LAS VEGAS Dan Mortensen had gone too long without a victory lap at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. So, the six-time world champion saddle bronc rider ended a dry streak with a win that he hopes will catapult him toward a historic record.
Riding in his 15th Wrangler NFR, Mortensen needs only one more world title to surpass the legendary Casey Tibbs for most in the event. He took a major step toward that achievement during Friday's second-round action in Las Vegas, riding Calgary Stampede's Knight Rocket for 87.5 points in front of 17,426 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The victory was Mortensen's 24th career round victory at the Wrangler NFR.
Mortensen (Billings, Mont.) earned a first-place check worth $16,022 and narrowed the gap atop the saddle bronc riding standings. Although Mortensen remains the third-ranked rider, only $3,700 separates the leader, Chad Ferley, regular-season leader Cody DeMoss and Mortensen with just eight days remaining in the ProRodeo season.
"Well, it's good to get the momentum going," said Mortensen, whose last victory lap before Friday came at the 2003 Wrangler NFR en route to his last world-title run. "I think it's good mentally to get the momentum going, and it just seems to make the week a lot better."
Speaking of momentum, bull rider Zeb Lanham (Sweet, Idaho) recorded one of the most exhilarating rides in Wrangler NFR history, scoring 94.5 points on Broken Arrow Rodeo's Smokeless Wardance, the 2005 PRCA Bucking Bull of the Year.
The effort was just 1.5 points shy of the Wrangler NFR bull riding record, set by Cody Hancock in 2001.
Lanham moved into fifth place in the world standings, which became more wide open Friday when standings leader Matt Austin (Wills Point, Texas) re-aggravated abdominal and groin muscle tears suffered in October and had to be helped from the arena. Also, Sonny Murphy (Herriman, Utah) who entered the Wrangler NFR in second place, suffered a broken C-6 vertebra during Thursday's opening round, ending his first trip to Las Vegas after just one day. The injury will require surgery in the coming weeks.
While Austin's return is doubtful, Lanham hopes his Friday ride is the beginning of a solid week, much like last year, when a 94-point ride aboard Andrews' Fender Bender, also in the second round, set the tone for an event in which he won more than $80,000.
"It's my highest score at the NFR, and any time you're 90 points, it doesn't matter because it's a great feeling," Lanham said. "You know everybody's watching it at home and you want to do good, and it makes it that much better. I was nervous, but I knew that it could be done and he could be ridden. He's been ridden before, and I've seen that."
Wardance hasn't been ridden much, though, sporting a buckoff rate of nearly 90 percent since 2003.
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 3 on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET live on ESPN2.
Friday's other Round 2 champions were:
Bareback rider Jess Davis (Payson, Utah), 86 points on Greg Kesler Rodeo's Painted Smile;
Steer wrestler Shawn Greenfield (Lakeview, Ore.), 3.6 seconds;
Team ropers Chad Masters (Clarksville, Tenn.)/Allen Bach (Weatherford, Texas), 4.5 seconds;
Tie-down roper Cody Ohl (Hico, Texas), 7.2 seconds; and
Barrel racer Kelly Maben (Spur, Texas), 13.72 seconds.