After two days of watching rookies haul off all the cash in the early rounds of the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), the veterans came locked and loaded on the first Saturday night of the WNFR.
Cody Ohl and Luke Branquinho have nine world championships between them and 31 trips to Las Vegas for rodeo's crowning event held each December. Each also holds the record in his event for most round wins at the WNFR, a record both Ohl and Branquinho extended with wins on Saturday night.
Prior to the third round, Ohl hadn't won a dime. Coming to Vegas ranked third in the world standings, the Texas cowboy has a legitimate chance at another gold buckle but wasn't gaining ground on the leaders. That changed with a wicked 6.7 second run to win Round 3.
"It's awesome," Ohl said of the time, which set a new record for the third round here and was his 45th WNFR tie down roping win. "I have the arena record at 6.5, and I was pretty confident that I could've got that (Friday night) but I just unfortunately got that barrier by about an inch or two, but I wasn't going to change anything because I know it was just a little bad luck. I just ran at the barrier the same tonight and I blew it out of there and everything worked perfect."
Ohl trails standings leader Tuf Cooper by $28,502 after Cooper placed for the second night. With the broken barrier, Ohl is 12th in the average in the early going.
Meanwhile, Branquinho came to Vegas down the pack, ranked 13th four days ago. After a second place finish in Round 2 and the win in Round 3, he has climbed to fourth. He earned $18,630 for his 3.6 second run and now trails new leader Casey Martin by $35,712.
Martin came to Vegas in the top spot but lost it to Trevor Knowles on opening night. He regained it in Round 3 with a four way split of second for his 3.8 second run.
"I knew it was a mid-3 second run," said Branquinho. "It's just one of those things, there's so much adrenaline going. You just look up at the scoreboard and see how fast you are. I knew with the start I got and the run I made that I was going to have a chance to win the go-round."
The rookies were in command in the Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) barrel racing and bull riding, and shared part of the team roping as well. 2013 Rookie of the Year Taylor Jacob made her first clean run of this WNFR to win the go at 13.65 seconds, equaling the record for this round.
"I'm ecstatic. I don't know what else to say," said the rookie who rides an eight year old buckskin horse named Honor Thy Frenchman that she calls Bo. "This is almost overwhelming."
"The first barrel was perfect. Just perfect," she said. She takes the left barrel first, one of three in this WNFR field to do so. "It just felt right. But, the second was a bit scary. It just is getting a little too tight. All the way to the third all I kept thinking was 'don't hit the third. Don't hit the third.'"
Standings leader Sherry Cervi picked up another check with her 13.87; she split fourth. Kaley Bass and Christy Loflin split second with reigning World Champ Mary Walker sixth. Cervi's lead is nearly $40,000 and she leads the average.
WNFR rookie Cody Campbell lit up the Thomas & Mack with the first 90 point bull ride of this WNFR. Only four cowboys made eight in the pen which included all three of the top Bull of the Year picks including Shepherd Hills Tested, the top bull in rodeo this year.
"It feels awesome to get one down," said Campbell, who had bucked off two straight. "I had a mental error last night when I should've ridden one and the first two nights got away from me. Now that I've got one, I hopefully can start a hot streak and come in with some confidence in the next few rounds and make something happen."
"Magic is a spectacular bull and he bucked really hard tonight," Campbell said of the Wild Card Rodeo bull. "It was such a tough pen of bulls tonight, and if you just stayed on one you were going to make some money. I was lucky enough to draw one that got along well with me and I couldn't be happier with a 90."
Standings leader J.W. Harris was 88.5 points for second, extending his lead over Tyler Smith to $39,111. Shane Proctor came down early for the first time at this WNFR but still leads the average and is ranked third in the standings.
In the quickest night of team roping, a logjam of ropers claimed the win, making the victory lap look more like a grand entry practice. Three teams shared the win with identical 4.2 second times, including WNFR rookies Drew Horner and Buddy Hawkins II.
