Whether you are superstitious or not, some weird things were happening inside the Thomas & Mack Arena during Round 9 of the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) on Friday the 13th of December. One cowboy who did not fall victim was bull rider J.W. Harris who clinched his fourth World Championship after splitting the go round win with Trevor Kastner.
Harris rode Little Shyster of Wild Card Rodeo while Kastner had Fire Show from D&H Cattle Company. Both men posted 87.5 point rides. Harris, who rode his sixth bull of this finals, can finish no lower than second in the average which mathematically eliminated reigning champion Cody Teel from contention. Teel had made a run, winning Rounds 7-8 to lead the average.
This is Harris' fourth gold buckle and first since 2010. He was second to Teel a year ago by just over $1,000.
"I set out to win the gold buckle this year, and then to accomplish it feels pretty good," said Harris, who has won $214,067 this year including $83,684 at the WNFR. "This title feels better because there have been a lot of people out there saying I was too old to win another world title and that I was done. I don't feel like I'm too old for anything, and I think I have 10 more years left in me."
"Man, it's been long overdue to say that I'm the four-time world champion," Harris said. "It should've been six in a row, but that's neither here nor there."
"I'm not going to set a number, because I don't want to sell myself short," he said of how many titles he believes he can win. "I know I want to beat Donnie (Gay's) record of eight, so that's the goal, but I won't put a number on how many titles I want or how many more years I'm going to ride."
Kastner took his second victory lap of this WNFR, after winning Round 6. He has won $48,227 this week.
"The win tonight was more fun than the first win I had, because the bull bucked harder and jumped higher in the air. It was awesome to split the round with the guy who won the world, and I'm happy for J.W."
Teel picked up his sixth check of the week. He has 575 points points on seven of nine bulls ridden. He has won $72,115 at the WNFR.
Meanwhile, Friday the 13th at the rodeo struck a couple of cowboys who looked well on their way to World titles.
Cody Ohl had won $85,487 through eight rounds after tying four calves in under seven seconds. Leading the World standings with $180,430 won, Ohl seemed set to roll to his sixth tie down roping title. Then, disaster. His Round 9 calf barely broke the neck rope, walking down the arena. Ohl was unable to pull up, breaking the barrier, then roping the calf by the ears. Being forced to wait until the rope fell off before roping with his second loop, Ohl stopped the clock at 29.5, dropping him to ninth in the average, one out of the money placings.
Average leader Shane Hanchey had already posted a 7.4 second run and the time held up to win Round 9. Adding another $18,630 to his total WNFR haul of $86,989, Hanchey moved to within $20,534 of Ohl in the standings. With the average win paying $47,776, this race is firmly in Hanchey's court.
"I had a good calf. I've been drawing good all week," said Hanchey. "The draw is part of our game. The calf kind of turned his head when I nodded and the good Lord and my grandma and everybody else was watching over that and I don't know how I got out. Once I roped her it was just in slow motion. To be honest with you it hasn't even sunk in yet, but we have one more calf no matter what and that's all it comes down to."
Hanchey maintained his average lead, roping nine calves in 71.7 seconds, 2.7 seconds ahead of Trevor Brazile. All three of the top cowboys in the average, Hanchey, Brazile and Scott Kormos, are on course to break Fred Whitfield's record for the fastest ten head average. Whitfield set the bar at 84.0 seconds back in 1997.
Brazile has the best chance to upset Hanchey's world title hopes if the Louisiana cowboy stumbles. Ranked second in the average, he is just $10,000 behind in the standings.
"At the end of the day it's another calf and you have to assume that LeBron [James] would hit these two free-thorws to clinch Game 7. You have to assume Peyton [Manning] is going to throw that game-winning touchdown on 4th-and-goal," said Hanchey. "I'm really just staying focused and staying grounded as much as I can. This week has just been a total blessing and it's not over. Anything can happen, we have seen that tonight. I will know what I will have to do Saturday. I just need to score good and get the neck and let everything take care of itself."
In the saddle bronc riding, Jake Wright seemed poised to join brothers Cody and Jesse with gold buckles after winning his fourth round of this WNFR in Round 8. But on Friday the 13th, Wright stumbled, missing the mark out on Total Equine Angel Fire. With a no score, he fell from third in the average to sixth, damaging his World title hopes.
