Junior Nogueira wins All-Around title at National Finals Rodeo
By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
It’s been a long journey for Junior Nogueira.
And certainly, it’s nowhere near over, but Saturday, it hit a high point as Nogueira became the All-Around winner, jumping from fourth place to first on the final night of the National Finals Rodeo.
Nogueira, 26, whose father was a tie-down roper and his mother a break-away roper and header, became the first Brazilian to win a gold buckle.
“It means a lot for me,” Nogueira said. “I just want to win to share with my family. In this town, everything’s possible through God. … I thought it was impossible, too. We didn’t have an amazing finals. I thought I didn’t (win it) but they say we won it, I won it.”
Nogueira finished the year at $231,728.33, barely edging out Clayton Hass who placed second at $228,107.76.
Nogueira was able to clinch the title on the final night thanks to a sixth-place finish in the last go-round and fourth in the aggregate standings. Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza, who were ahead of him entering the day, took a no-time, dropping them to ninth in the aggregate standings.
Though the standings fluxuated throughout the week, Nogueira tried to resist the urge to check them out.
“That’s the worst thing you can do. You have to do your job,” Nogueira said. “It’s hard when you start thinking about ‘Oh, he’s doing good.’ (Then) you’re not taking care of your own business.”
But in the end, Nogueira did take care of his own business.
Nogueira, who started roping with world champion Jake Barnes after arriving in the U.S., immediately caught people’s attention.
The pair formed a close bond and roped together in 2014 and 2015 before an accident knocked Barnes out of last year’s NFR, leading Nogueira to rope with JoJo Lemond in the competition where they fell just short of a gold buckle.
Nogueira was planning on touching base with Barnes shortly after his victory.
“He’ll say ‘You got lucky,’” Nogueira said with a laugh. “It is true.”
But of course, Nogueira’s path to a gold buckle involved more than just luck.
It also involved hard work, injuries and the loss of his grandfather.
“He taught me how to be a cowboy and he pretty much raised me,” Nogueira said. “I couldn’t see him and he passed away. … He was like my dad. … I wasn’t really focused because that happened in my life.”
But Saturday, Nogueira was all smiles, with hardship from his journey ending up in the culmination of a dream.
“God is great. Everything ended up being good,” Nogueira said. “You need to be thankful for what we’ve got. That’s what Jake said.”
Late comebacks make for close event finishes on final night of National Finals Rodeo
Tim O'Connell competes during the bareback riding competition on the final night of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2016. (Miranda Alam/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @miranda_alam
By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
The final go-round provided plenty of late comebacks as the 10-day National Finals Rodeo wrapped up at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night.
Here’s a look at the winners:
CHAMPION: Junior Nogueira
Nogueira, who entered the NFR in first place, edged back into first on the last night, jumping over Dustin Bird, Clayton Hass and Russell Cardoza.
Nogueira and his partner, Kaleb Driggers, finished sixth on Saturday and fourth in the aggregate standings to push him over the edge.
TOP THREE: 1. Junior Nogueira, $231,728.33; 2. Clayton Hass, at $228,107.76 3; Clay Smith at $215,923.94
WORLD CHAMPION: Tim O’Connell
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Tim O’Connell
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: R.C. Landingham
O’Connell has been steadily rising to the top since finishing as the Rookie of the Year in 2013. In 2014, he moved up to eighth place and last year, fourth.
On Saturday, he became a world champion, sealing his first gold buckle while also taking first in the aggregate standings.
“It puts my mark down that this was my year, and I didn’t leave any doubt about it,” he said. “But that takes nothing away from those other 14 bareback riders because this is the best group of bareback riders that has ever hit this building.
WORLD CHAMPION: Tyler Waguespack
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Tyler Waguespack
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: J.D. Struxness
Like O’Connell, Waguespack became a first-time gold buckle winner on Saturday, capping a successful second NFR.
“This is something I’ve worked for since I was a little kid. Every day when I came home from school, my dad and I got in the practice pen, and all the long hours and all the years of practice finally did pay off,” Waguespack said.
WORLD CHAMPION: Levi Simpson, Jeremy Buhler
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Levi Simpson, Jeremy Buhler
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Zac Small/Wesley Thorp and Levi Simpson/Jeremy Buhler
Simpson and Buhler were the first all-Canadian roping team coming into this year’s NFR.
Now they’re the first all-Canadian roping team to leave Las Vegas with a gold buckle.
The pair made up significant ground over the 10 days, overtaking leaders Luke Brown and Jake Long on the last night of competition.
“We knew there was a mathematical chance, but with the guys roping behind us, we figured we’d win some money and that was it,” Simpson said. “Then we won the average and I was jumping for joy.”
