The sting of injury
LAS VEGAS There's a tradition that ends every night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for members of the media the ceremonial handing out of injury reports. Normally, such lists are topped by multiple bull riders and their concussions and broken bones. But at this year's event, bareback riders have usurped their bucking brethren to take top honors on the list.
After Round Eight alone, five bareback riders made the list Royce Ford, Will Lowe, Tilden Hooper, Bobby Mote and Clint Cannon, with Ford and Lowe doctoring out for the rest of the WNFR. Injuries ranged from seemingly minor hindrances like a strained neck (Mote) and a strained groin (Cannon), all the way to a broken leg (Ford).
According to Mote, who won Round Nine and is currently second in the world standings, the reason for the sudden influx of injuries is twofold.
"First off, these are the best horses in rodeo, and every year they get better," Mote said. "The first year I came to the NFR (in 2001) there's probably two pens of horses that wouldn't even make the cut today that were good horses at that time. So stock contractors' horses have improved.
"The other thing is you have to be pedal to the medal every single time here," Mote continued. "There's guys that come in here $100,000 back. Will Lowe is just as much a threat for a gold buckle as anybody is, and so is Royce Ford. They're laying it all on the line, and the more you expose yourself the more chance you have of getting hurt."
As mentioned earlier, Mote himself was hurt in Round Eight when he suffered a stinger, slang for an intensely painful nerve injury. The injury is common in bareback riding due to the jerking motion of the head and neck as the bronc bucks. Three riders in Round Eight alone reported receiving them.
"I lost sensation in my left hand and kind of was a little loopy whenever I got off," said Mote. "I'm also lacking a little strength in my right hand, which Tandy said the C-5 disc evidently has had some trauma and is damaged a little bit."
But the bareback riders aren't just giving the bull riders a run for their money in terms of sheer numbers of injuries they're also proving they're just as tough. With one round left and one of the tightest races in PRCA history playing out, it's no surprise that second place Mote refuses to let his injuries faze him.
"It's not going to change my approach today or tomorrow, so after the Finals is over I'll address it then," Mote said.
Quote of the night
"Wow." Six-time all around champion Trevor Brazile, after hearing that rivals Chad Masters and Jade Corkill had broken the team roping world record.
Rough Round Nine
Round Nine of saddle bronc on Friday night was the eliminator pen, and it showed. Only five riders successfully covered their mount, and the cowboys that bucked off made it count including a spectacular dismount from Billy Etbauer after less than two seconds aboard Stace Smith Pro Rodeo's Justin's Sock Dancer.
"There was some rank horses out there," said J.J. Elshere, who posted an 86 on Frontier Rodeo's Griz to win the round. "That one that Billy (Etbauer) had... that horse is scary."
Elshere said the locker room prior to the saddle bronc round was tense and quieter than usual, the result, Elshere said, of guys being "a little more jacked up."
"You're not quite as relaxed as say your hopper pen, where they're just good to ride, good to spur horses," Elshere said. "You kind of gotta come with your hammer cocked."
With the Round Nine win, Elshere boosted himself into second in the world standings, only $16,000 behind Jesse Kruse. With one round to go, the saddle bronc race is one of many that will come down to the final ride.
Hot streak screeches to a halt
Going into Round Nine at the Thomas & Mack Center, reigning world champion barrel racer Lindsay Sears was on quite a roll. She had placed in 16 consecutive rounds at the WNFR, dating back to the third round of 2008. She had also taken over the lead in the world standings from Brittany Pozzi, who tipped a costly barrel in Round Eight.
But tonight was not Sears' night in Las Vegas, as her time of 14.12 wasn't good enough to earn a check and thereby ended her winning streak. It also allowed Pozzi to re-take the lead in the world standings by $9,000 significant if it weren't for the fact that Sears is still leading the average, which pays a whopping $43,954.
But was Sears concerned with the ending of her streak?
"No, I'm happy," she said. "I got around 'em. That's all that counts right now."
Only Kristie Peterson (whose daughter, Jordon, qualified for her first WNFR this year) has had a longer streak than Sears and she did it twice. Peterson placed in 22 consecutive rounds from 1995-1997 and came back to place in 17 straight from 1998-1999.
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.