Courtesy of PRCA.com
The 60th edition of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo proved to be historic. And not just because it marked 60 years of the Finals crowning world champions.
Trevor Brazile won his PRCA-record 14th All-Around gold buckle, adding to his ever-growing record of PRCA championships, this one No. 24, in front of 17,150 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Dec. 15.
Meanwhile, Sage Kimzey became the first bull rider in the NFR era to win five consecutive world championships. ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jim Shoulders won six consecutive bull riding world titles, but that was before the NFR began.
“Anytime your name is by Jim Shoulders’ you are in a league you can’t put into words,” said Kimzey, 24. “He is one of the greatest cowboys of all time and it means the world to me.”
Kimzey’s fifth bull riding world title also puts him in precious company. Only four other bull riders have won at least five – Don Gay won eight, Shoulders seven, and Smokey Snyder and Harry Tompkins each won five.
Kimzey was banged up throughout the Finals, and that reflected in the fact that he rode four bulls. But Kimzey saved the best for last. Hopping on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Record Rack’s Shootin’ Stars, Kimzey posted a 93-point ride. Making it more impressive was the fact that Kimzey was bruised and battered.
“This year was tough, it was just sheer grit and determination from the start of the year,” he said. “It started with a fractured pelvis, and it was a 365-day grind. Going into here with a big lead, then getting hurt in the first round – it was a brutal 10 days and it was hard to get out of bed.”
While Kimzey’s career continues to flourish, Brazile announced before the Finals started that the 2018 season marked the last time he would rodeo full time. Brazile is going to an abbreviated schedule in 2019 to spend more time with his family.
Then he went out and won his 14th All-Around title, and he did it by winning Round 10 of the tie-down roping in 7.2 seconds. It was his 71st career go-round win at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – in tie-down roping and team roping – and National Finals Steer Roping. Yet another record.
“When I came into Round 10, I was honestly so thankful that I had another chance,” Brazile said. “It wasn’t maybe the best chance. I had to win the round and do some certain things, but it was at least a chance, and as a competitor that’s all you can ask for.”
Brazile entered Round 10 trailing his brother-in-law Tuf Cooper by a little more than $12,000. Cooper won the All-Around title in 2017.
“It’s a really unique situation because I love him so much, and I’m his biggest fan, too,” Brazile said of Cooper. “It’s a crazy dynamic that we’ve lived for so long, but I can’t wait to just set back and be able to watch him instead of competing against him.”
And while some say Brazile should keep going as hard as ever, especially after the win, that’s not his thinking. “The first question everybody wants to ask is you can’t go out now,” he said. “But, the competitor in me, this is the only way to go out. It was hard to swallow the other scenarios. I hadn’t roped well this week, and I ended up with three round wins. But I also ended up with three two loops, and that’s the most I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have ended any better.”
Two-time defending bareback riding champion Tim O’Connell came into the 2018 Wrangler NFR with the slimmest margin in the world standings he’d had over the last three years. He saw that lead of $14,822 vanish by Round 7 of the Finals, with Caleb Bennett moving into first.
But O’Connell wasn’t ready to relinquish his title of world champion just yet. O’Connell split the aggregate with Steven Dent to propel the Zwingle, Iowa, cowboy to his third consecutive world championship with $319,801.
Clay Smith and Paul Eaves went out in the best way possible together. The duo who decided before the Wrangler Finals kicked off Dec. 6 to go their separate ways on the rodeo trail, put together a team roping championship run.
Team roping header Smith and team roping heeler Eaves stopped the clock in 4.4 seconds in Round 10 to clinch third in the aggregate and win their respective world championships with $289,921 each.
Tyler Waguespack opened the 2018 Wrangler NFR with a Round 1 victory. He closed it with a world title. The 28-year-old, Gonzales, La., cowboy claimed his second world championship in three years with $260,013.
For the second time in his career, Caleb Smidt is a world champion. The tie-down roper from Bellville, Texas, won the 2018 gold buckle with $232,817, capping it off by winning the average with 83.7 seconds on 10 head. The average win cashed for $67,269.
Smidt’s previous world title (it also included the average title) came in 2015. Smidt’s newest title is the one he’s most proud of.
Wade Sundell qualified for the saddle bronc riding for the Wrangler Finals every year between 2007 and 2015.
He didn’t make the Finals again until 2018. And this year wasn’t easy, as the 33-year-old’s house burned down over the summer. But Sundell won $177,327 at the Finals to propel him to his first gold buckle with $280,636.
With her first gold buckle already in hand, barrel racer Hailey Kinsel switched to her backup horse and cruised in Round 10. Kinsel won with a WPRA single-season record $350,700. She wrapped up the world championship following her Round 9 victory.
“We had (the world championship) won, and I could have run (Sister) to try for that Top Gun deal, but she owes me nothing,” Kinsel said. “We accomplished our main goal, and we are getting ready for 2019. So, she had the night off and I ran my backup horse, TJ. He proved that he deserves to be here, too.”
Kinsel finished seventh in the aggregate, winning four rounds along the way. She may have clinched a night early, but she didn’t get her gold buckle officially until after Round 10.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s outstanding. We’ve dreamed to have this, and it’s even more than I could have imagined.”