LAS VEGAS â€“ Barrel racer Carlee Pierce has made more money in Las Vegas during her two previous qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
She never had a better 10 days.
On Saturday night, the Edmond, Okla., cowgirl raced around the cloverleaf pattern in 13.97 seconds to place third in the 10th go-round, adding $11,340 to her payroll. More importantly, she held on to sixth in the average with a cumulative time of 151.61 seconds, which paid her another $12,000. She finished the NFR with $63,750.
â€śThat is the first time I have ever won an average check,â€ť said Pierce, who rode all 10 nights on Streakin Easy April, a 6-year-old sorrel mare she calls Lolo. â€śI had no expectations this year because my horses were so young, so Iâ€™m beyond tickled to have such a good finals.â€ť
The talented tandem placed in six go-rounds. Pierce finished the season with $154,181, sixth in the world standings.
â€śIâ€™m very excited about the future with Lolo,â€ť she said. â€śI knew she had the ability, but she proved to me this week that sheâ€™s ready. Thatâ€™s awesome.â€ť
LAS VEGAS â€“ The Nevada desert was a pretty good home for bareback rider Richmond Champion.
Over 10 days, Champion rode bucking horses to the tune of $108,140, pushing his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season earnings to nearly $200,000. He placed six of the last seven go-rounds at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, including two round wins. He also finished second in the average, scoring a cumulative total of 814.5 points.
The biggest accolade, though, came in the form of a third-place finish in the year-end standings, being crowned the third best bareback rider behind to the hottest man in the game, four-time reigning gold buckle winner Kaycee Field.
â€śItâ€™s nuts,â€ť said Champion, who earned $1.3 million this season riding bareback horses, all but $200,000 of which came from winning the title at a non-PRCA event, The American. â€śI was just sitting in the locker room trying to wrap my head around this whole deal. Everybody was congratulating me, but I couldnâ€™t tell you what I did yesterday. This weekâ€™s gone by so fast.
â€śAll of the sudden, you blink your eyes, and youâ€™re here; blink your eyes again, and youâ€™re leaving. I never wouldâ€™ve imagined it would go like this.â€ť
Only Feild earned more money than Champion among bareback riders. Thatâ€™s quite a statement to the NFR rookie. He finished with a bang, too, riding Pickett Pro Rodeoâ€™s Scarlet Fever for 85 points to finish in a three-way tie for third place in the 10th round.
â€śI think I had my ups and downs, but toward the end, I think I made up for it,â€ť said Champion, of The Woodlands, Texas. â€śIt wouldnâ€™t hurt my feelings one bit to make a drive over to Las Vegas again next year. Iâ€™m going to take a few days and re-access what I want to do, but obviously next year Iâ€™m going to go after that gold buckle. Thatâ€™s my No. 1 goal.â€ť
Thatâ€™s a pretty good one to have. Champion came closer to catching Feild than anyone else, so his goals need to be pretty high.
LAS VEGAS â€“ It didnâ€™t take steer wrestler Kyle Irwin long to reflect on his 2014 season.
Just moments after making his final run at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Saturday, the Robertsdale, Ala., cowboy knew heâ€™d lived a magical season, including $88,000 earned over 10 December nights in Sin City.
â€śIt was everything I have ever dreamed of and everything I thought it would be and more,â€ť said Irwin, 24, who attended Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships. â€śIt was a great experience, and it did something for me nothing else could have: Itâ€™s got me wanting to get back here.â€ť
He should. The NFR is the sportâ€™s grand finale, and only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to play for the biggest pay in the game. Irwin finished the campaign with $147,699, second in the world standings in a field that included many Las Vegas regulars. It was an outstanding performance for a first-time cowboy.
He placed in six go-rounds and earned at least a share of the go-round win on three nights â€“ he split the second and eighth rounds and won the third outright. His cumulative time of 60.7 seconds on 10 runs was fourth best.
What did he learn most from his experience?
â€śWinning and losing, if that makes sense,â€ť Irwin said. â€śI knew I had the talent and the capability, but once you put yourself in this situation with 14 of the best, you test yourself. I knew I could do it and believe in myself, but itâ€™s still a test.
â€śLosing is going to help me mature. Iâ€™m not going to say if I didnâ€™t make a few of the mistakes I made this week I wouldâ€™ve been the world champ, because Luke was tough this week, but it wouldâ€™ve made things a little more interesting. It gives me a little more humbling experience to go home and work on some things and do a little fine-tuning for when we come back.â€ť
He plans to return, but he proved over the season why he earned the right to compete among steer wrestlingâ€™s elite.
â€śThis is big for my family,â€ť he said. â€śMy family and my hometown was already behind me, but now we just took it to another level. It was great to share this experience with my family and my friends.
â€śIâ€™m honored to get to do that again and already look forward to doing it again next year.â€ť