LAS VEGAS — On a night where five world champions took victory laps for the round's best rides and runs, tie-down roper Cody Ohl had the widest grin of them all.
Already the owner of four tie-down roping world titles and another as the world's top all-around cowboy, Ohl will need to find room in his trophy case for another. He clinched the world tie-down roping title Thursday in winning style, highlighting Round 8 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in front of 17,740 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Ohl (Hico, Texas) roped and tied his calf in 7.6 seconds, good for a share of the round title with Clint Robinson (Spanish Fork, Utah). The $14,342 in prize money gave Ohl an insurmountable lead with just two days remaining in the ProRodeo season. He also leads the lucrative 10-head average race by nearly seven seconds, giving him the potential to earn quite a payday when the rodeo ends on Saturday.
He's already approaching his event's single-season record — he trails the mark set by Fred Whitfield, the defending champ with eight total gold buckles himself — by only $7,600.
"You wake up in the middle of the night with a dream like this season has been," Ohl said. "My season has been phenomenal. I think that all year long, I couldn't have had a better day, a better night. Tonight has outdone them all."
Ohl wasn't the only one assuring that a gold buckle will be in his immediate future.
Trevor Brazile, the three-time world champion all-around cowboy, wrapped up rodeo's most coveted title, while Will Lowe, the reigning and two-time world champion bareback rider, will become the first cowboy in his event to repeat as world champion since Marvin Garrett from 1994-95.
Lowe, despite clinching the crown, wasn't about to celebrate, out of respect to the other 14 bareback riders.
"There are still two rounds left, and we'll find out after we get there," a modest Lowe said. "I can't take anything away from the guys behind me. They all ride phenomenally, and they're all champs."
Champions highlighted Thursday's Round 8 performance.
Steer wrestler Lee Graves (Calgary, Alberta), the reigning world champion, turfed his steer in 3.5 seconds for the round victory on Canada Night, while another reigning champion, saddle bronc rider Jeff Willert (Belvidere, S.D.) scored 86 points on Sankey's Blazing Saddle for the night's top score. It was Willert's second round win of the 2006 Wrangler NFR, along with the first round.
Bull rider Dustin Elliott (North Platte, Neb.), the 2004 World Champion, won his second round of the Wrangler NFR after riding Triple V Rodeo's Q for 91 points. Elliott won Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days on the bull earlier this year.
Earlier, he watched world standings leader B.J. Schumacher (Hillsboro, Wis.) take another step toward his first world title after a second-place ride extended his overall lead to more than $42,000. Schumacher, who has ridden seven of eight bulls, clinched no worse than second in the average race, meaning he'll earn at least $33,335 on Saturday.
For the second time in three days, the arena's barrel racing record was reset as Brandie Halls (Carpenter, Wyo.) blazed the cloverleaf pattern in 13.52 seconds, besting the mark (13.58) standings leader Kelly Maben set on Tuesday.
Other round champions Thursday were bareback rider Tom McFarland (Wickenburg, Ariz.), who scored 82.5 points on J Bar J Rodeo's Night Jacket, and team ropers Colter Todd (Marana, Ariz.)/Cesar de la Cruz (Tucson, Ariz.), who stopped the clock in 4.3 seconds.