He leads brother Cody in the World standings by less than $3,000 after Cody won his first go round of the WNFR. The Wrights have now won six of nine rounds in 2013. The eldest Wright scored 81 points on Vitalix Sacred Sacrifice from the Cervi Brothers Rodeo Company.
"It feels good to win because it's been a slow week and I've had chances and haven't done my part," said the two-time champion. "I've drawn good horses and I haven't been riding very well. I tried to straightened it out throughout the week, and to do well in this pen of horses is nice. It's frustrating because I've had a lot of these horses and won on them this season, but I've been slipping. I'm going to try to finish as strong as I can here."
Jacobs Crawley leads Cort Scheer in the average by five points. Both have an outside shot at the world title but Chad Ferley, the 2006 World Champ, probably has the best chance to unseat Wright.
Ferley was fourth in Round 9 and has won $58,894 at the WNFR. He is third in the average, a horse up on Jake Wright. If the rodeo ended tonight, Ferley would finish $6,061 ahead of Wright but there is still $18,630 available in the final go round.
Wright's luck on Friday the 13th changed when the judges drew the big splashy paint Lunatic Fringe from Burch Rodeo for him in Round 10. This was the horse Wade Sundell previously won a round on this week with 87.5 points. Ferley has Smith Harper Morgan's Painted Feather; Scheer was 81.5 on the bronc in Round 5. If nothing changes in the average, Wright will need to place high in the round with Ferley at least a couple spots lower to clinch his first World Championship.
"I'm happy for Jake that he came here and put himself in a position to win the world title," said Cody. "I know how hard Jake and Jesse work at it and how much they want to win; just as bad as I do. It makes me smile all over to see Jake do well after Jesse did last year. If I can't win it all, it would feel awesome to see Jake do it. The same feeling I had last year watching Jesse. I rodeoed a long time before I could ever get close to a world title, and those two have come in and accomplished so much so far. I'm happy for them and hope they keep working hard."
Two contestants who kept marching to their World titles during Round 9 were bareback rider Kaycee Feild and Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) barrel racer Sherry Cervi.
Feild did not place in Round 9 but held onto his average lead. He has 740 points on nine horses, five more than Steven Peebles. His lead in the World standings is $24,000 over Bobby Mote and $31,119 ahead of Ryan Gray, who won the round with 85.5 points on Smack Daddy from J Bar J. Casey Colletti won Round 6 on the same horse.
"I''ve been winning checks, but missed out last night, so that was disappointing," said Gray. "With five checks and getting second in the fourth round and third in the seventh, I can't complain. I feel like I've been riding as good as I have all year. I've stayed consistent. I missed the Finals last year, so I was really motivated to get back here, and it's been great."
"That money will go a long way in the diaper world," laughed Gray, who's wife Lacy is expecting their first child around the first of January.
Feild is hoping to become just the second bareback rider to win at least three consecutive titles, joining Joe Alexander who actually won five straight. He is also hoping to tie Jack Ward Jr. with three straight average titles; there is a chance for Peebles to pass him on the final night as Peebles has drawn Street Dance from the Kesler's. The horse was voted third for the bareback horse of the year and appears to be a bit stronger draw than Fancy Free, the horse Feild will ride in Round 10.
The WPRA's all-time money winner, Cervi is chasing more history at this WNFR. She is in command for her fourth World title with $250,315; only three other cowgirls have won at least four titles: Charmayne James, Billie McBride and Kristie Peterson.
Cervi has won $103,315 at the WNFR, on pace to break Mary Walker's year-old record for WNFR earnings in the barrel race as the average leader after Round 9. She needs to clock in at just 14.25 or better to break Jill Moody's record for the average, 138.26 set in 2010; her slowest run aboard her great mare Stingray has been a 13.87, back in Round 3.
Finally, Cervi has won money in all nine rounds thus far. If she can do the same in Round 10, she will become just the sixth barrel racer in history--and first since Peterson in 1997--to place in all ten rounds at the WNFR.
Cervi is leading for the Ram Truck Top Gun Award given to the high money winner in a single event. Jake Wright is second, nearly $16,000 back. Shane Hanchey is third, $1,000 behind Wright.
Lisa Lockhart picked up the round win with her fast 13.65 seconds on her gelding Louie. The duo has averaged nearly $100,000 a year at the WNFR and collected their second round win in 2013. Lockhart has won $52,885 this week.