SADDLE BRONC RIDING
WORLD CHAMPION: Zeke Thurston
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Zeke Thurston
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Cody Wright
Thurston, a 22-year-old, notched a come-from-behind victory on Saturday, overtaking world leader Jacobs Crawley on the last day.
Thurston finished first in the aggregate standings, while Crawley finished in a tie for fifth, allowing Thurston to edge him out by $2831.39 to take the gold buckle.
WORLD CHAMPION: Tyson Durfey
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Riley Pruitt
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Caleb Smidt
Durfey won out in another tight, exciting battle, overtaking leader Marcos Costa on the final night.
Only $6,872.52 separated Durfey from third-place finisher Hunter Herrin.
Durfey, meanwhile, came into the competition in 14th and jumped all the way to first.
WORLD CHAMPION: Mary Burger
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Lisa Lockhart
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER:
Burger, the oldest NFR qualifier at 68, held down the big lead she came in with, winning the gold buckle on Saturday.
Amberleigh Moore, who finished second in the aggregate standings, challenged her over the 10 days and finished just $10,793.24 behind her but Burger’s sizable lead helped her take first.
WORLD CHAMPION: Sage Kimzey
NFR AGGREGATE WINNER: Shane Proctor
10TH GO-ROUND WINNER: Garrett Smith
Kimzey couldn’t have started his career in a much better way, finishing his third season with his third gold buckle.
Kimzey came in with the lead and held off strong NFR performances from Proctor and Brennon Eldred, who both bucked off on Saturday.
Young Ryder Wright already excelling in family business
By PATRICK EVERSON
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Ryder Wright is having a week for the ages at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Which is pretty compelling for someone who doesn’t have a whole lot of age to him.
At just 18 years old, and just six months out of Milford High School up in Utah, the saddle bronc rider has done something no other Wrangler NFR rookie has ever done, in any event: win five go-rounds. The fifth victory came Friday night, in the ninth of ten go-rounds at the Thomas &Mack Center. Wright put up a score of 88.5 points aboard Vitalix Alpha Dog, three points better than his uncle, Jesse Wright, who took second at 85.5.
In fact, the Wright family filled up most of the six paying positions in the go-round. Ryder’s dad, Cody, scored 83.5 to take fourth, and CoBurn Bradshaw — married to Cody’s sister Rebecca — split fifth place.
But Ryder was again all the rage. The unassuming teenager busted onto the NFR scene by winning the first four go-rounds. He then no-scored in the following four go-rounds, but put it all behind him Friday night before a rambunctious sellout crowd.
“It’s crazy. It’s a dream come true and more, I guess,” Ryder said. “It’s not really anything I can describe.”
As is often the case, the experience of his dad helped out on Friday night.
“I watched my dad get on that same horse and win in San Juan Capistrano,” Ryder said. “I was just really excited to have him, hoping to ride him just like my dad did. It felt pretty good, but I didn’t know exactly how they were gonna score it.”
They scored it very well, allowing Ryder to put a rough four-night streak behind him. And while Cody’s ride gave Ryder a little insight, the youngster’s uncles and older brother Rusty have also helped him along, keeping him from being overwhelmed by the moment at his first NFR.
“They definitely play a big role in my success,” Ryder said. “They’ve been here and know how to handle things, what to do. It’s awesome to have that support.”
It’s at least as awesome for dad to see his son on a record-setting tear in his first NFR. Cody wasn’t quite sure what to say, but was proud as punch, to be sure.
“Heck, I don’t know. He’s just going at it one round at a time,” Cody said. “He had a little bad luck there, but didn’t let it bother him.
Prior to the NFR, Cody predicted that big things were in store for his son. Ryder proved him more than correct, but dad hasn’t necessarily been surprised by the stellar showing.
“I’m not surprised at all. I really thought if he didn’t let things get to him, he’s got all the talent in the world,” Cody said. “If he could draw the right horses, and ride them like he has forever, he’d be right where he’s at.”
Cody was glad to hear his son give deference to dad and his uncles, but was quick to give the credit right back to Ryder.
“You can try to help so far, but once he nods, it’s all him,” Cody said, alluding to the nod each rider gives when he’s ready for the chute to open, starting a crazy eight seconds.
Ryder’s unparalleled run has him second in the world standings, after entering the NFR in 14th place, just barely among the top 15 who qualify for the season-ending showdown. Ryder has made more than $141,000 through nine go-rounds — five victories worth $26,230 apiece, plus a $10,000 bonus given to all NFR qualifiers.
The only problem is that, since he took a no-score in rounds five through eight, that knocked him entirely out of the NFR average money. So he’s got no chance of catching first-place Jacobs Crawley to get a world championship gold buckle.
But he’s thrilled just the same, though the most quiet thrilled you’ll ever see. He’s definitely loving the biggest stage in rodeo, which perhaps explains why, when you call Ryder’s cellphone, the ringtone you hear is Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero,” a song about the aspirations of a youngster wanting to rock out on guitar before sold-out audiences.
