Wade Sundell’s time might have finally arrived. The red-hot saddle bronc rider has been close to winning a world championship the last several years, and put himself back in serious contention by winning again at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center Monday night.
Sundell took Round 5 – he also won Round 3 – and moved to third in the world standings, less than a round win behind leader Cody Wright. It was Wright who beat Sundell for the world title in 2010, with the competition coming down to Round 10 at the WNFR.
“It’s always in your grasp if you ride well enough and keep capitalizing each round,” Sundell said. “I’ve always wanted to win the TV pen, and it finally worked out tonight. That makes a guy feel pretty good about himself.”
The crowd of 17,418 watched Sundell ride Burch Rodeo’s Lunatic Fringe for 87.5 points. That was two points better than Cody Wright and Jake Wright, who tied for second.
For Sundell, his ride was especially satisfying, and gained a measure of payback for the 28-year-old from Boxholm, Iowa.
“When I found out I had drawn that horse, I was wound up tighter than an eight-day clock,” said the happy-go-lucky Sundell. “I wanted him because last year in the 10th round I missed him out and didn’t get a score on him. I darn sure wasn’t going to let that happen again. That’s a great horse and I’m always happy to have him.
“Lunatic Fringe kicks so hard and is so flashy and showy that he gives you the opportunity to do what you need to do to win. It’s one of the greatest horses there is, and everybody loves to have a horse like that.
“I was so excited I threw my hat, and I’m still excited enough to throw it again.”
So how confident is Sundell, who’s won $52,985 and is fourth in the average halfway through the 10-day event?
“I feel good and I feel like it doesn’t matter what they run underneath me at this point,” he said. “I feel like I can win on anything I draw.”
He’s been close to winning a gold buckle several times. He was eighth in the world in 2009, second in 2010, third in 2011 and fourth last year. He was second in the average in 2010 and third in 2012.
Cody Ohl knows all about making a run at the Finals. The 40-year-old tie-down roper from Hico, Texas, won his event and took over the world standings lead from two-time defending champion Tuf Cooper. Ohl has won $53,936 in five days while Cooper has struggled so far, with just $6,911 in earnings. Ohl has a lead of $6,804 over Cooper in the world standings.
“The last few times I’ve been on a horse, I’ve won (including at the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb.),” Ohl said. “I feel pretty good right now.”
Ohl is seventh in the average, one spot ahead of Cooper, after breaking the barrier in Round 2 and taking a 10-second penalty.
“I stubbed my toe in the second round,” Ohl said. “I knew it was the right start and it just didn’t work. I’ve taken that start three more times and won first with it. I got the start figured out and I’m just going to keep coming with it.”
Ohl has five tie-down roping world titles (1997-98, 2001, 2003, 2006) and one all-around crown (2001). He said getting a fast start at the Finals is nothing new, although this year has been especially good.
“It always goes like this for me,” he said, but “the ninth round has cost me two or three times in the last few years. I was still having to press come the ninth round instead of being a little more confident and being able to take another swing. Hopefully, when we get to the ninth round this year, I’ve found my groove and I can prepare and set my run up a little more.”
Ohl has 50 National Finals round wins in his career, 47 in tie-down roping and three in steer roping (at the National Finals Steer Roping). Trevor Brazile has the record with 54 round wins.
Saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer – the uncle of 2013 Linderman Award winner Trell Etbauer – has the record for round wins in one event, with 51.
Claiming his first round win was bull rider Trey Benton III, who is competing despite a broken leg. He placed in two rounds last year in his first Finals while finishing ninth in the world.
The 2012 PRCA Resistol Bull Riding Rookie of the Year rode for 90.5 points on Andrews Rodeo’s Gin and Juice, which had only been ridden once in 55 previous outs. That was by Benton’s good friend, Reid Barker, who earned 85 points on the bull in May 2013.
“I’m not a guy who looks at stats,” Benton said. “A bull can have a good or bad day just like we can, so I don’t think there’s a need to go look at what a bull has done in the past. I just show up and ride them. When you’re at this level, you learn to ride bulls any kind of way and it doesn’t help to think about what the bull is going to do.”
He said Gin and Juice lived up to his reputation.
“He’s moving the whole time,” Benton said. “Most bulls spin or move, but he spins and moves at the same time, which makes it difficult. Now that I’ve ridden a bull like that, I’m ready to roll and I feel like the rodeo has now begun for me.”
Benton broke his leg at the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash., in early September.
“It’s hurting pretty bad, and I haven’t been able to move real well or run since my surgery,” he said. “It’s been three months since I broke my femur and it’s about halfway healed. It bothers me during the day, but hey, it’s just one of those deals as a cowboy. You have to step up and get through it.”
Winning the round after only riding one of his first four bulls at the Finals totally changed his outlook.
“Honestly, words can’t describe it,” Benton said. “I had a bad year here last year, and I started off this time just as bad, so I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can go back to riding the way I know I can.”