"We just had a good night," said Lockhart. "After hitting that barrel last night I had to get a little gritty and make it work tonight."
"I was really disappointed with that last night and actually it got a bit close on the first one again tonight," said Lockhart, who knocked over the first barrel in Round 8, dropping her from second to fourth in the average. "But tonight it worked and last night it didn't. At this point of the game we all have to think about every step of every run and where we are in that average. I was really happy to come out on top tonight because all of my family was here and they weren't on Monday. It means a lot having the kids here to see me win."
Reigning champ Mary Walker won second in the round, pushing her season earnings to $206,526. The barrel racing is the only event with two competitors over $200,000 in season earnings.
The team roping was won by the second ranked team of Kaleb Driggers and Travis Graves. They posted the fastest time of the week at 3.6 seconds, six tenths ahead of Turtle Powell and Dugan Kelly.
"We had a rough go at the beginning of the week. We decided to turn it on and let it all hang out tonight, and luckily it worked out for us," said Driggers. "The round was looking like it was going to be easy, but ended up being tough. We needed to win some round money. I was just going to rope that steer when he'd let me. It turned out it was fast enough."
"It's good to finally get a win this week. Hopefully we'll get another one tomorrow night," said Graves. "Kaleb did a great job tonight. He had it on him so fast, which he does all the time, and it allowed me to do my job a lot easier. He roped him quick and handled him good. That makes it pretty easy on me."
World leaders Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill roped a leg, leaving them out of the money and sixth in the average. They hold a slim advantage to win their second world championships but will have to hold off Brady and Riley Minor, who are second in the average, and average leaders Luke Brown and Kollin VonAhn. The latter are the only team to rope all nine steers. Both teams will need to maintain their average position and place well ahead of Tryan and Corkill in Round 10 in order to win the titles.
WNFR rookie Stan Branco won his first go round with a smoking run of 3.5 seconds in the steer wrestling.
"I have been dreaming of winning a round at the NFR since I was a little kid. I'm just glad to achieve one of the goals I have set for myself."
"It has been fun," he said of his first Finals. "I have been here and watched a lot. The first year I was 16th  I came here for 10 nights with a buddy of mine and we sold boots. I didn't like that too much, so I'm glad I'm actually competing here."
The title race is a toss-up with four guys having a chance to win it. The advantage has to go to two-time champion Dean Gorsuch who is second in the average and fifth in the world. Gorsuch is just $15,273 behind leader Matt Reeves. Reeves is sixth in the average and still has a chance to collect his first title if he can win some round money and maybe jump up in the average.
Average leader Bray Armes is also in the conversation. He won second in Round 9 and holds a 3.3 second lead over Gorsuch. He is eighth in the standings, trailing Reeves by $32,871 so he needs some help. Hunter Cure has placed in six rounds to give himself a chance as well; he is second in the standings and fourth in the average.
Round 10 begins at 6:45 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday night, December 14. It is Wrangler National Patriot Night and the final night of the 2013 season.
Round 1 recap
Round 2 recap
Round 3 recap
Round 4 recap
Round 5 recap
Round 6 recap
Round 7 recap
Round 8 recap
Other Round 9 Notes:
Ram Truck Top Gun Award: Sherry Cervi is inching closer to sewing up the truck given to the winner of the Ram Truck Top Gun Award. She has won $103,315. Jake Wright is second with $87,439 while Shane Hanchey is third at $86,989. Twenty contestants have won at least $55,000 at this WNFR.
$5 million? Trevor Brazile placed fifth in the tie down roping Round 9, earning $4,808 for the night. He is just $34,239 away from earning $5 million in his career. He is seventh in the team roping average and second in the tie down roping; if those placings hold, that's another $46,876 plus he has two go rounds left to rope.
The next millionaire in rodeo is Steve Woolsey. With a third place finish in Round 9, the bull rider surpassed $1 million in career earnings. He is the 119th PRCA cowboy to reach this milestone and second of this WNFR following tie down roper Scott Kormos two nights back.
Round 9 was down one contestant. WNFR rookie bareback rider Austin Foss was forced to retire from competition after suffering a nerve stretch in his free arm. Foss was second in the average before bucking off in Round 8, further injuring himself.