LAS VEGAS Through two rounds of the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, bull riders enjoyed the upper hand, recording qualified rides on 19 of 29 attempts.
The bulls got their revenge on Saturday, but B.J. Schumacher escaped being the final victim.
After watching the first 12 cowboys hit the Thomas & Mack Center dirt early during Round 3 action, Schumacher (Hillsboro, Wis.) sent the 17,543 fans home happy. He held on just long enough to score 90 points on Cervi and Guidry's Multi-Chem Western Hauler for the only ride of the night and claimed not only a first-place check worth $16,022, but the entire go-round's worth of earnings another $35,661 that doesn't count toward the world standings.
With regular-season earnings leader and reigning world champion bull rider Matt Austin declared out for the rest of the event with abdominal and groin tears, and third-ranked rider Sonny Murphy out indefinitely after suffering a fractured vertebra in his neck on Thursday, Schumacher seems ready to pounce on the opportunity. He has ridden all three of his bulls, averaging more than 91 points per ride, and is only $6,500 out of first place after earning $44,706 through the first three days of the Wrangler NFR.
"It (the race) was open from the beginning," Schumacher said. "When we get here, everybody's got to ride. Everybody was close enough that, if something happened and they had a great week, then they could take it (the world title). Nothing's over yet, and it's all just begun. Some of that $50,000 doesn't count (for the standings), but I'll still spend it."
While Schumacher seeks his first world title this week, three cowboys with world championships on their resumes earned Round 3 victories on Saturday that put them in position to claim another gold buckle.
Bareback rider Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas), the two-time and reigning champion, claimed his first round win of the 2006 Wrangler NFR and first since 2004 on Saturday, scoring 85 points on Burch Rodeo's Wild Woman. The victory extended Lowe's lead to more than $50,000 with just seven days remaining in the season.
Steer wrestler Luke Branquinho (Los Alamos, Calif.), who claimed the 2004 world title but missed last year's Wrangler NFR due to injury, won his second consecutive round on Saturday and moved into first place in the world standings. He downed his Round 3 steer in 3.5 seconds and leads regular-season earnings leader Dean Gorsuch (Gering, Neb.) by nearly $2,000.
Legendary team roper Allen Bach (Weatherford, Texas), appearing in his 25th Wrangler NFR and the owner of three world titles, joined forces with Chad Masters (Clarksville, Tenn.) and recorded a time of 4.3 seconds to win Saturday's round. It was the duo's second straight victory, and the $16,022 in prize money moved Bach into the lead among team roping heelers, some $10,000 ahead of Walt Woodard (Stockton, Calif.), the 1981 world team roping champion who ended the regular season in first place.
Last year, barrel racer Kelly Maben (Spur, Texas) took victory laps after Rounds 2 and 3 following a disastrous first round in which she topped two barrels. Her 2006 Wrangler NFR started out with one downed barrel, but the schoolteacher repeated history by winning Friday and Saturday. The more than $32,000 earned in the past two nights surpasses her annual salary as a teacher.
Saturday's other Round 3 winners were eight-time Canadian champion Rod Hay (Wildwood, Alberta), who rode Kesler Championship Rodeo's Coffee Break for 87.5 points, and Wrangler NFR rookie tie-down roper Hunter Herrin (Apache, Okla.), who roped and tied his calf in 7.1 seconds.
The Wrangler NFR, an annual Las Vegas event since 1985, is the world's premier rodeo. Only the top 15 contestants in each of rodeo's events qualified for the event, which will crown world champions at its conclusion on Dec. 9.
The event resumes with Round 4 on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET live on ESPN2.