Sin City showdown
LAS VEGAS The barrel racing portion of the 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo once again looks to be a showdown between familiar faces Canada's Lindsay Sears, who comes into the Finals in second overall, and Texas' Brittany Pozzi, who leads. The two riders have been trading blows all year, with Pozzi recently taking the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash., only to be upstaged a few weeks later when Sears won the Justin Boots Championship in Omaha, Neb.
Pozzi held a narrow $14,000 lead coming in, but after a first-place performance in Round One on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center (she was the only rider to post a sub-14-second time), she has increased that lead to nearly $30,000.
But the two riders' history goes back further than 2009. In 2008, Pozzi was once again in the driver's seat coming into the Finals before Sears posted one of the most dominating performances in recent rodeo memory, winning five out of 10 rounds and setting a single season earnings record (breaking Pozzi's previously set number) with $323,570.
Both women have one world title to their name, with Sears' coming in 2008 and Pozzi's in 2007. Pozzi holds the edge in career earnings at just over $1 million to Sears' almost $780,000, and both have award-winning horses to call on (Pozzi rides 12-year old gelding Stitch, while Sears has 9-year old mare Martha).
With $17,000 going to the winner of each round and only one round in the books, both riders have plenty of time to make a statement. And although Sears is known for posting blistering times in the later rounds, Pozzi's consistency throughout should make for a back-and-forth battle.
So has Pozzi formulated a strategy for keeping her lead on the world?
"I'm just going to run barrels," she said after winning Round One. "I've always had a plan, a strategy for the NFR, but this year I'm winging it all the way. For the next nine days I'm just going to make runs and let the chips fall where they may. No special plans this year."
Tough night for number one
The "Trevor Brazile Watch," as the cowboy's assault on Ty Murray's record of seven all-around titles has become fondly known, came to a screeching halt on Thursday night in Las Vegas. Brazile started his potentially record-tying WNFR with a thud, posting a no-time with his heeler Patrick Smith in team roping, followed by a last-place time of 23.80 in tie-down roping. Fans have little cause for concern, however Brazile came in with $288,588 in all-around earnings, $130,000 more than his next closest competitor, Clint Robinson of Spanish Fork, Utah. With nine days left to secure his seventh all-around title, no one in Thursday night's sold-out crowd of 17,000 is ready to count the Texan out.
Thursday marked the beginning of the 25th year of WNFR performances in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The event was previously held in Oklahoma City before moving to Nevada in 1985, and has sold out every performance for more than 20 years. This year, the rodeo is offering a record $5.75 million in prize money, as compared to $1.79 million when they first began their Vegas run. Last year's telecasts on ESPN2 and ESPN Classic were viewed by more than 15.4 million people.
Although December in Las Vegas is usually owned by the rodeo and its fans, this year the cowboy crowd is sharing the spotlight with the stars of NASCAR as they descend on Sin City for Champion's Week. Just prior to the start of Round One at the Thomas & Mack Center, the top 12 drivers of the 2009 season were completing their victory lap on the Las Vegas Strip, led by Chase winner Jimmie Johnson. That left just enough time for Kasey Kahne, who finished the NASCAR season in 10th overall, to head over for some last-minute rodeo action. No word on how the 29-year old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., enjoyed the show.
The PRCA held their annual awards banquet on Wednesday night at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Nominees in each of the 11 categories were voted on by rodeo contestants, participating contract personnel and dues paying rodeo committees. The winners were as follows:
Announcer: Boyd Polhamus
Dress Act of the Year: John Payne
Bullfighter of the Year: Cory Wall
Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year: Cheyenne, Wyo.
Secretary: Haley Schneeberger
Comedy Act of the Year: Keith Isley
Small Rodeo of the Year: Estes Park, Colo.
Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year: San Antonio, Texas
Stock Contracting Firm of the Year: Stace Smith Pro Rodeos
Clown of the Year: Keith Isley
Medium Rodeo of the Year: Deadwood, S.D.
The WNFR will be televised nightly on ESPN Classic and ESPN2. At the conclusion of the 10th performance on Dec. 12th, the contestants with the highest earnings in each event will be crowned as the 2009 world champion.