's circle in Round 3 with partner Walt Woodard.
Clay Tryan and Woodard stopped the clock in 4.8 seconds to win the third round by one-tenth of a second ahead of Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith. Tryan was excited to join his brother, Travis, as a round winner at this year's Wrangler NFR.
"Our dad's happy, that's for sure," Tryan said of his father, Dennis, who roped at the 1984 NFR as a heeler. "Walt (Woodard) competed against my dad. He's 52 years old (as is Dennis), but he's roping like he's 24. We have a good game plan, and we're on the same wavelength."
Woodard said the team is dialed in and has a specific plan of attack in place.
"This event is half of our entire season," Woodard said. "You have to have a good NFR to have a chance to win a world championship. The strategy is to stick to the fundamentals and think fundamentally and not emotionally. If you get a great start and a good position, then react to the shot, it all comes together."
Justin Arnold of Santa Margarita, Calif., is competing in his first career Wrangler NFR, but only had to wait three rounds to pick up his first victory. He won the saddle bronc riding with an 86.5-point mark on Big Bend Rodeo's Kool Toddy, picking up $16,394 in the process.
"The first couple of rounds were a little shaky, so it just feels good to break the ice," Arnold said. "If you stub your toe, she'll (Kool Toddy) buck you off. I talked to Anthony (Bello) a lot about her and how to handle her. He said she wants to raise you up right out of there, and she did, but it all worked out."
Heith DeMoss, the younger brother of saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss who is riding in his first Wrangler NFR, finished second behind Arnold with an 86-point ride on Calgary Stampede's Lynx Mountain to earn his first paycheck, $12,957, of the 10-day event.
It has been a rough Wrangler NFR for world champion saddle bronc riders. Jeff Willert, the 2005 World Champion, suffered a broken right leg after being stepped on by Bar T Rodeo's Hy Lo in the second round following his second-place ride and underwent surgery Saturday to insert a rod in the injured leg. He is expected to miss two months as he recovers from the injury. Reigning World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Chad Ferley suffered a concussion after being bucked off JK Rodeo's Jumpin Bean in Round 3, and is listed as probable for Round 4.
In the tie-down roping, Hunter Herrin won the third round for the second straight year, this time with a 7.7-second run. His time was two-tenths of a second quicker than the runs of Jake Hannum and reigning World Champion Cody Ohl.
Herrin, of Apache, Okla., has earned $23,269 at the Wrangler NFR so far and ranks second in the average race behind Ohl. He was thrilled to repeat as the Wrangler NFR's Round 3 champion.
"I thought I had a pretty good calf, and I was fortunate enough to get through the barrier well," Herrin said. "The calves were pretty good all the way around, and I just ended up with the better end of them. My horse did his part, and everything worked out."
Four-time and reigning World Champion All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile finished fourth in the tie-down roping to earn $6,875, and combined with his $12,957 payday in the team roping from his second-place finish, the talented cowboy crossed the $300,000 mark in season earnings for the second consecutive season.
Brazile's $19,832 from Round 3 pushed his season earnings to $309,474, and he is just $20,450 shy of his PRCA single-season earnings record of $329,924 set a year ago. He is the first PRCA cowboy to earn $300,000 in two separate seasons.
No barrel racer finished the cloverleaf pattern quicker than Lisa Lockhart in Round 3. The Oelrichs, S.D., cowgirl won the round with a 13.89-second run on her 16-year-old gray gelding named Sterling, finishing just one-hundredth of a second ahead of second-round winner Lindsay Sears.
Lockhart, a Wrangler NFR rookie, had the fastest run of this year's Wrangler NFR to take over the top spot in the average standings. She was surprised to hear her name called as the fastest time of the night.
"I thought my time was 13.99 until they were calling my name to get on the horse for a victory lap," Lockhart said. "He (Sterling) felt great maybe pulled off the third barrel a little bit, but he felt sharp like he did last night. You can start thinking about the average and stuff like that, but I just want to take one run at a time."
Bull rider Howdy Cloud won his second career round at the Wrangler NFR, taking Round 3 with a 90-point effort on Growney Brothers' God's Gift. Cloud, of Kountze, Texas, won the sixth round at the 2005 Wrangler NFR and found his way back to the winner's circle tonight after failing to qualify for the event last year.
He edged Chance Smart, who rode the 2005 PRCA Bull of the Year Wardance of the Broken Arrow Rodeo string for 87.5 points, to claim the round buckle. It was Cloud's first paycheck of the 2007 Wrangler NFR.
"Tonight, there were a bunch of bulls that you could have been 90 (points) on," Cloud said. "It was a rank pen tonight, and I just got one ridden. Not making it here last year, it definitely gave me more drive all year long. I worked hard trying to get here, and getting a round win was a great feeling."
Wesley Silcox and Marcus Michaelis are the only two bull riders who have covered all three of their bulls thus far, with Silcox leading the average standings with 257 points to Michaelis' 254. Ironically, more cowboys have posted successful rides in all three rounds in the bull riding (two) than in saddle bronc riding (one, Rod Hay).
For more information on the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo visit prorodeo.org