Ryder is rocking out in a different way, but at a sold-out show, just the same.
“I think the song really relates to what you do here,” he said. “All the lights, everybody yelling. I got a standing ovation one night when I got a no-score. That was weird, but awesome at the same time. It’s awesome to have fans like that.”
He could still put up one more win, and if his current pattern holds, he will. He won the first four go-rounds, no-scored the next four, so that should mean he’ll follow his Friday night win with a victory tonight, and in the first two go-rounds of the 2017 NFR.
“That’s what I’m hoping!”
Minors make good team on roping circuit
Header Riley Minor, right, and heeler Brady Minor compete in the fourth go-round of team roping Sunday at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The brothers won the third and fourth go-rounds, part of a solid week for them heading into tonight's 10th and final go-round at the Thomas & Mack Center. Jake Minor, cousin of Riley and Brady, is also competing in team roping this week, putting together a couple of solid rounds with Garrett Rogers. (PRCA photo by Dan Hubbell)
By PATRICK EVERSON
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
It’s been a major year for the Minor family, capped by having three members compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Brothers Brady and Riley Minor, and their cousin Jake Minor, have been plying their team roping trade all week at the Thomas &Mack Center, hoping to grab a share of this year’s $10 million purse. It’s gone particularly well for teammates Brady and Riley, while Jake and roping partner Garrett Rogers started slow but have collected some cash the past few days.
Riley and Brady, the header and heeler, respectively, got out of the gate quickly by tying for third in the first go-round, then busted out to win the third and fourth go-rounds, and added a fourth place in Thursday’s eighth go-round. That has added up to a cool $84,038 for each of them.
Brady made it to the Wrangler NFR with a different teammate in 2006. The brothers began roping together in 2007, qualifying for the NFR in 2008 and six more times, including the last four years. Riley, 28, has definitely enjoyed the run with big brother Brady, 31.
“Probably the best part is it’s easy to travel together,” Riley said, and as anyone who follows rodeo knows, there are a lot of long days and overnights on the road. “We can tell each other what we’re thinking. With someone else, you don’t want to hurt their feelings. With your brother, you can say what you think.”
Not that these two go out of their way to rib each other. But there’s a little bit of that big brother-little brother thing going on.
“Just being the younger brother is kind of tough sometimes,” Riley said. “As long as I listen to him, it’s pretty easy I guess. There’s been days where we don’t see eye to eye, but you’ve gotta get over it if you’re partners.”
And Brady’s perspective? “He’s been a pretty good brother. He’s matured really well for a header. He’s grown up fast and done really well.”
All the Minors hail from Ellensburg, Wash., and Brady and Riley split time between there and a house near Wickenburg, Ariz., always keeping them in good weather to practice their craft.
“A lot of guys don’t have a consistent roping partner,” Brady said. “We grew up together, and we’ve been roping since we could walk.”
Jake, a heeler, just turned 25 and is competing in his first Wrangler NFR. He and Rogers broke through in the sixth go-round Tuesday by clocking 4.3 seconds for a three-way split of second place. They followed Wednesday by cashing a fourth-place check in 4.5, upping their earnings for the week to $36,795 apiece.
“We got a couple,” Jake said Friday afternoon.
Having Brady and Riley to look up to has helped Jake make his way to the NFR.
“They’ve helped me a lot, ever since I was little,” said Jake, whose dad is the brother of Brady and Riley’s dad. “I wanted to team rope ever since I started walking. I’m sure what made it more real for me is watching Brady and Riley do it, and win at it.”
This is the first year Jake has gone full-out with his scheduling in an attempt to qualify for the season-ending event. Brady, who as the oldest is also the schedule master of the bunch, pitched in to help Jake and Rogers get set up well throughout 2016.
“That’s kind of a big job,” Jake said of getting entered for all the rodeos. “Brady wanted to help us out, so he would enter us. We went to some rodeos with them. They kind of took us under their wing, made sure we got to the right rodeos, so that was pretty cool. This is my first time going to that many rodeos.”
With the scheduling help, Jake was able to focus on roping, which paid dividends with the NFR qualification — and might pay a few more with a good run in tonight’s 10th and final go-round.
“It’s been a pretty awesome event, even though I haven’t done very good,” Jake said. “I’m still pretty happy and thankful to be here.”
Indeed, even if the paychecks could have been better, they can’t replace family, something all the Minors are surrounded by this week.
“It’s awesome having a lot of family here,” Jake said, noting relatives of all three roping Minors have been flowing in and out of town over the course of the rodeo. “Both our parents have been here the whole week. I’ve dreamt about the NFR forever, and this is the first time I’ve made it. It’s just pretty cool.”