If the pro rodeo regular season was a horse race, this would be the top of the stretch. Just six weeks remain before the September 30, 2014 cut-off date for this year and cowboys and cowgirls are racing to earn needed dollars in the World standings. Only the top 15 in each pro rodeo event -- bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, team roping, tie down roping, steer wrestling (all sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) barrel racing -- will qualify to compete in December in Las Vegas at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), the richest event in the sport.
Battles are brewing at both ends of the top 15 in every event. Cowboys are chasing dollars as they try to position themselves for a world championship run while others are scrapping for every dollar and hoping to earn enough just to get to play in Vegas.
There are still plenty of opportunities for guys on both sides of that equation with lucrative rodeos looming in San Juan Capistrano (CA), Ellensburg (WA), Puyallup (WA), Pendleton (OR) and Omaha (NE) to name a few.
New in 2014 is the addition of the Wrangler Champions Challenge events and these will certainly play a big role in who's in Las Vegas in December. There are three WCC events left on the schedule: Kennewick (WA) Aug. 19, Amarillo (TX) Sept. 17 and Omaha Sept. 27. Paying $16,000 per event, and inviting only ten competitors, these events present huge opportunities to those cowboys and cowgirls who are qualified to compete but put the rest of the field at a disadvantage. Each event takes the top seven from the final 2013 World standings (competitors had to agree to compete at all seven events), the current World standings leader, the current Wrangler Million Dollar Tour leader and the winner of the hosting committees rodeo.
With all this in mind, here are our picks for who to watch -- for World title races and to bust the bubble and make the WNFR -- as the season winds down.