"I've dreamed of that moment [victory lap]. I've been wanting a WNFR buckle forever," said Horner. "To get it done in the third round at my first Finals is exciting; a dream come true for me. Things came together for us tonight. To split it with some good friends of ours makes it even more fun."
"I'm just grateful to be here," said Hawkins. "It's pretty awesome. I've worked six days a week the last 12 years to get to rope in this building. This is amazing."
The duo shared the win with the Minor brothers and Brandon Beers and Jim Ross Cooper.
"This is probably the best week of my life, so far," said Riley Minor. "I won the first round, I got engaged [to Jordan Crossley], then I split this round three ways with my best buddy, Brandon Beers. That makes it really special. We traveled with Brandon and Jim Ross all summer, and we pull for them and they pull for us, so this is pretty cool."
"Our steer was pretty slow, and Riley drilled the barrier," said Brady Minor. "I almost got too close to the steer. I just fired it in there and luckily I caught. My goal is still to catch all 10 steers. If it happens like tonight, that's even better."
"This is awesome," said Beers. "I've been here three times, so this is my 23rd round. And this is my first first. The victory lap was the coolest thing ever. It was awesome to spit it with Riley and Brady. Brady and I have adjoining rooms her in Vegas. We're close. This is great."
"This my 33rd round and I'd never won one," said Cooper. "I heard last night that Charly [Crawford] had roped 62 times before winning one. I did not want to be the guy who beat that, so I was really glad to get this win tonight. This is what you dream about. Besides the gold buckle or the average championship, it's the third best thing that can happen here."
In the bucking horse events, Steven Peebles made it two-for-two in the winner's circle while Wade Sundell came through for his first win of 2013.
Just 24 hours after collecting his first round buckle, Peebles duplicated the feat with a 85.5 points on Andrews Rodeo's Cool Water. WNFR rookie Austin Foss was second.
"It's awesome," Peebles said of the repeat win. "I just want to keep rolling and not think about it too much."
Peebles has moved to fourth in the world and is splitting the average with Foss. Reigning champ Kaycee Feild is third and holds a $3,000 lead on Bobby Mote in the race for the title. Mote picked up his first check on Saturday night.
"My new strategy this year is to not get too wound up," Peebles said. "I try to stay calm, treat every ride the same, just like I do all year long. It was always too much on my mind in years past and I'd over-think it."
Sundell has become a fan favorite with his exuberance and high scores here in Vegas each year. With 86 points on Big Muddy from Big Stone, Moreno & Growney, he earned his second check of the week.
"I had a little slow start. That's an awesome horse and I'd been on him a couple of times," said Sundell. "Bruce with Big Stone told me, 'you're gonna draw him and we're going to the South Point stage.'"
"I'm coming from the back," he said of the standings. He started the week ninth. "There ain't no back-up in me."
For the second straight night, standings leader Cody Wright failed to reach eight seconds, opening the door for Cort Scheer and Chad Ferley even further. They are ranked 1-2 in the average, though neither placed on Saturday.
Round 4 begins at 6:45 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday night, December 8. Live coverage is provided by Great American Country TV and Pro Rodeo Live, the Internet home of professional rodeo. Pro Rodeo Live's coverage is also carried on SiriusXM Rural Radio Channel 80.
Round 1 recap
Round 2 recap
Other Round 3 Notes:
Justin Sportsmedicine Report: Several new names cropped up on the injury list after Round 3. Bronc rider Jesse Wright strained his upper abdomen along the lower ribs and is listed as probable for Round 4. Bareback riders Wes Stevenson and Casey Colletti both suffered injuries but are also listed as probable; Colletti sprained his right knee while Stevenson suffered a concussion and a subluxation of the left shoulder.
All Around: Trevor Brazile won fourth in the team roping with Patrick Smith, inching closer to clinching his 11th All Around title. He leads Tuf Cooper by $130,000.