Also riding hurt is bareback rider Casey Colletti, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in Round 3. He shared the Round 5 win with Bobby Mote, who also scored 87.5 points on his re-ride.
“This was huge for me,” Colletti said. “I’ve had a rough week. The horses I’ve drawn aren’t having their best days. And last night I had the no-score, which is disheartening because there’s so much money if you win the average. Now I just have to go round to round and see how I do. Even though you have a bad day, it’s still great to be here. It gets damn tough when you’re fighting an injury and your horses don’t do as well as you want, but it can all change in eight seconds like it did for me tonight.”
His knee also feels better, Colletti said.
“It feels about 75 percent better tonight, but it still hurts,” Colletti said. “I’ve been icing it and having laser therapy and Justin Sportsmedicine Team is taping it every night. I hurt it in Round 3 on Full Baggage, right at the buzzer when it got twisted. In Round 4 I had to get on two. The first one posted me on the gate and hit my knee. I got a re-ride and got bucked off right before the buzzer.”
Colletti rode Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Flight while Mote was aboard Andrews Rodeo’s PTSD Power Play, a horse he rode to victory at the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Amarillo, Texas, on Sept. 18.
“I was glad to get a second chance and pretty excited to draw him for the re-ride,” Mote said. “He’s a horse with excellent timing. He jumps high, kicks great and is real showy. He stayed in one spot for a couple of seconds, which was great.”
Colletti and Mote each collected $16,677 for the shared win, enough for Mote to regain the world standings lead. He has $153,982, which is $4,360 more than two-time defending champ Kaycee Feild.
Mote has won almost $28,000 in five days at the Finals, but feels he’s ready to do better.
“I feel like I’ve been riding good and doing my job,” Mote said. “I was fighting the flu the first three days; I’ve had that since about Thanksgiving. I finally felt good the last two days. It’s nice to get a little momentum now. A lot can change in the second half (of the rodeo) with a lot of money to win.”
His 10-year-old daughter, Laura, even predicted his win Monday and an appearance at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa for Monday night’s buckle presentation.
“We were at the South Point earlier today and Laura told them we’d be here twice today,” he said. “The lady didn’t catch what she meant, but I sure did. She was just right up front about me winning tonight.”
Hunter Cure was first up in the steer wrestling and his 4.1-second run held up as he edged Luke Branquinho and Jule Hazen, who were clocked in 4.2.
“It seemed like an eternity,” Cure said. “It seemed like the bulldoggers would never stop coming. I felt like my steer didn’t run as hard as some and I thought there was certainly a chance to place, but winning the round was really not in my thoughts. This feels good.”
He’s eighth in the average, after a 12.3-second run in Round 4.
“I have to go and be aggressive the rest of the week to play a little catch-up in the average,” he said.
Cure is fourth in the world standings, little more than a round win behind leader Casey Martin.
Team ropers Charly Crawford and Ryan Motes grabbed their second round win of the week, with a 5.8-second run, three-tenths ahead of Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, the world standings leaders.
Motes was styling with a pink beard that had glitter in it – courtesy of his mom, Danny Motes – to honor Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night. It was Motes’ first outright round win, in his third WNFR, though he’s won a share of a round four previous times.
“This is cool,” Motes said. “Every other time I’ve been here I’ve split ‘em.”
The winning time was slower than usual, and eight of the teams had no time.
“The one run I thought we’d get beat up on … they left us alone tonight for some strange reason,” Motes said. “The steers are big, the horns are big and their feet are wide, so the degree of difficulty is pretty high. When a round gets tapped off, it can go the other way. A lot of things happen fast here, and there are so many variables that can go wrong. If you lay off and go to just trying to knock ‘em down, things can go south fast. This is a very hard place to just go catch.”
Crawford had praise for his partner, and agreed that it was a weird night for team roping.
“The team roping was hard tonight, and it shouldn’t have been,” he said. “It was just one of those nights where it seems like it’s contagious. Ryan pulled off a great shot and cleaned up the mess I made. We’ll take it.”
Lisa Lockhart won the barrel racing in 13.72 seconds, edging defending World Champion Mary Walker by one-hundreth of a second. Lockhart, in her seventh WNFR, is second in the average despite what she termed a slow start for her at the Finals.
“Last year I started out slowly, too, so I finally decided that I just needed to persevere and things would turn around,” she said. “And now they have.”
Trevor Brazile was poised to claim the all-around world championship, but will have to wait another day. He was in second place, set to earn enough money to clinch the title, but his brother-in-law, Clif Cooper, tied him for second place with a time of 7.4 seconds. So Brazile should officially earn his record-setting 19th gold buckle Tuesday.
Barrel racer Sherry Cervi leads the Ram Truck Top Gun Award standings with $62,600. Ohl is next with $53,936, followed closely by Sundell ($52,985), bull rider J.W. Harris ($52,284) and saddle bronc rider Jake Wright ($50,180).