- Neal Reid
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With top-ranked and reigning World Champion Bull Rider Matt Austin nursing tears to his abdominal and groin areas and third-ranked Wesley Silcox sporting a sore shoulder and coming off knee surgery, plenty of questions beg to be answered during the upcoming Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Austin, who suffered his injury Oct. 19 in Liberty, Texas, hasn't ridden a bull since, even withdrawing from the recently held Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship hosted by Texas Stampede in Dallas to prolong his healing process. Austin admittedly won't be 100 percent in Las Vegas, potentially opening the door for lots of company.
Closest to Austin is the summer's hottest bull rider, Sonny Murphy (Herriman, Utah). Murphy, who finished 25th in the 2005 world standings as a rookie, came back strong for his sophomore year, winning the bull riding title at the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho. He really got going later in the year, stringing together titles in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Summer Finale in Omaha, Neb., in addition to the Farm-City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston, Ore., and the NILE Pro Rodeo in Billings, Ore.
Austin earned $155,132 during the regular season and holds a lead of some $26,000 over Murphy.
Silcox (Payson, Utah) was in line to replace Austin in Dallas had it not been for his own misfortunes. He enters Las Vegas fresh off knee surgery on Nov. 6 and nearly a month of rest for an ailing shoulder after an accident at a bull riding event in Kansas City, Mo., in late October.
Cowboys who found success in the 2006 edition of the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour, presented by B&W Trailer Hitches, find themselves in striking distance of Austin.
B.J. Schumacher (Hillsboro, Wis.) is ranked fourth, largely due to his $25,728 windfall at the Xtreme Bulls Finals on Oct. 28 in Indianapolis. Fifth-ranked Zeb Lanham (Sweet, Idaho) bagged the Xtreme Bulls national title after collecting $50,221 over the 10 stops, while JayC Bean (Goldendale, Wash.) jumped into eighth place after winning Tour stops in Lexington, Ky., and Kissimmee, Fla.
2006 Wrangler National Finals Event Previews
13hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins