Since 2000, six Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) barrel racers have won more money during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) than any other contestant in a single event. Beginning in 2011 the Ram Truck Top Gun Award was implemented to recognize the cowboy or cowgirl who wins the most in a single event during the ten days of the WNFR by giving them a brand new Ram Truck.
That inaugural year, the truck went to World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild and in 2012 it was Mary Walker, capping an incredible Cinderella season with the Ram Truck Top Gun Award and the WPRA's World title.
Though it's still early in this edition of the WNFR, another barrel racer is racing her way toward the Top Gun Award. Sherry Cervi is one of the six barrel racers who have topped the WNFR earnings, back when she won her last World Championship in 2009; she followed a two-year run by Lindsay Sears along with Janae Ward (2003) and Janet Stover (2001).
Cervi is back chasing history, seeking a fourth World title, a feat only three other barrel racers have managed (Charmayne James, Kristie Peterson, Billie McBride). She came to Vegas ranked first in the standings and has increased her lead with back-to-back go rounds to start the 2013 WNFR.
On Friday night she piloted Stingray, her home grown palomino partner, to a 13.66 second run, a tenth better than third ranked Michele McCleod.
"I really wanted to nail my first barrel," said Cervi. "We got so close that my knee touched, but it was perfect." In fact, Cervi rattled both the first two cans en route to the $18,630 payday.
"Every year she gets more consistent. I've always said you don't get a really good rodeo horse until they get about 10 or 11 and she's 11 this year," she continued of her former AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year who is registered MP Meter My Hay.
"Stingray gets special treatment every day. She likes to sleep in her shavings and we have been trying to keep her nice and warm because it is kind of cold here this year. She also likes her treats."
Giving Cervi a run for the truck is bull rider Shane Proctor. Like Cervi, he has dominated the early going, winning both rounds. He posted a second straight 89 point effort on Friday, earned aboard Squirrel Grove.
"I didn't know what I had drawn until I got to the arena tonight," said Proctor. "He was probably the least known bull in the draw."
"His front end was doing a lot," he said of the ride. "I got on his daddy [Grey Squirrel] here last year and he made me look like a fool so it was good to get him tonight."
Proctor has moved from tenth to third in two nights. He's about $700 behind Tyler Smith for second and $25,000 behind leader J.W. Harris. In the early going, Proctor is a bull ahead of the rest of the field as the only guy to cover two bulls thus far.
"The average is a long ways away, and we still have eight long nights ahead of us," Proctor said. "I'm not going to even start thinking about anything but the bull I'm riding tomorrow, and I'm not even going to worry about him until I get to the arena tomorrow."
As Proctor closed the gap on the regular season leaders, two-time reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild was passing them. Feild earned 87.5 points in Round 2, good enough for second place, and passed Bobby Mote to take the lead for a third straight title. His lead is $14,000 and he leads the average in the early going.
Steven Peebles won the round, earning 88 points on Powder River Rodeo's Craig at Midnight. This is Peebles first round win in his fifth trip to Las Vegas.
"I've got more confidence than I've ever had before and things have kind of just plugged together," he said. "Plus, the last three years I've been hurt; this is the first time I have really been healthy here."
Peebles has moved to fifth in the standings.
Another cowboy got his first round win in the team roping: Charley Crawford has been to Vegas seven times but finally took his first victory lap Friday night.
"I've made 62 runs here, and this is my first round win," he said. "I went as slow as I could [during the victory lap], to just soak it all up. I'm 35 years old, and have roped the Cowboy Toy a million times and dreamt of a lap here. This is cool."
Crawford ropes with Ryan Motes and the guys had to share the win with Erich Rogers and Cory Petska. Both teams stopped the clock at 4.5 seconds.
"These steers are great," said Motes. "They're big and strong, and they have big horns. They're a lot different than the steers we've roped the last few years. They're not quite as fast handling as the steers we've roped the last few years, so I expect the times to be a little longer."
For Rogers and Petska, the win boosted their title hopes. They came to Vegas ranked fourth and have jumped to second, just a bit over $10,000 behind leaders Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill.
"This is my third NFR and I've won three rounds," said Rogers. "Scared money don't make money, they say. That's my blackjack motto. If you're scared to bet it, you ain't going to make it. You have to go for it."
"Erich gives me a great handle every time," said Petska, who is riding a horse trained by World Champion Header Nick Sartain. "He knows what I need to catch, and makes it easy on me. I couldn't ask for a better partner."
As for the leaders, Corkill suffered a serious injury on opening night, crushing his left hand in the coils and severely cutting several fingers. Roping with the hand bandaged, he and Tryan were 5.1 to win sixth in the go.
Steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge also took his first career round win here at the WNFR on Friday night but he didn't wait as long as Peebles and Crawford. He grabbed his in his second night in Vegas.
"It's awesome," the WNFR rookie said. He shared second on opening night before his 4.2 second round win. "I always wanted one of those buckles. I wanted to get it out of the way early and it feels awesome."
Eldridge was two tenths ahead of reigning champ Luke Branquinho and had been practicing with the champ prior to coming to Vegas.
"He just said you have to get a good start and ride a great horse," said Eldridge who has climbed to fourth in the standings after eking in to Vegas in 15th; he hopes to be the third cowboy to streak from 15th to first at the WNFR following Allen Bach and Cody Hancock. The standings leader for 24 hours, Trevor Knowles, held his lead despite some trouble in Round 2.
"This was a strong set of steers and I just wanted to get a good start," said Eldridge. "I knew that steer was pretty good and I just had to keep his head down and be strong with him and he was good."
Like the steer wrestling, the saddle bronc title race was blown wide open on Friday night as all three Wright brothers--who were ranked 1-2-3 coming into the night--were bucked off early in the eliminator pen. In fact, only six cowboys made eight.
On top of the field was 2006 World Champ Chad Ferley. Ferley stuck a ride on Top Off from Frontier Rodeo for 87.5 points. He edged Cort Scheer by half a point.
"It's a great feeling [to win a round]," said Ferley. "It's been awhile."
Originally scheduled to ride right near the end of the night, Ferley actually rode early in the round.
"They messed up the load order so I went near the beginning," he laughed. "That's not a bad deal in the eliminator pen because you don't have to watch."
It was a wild night, with cowboys being dumped hard to the dirt. Texas cowboy Sterling Crawley wowed the crowd when his bronc Cimmaron Jack from Beutler & Son Rodeo threw him high in the air, completing several somersaults before hitting the ground.
With the win, Ferley moves to second in the standings, trailing leader Cody Wright by about $13,000 while Scheer has moved to third. Scheer is first in the average while Ferley is second and both cowboys have a horse up on their closest rivals in the standings. But the eliminator pen will be back later in the week.
In the tie down roping, the WNFR rookies are stealing all the headlines thus far. After three WNFR rookies placed on opening night, Randall Carlisle--the only rookie not to win a check in Round 1--stole the thunder from true rookie Caleb Smidt with a 6.8 second run to win the round. Smidt had been leading with his 7.0 until Carlisle roped.
"I was relaxed, the big crowd doesn't bother me," he said of the huge win, a time that was the arena record here for many years. "It's a blessing to me and I've had a lot of support on my way in."
"I don't really show any emotion, but tying one in six [seconds], I had to smile. It was pretty good and I was excited."
Shane Hanchey placed for the second night to move to second in the standings while leader Tuf Cooper cracked his first check with a split of fifth. His lead has grown to $40,000.
Round 3 begins at 6:45 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday night, December 7. 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.
Other Round 2 Notes:
Justin Sportsmedicine: Steer wrestler Hunter Cure sprained his left elbow but will continue to compete with follow up after the WNFR. Thirty-three athletes received treatment before and during Round 2.
All Around: Trevor Brazile failed to cash any money on Friday night but is still better than $120,000 up on Tuf Cooper.
Ram Truck Top Gun Award Leaders: 1/2. Sherry Cervi, Shane Proctor, $37,259.62 each; 3. Dakota Eldridge, $31,550.48; 4. Shane Hanchey, $26,442.31; and 5. Cort Scheer, $25,841.35.