Sage Kimzey strives for third title at NFR
IF YOU GO
What: Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: Dec. 1-10, 6:45 p.m.
Tickets: Mad Dash (general admission, seat not guaranteed) tickets available by calling Thomas & Mack box office at (702) 739-3267 or www.UNLVtickets.com
By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Sage Kimzey’s goal might seem lofty — or downright unrealistic — to some.
He wants to be remembered as the best bull rider of all time, and in setting his goal, he is bold and unapologetic.
But when looking at his career accomplishments by age 22, it’s easy to see why.
The bull rider has taken home world championships in his first two years and entered this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in first place.
He leads the next closest competitorand seems well on his way to his third title.
“To (be the best), I’d have to win nine world titles,” Kimzey said. “Donnie Gay’s got eight bull riding world titles and I truly believe that the way my career’s went so far, it’s totally doable, me being a nine-time world champion so that’s what I’m really out here to do.”
He won the first go-round on Thursday.
Kimzey is well-positioned to become ProRodeo’s youngest millionaire sometime over the next week.
He came to Las Vegas with a career $844,685 pocketed. He has averaged $164,022 in his first two NFRs, meaning the million is certainly attainable with continued solid performances.
“That’s a young man that you can, in fact, really appreciate who he is, what he does, what he stands for,” PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman said. “I think the world of him and I love it. The fact that he’s becoming the first one to win a million at that age. That just tells us that rodeo is at least making some headway in terms of the financial aspect of it for the contestants.”
It says as much about that as it does about Kimzey’s success.
By the last day of competition, Kimzey will be 22 years, three months and 15 days, well ahead of when Tuf Cooper set the record at 23 years, 22 days.
“It’s crazy. Anytime anybody can get a million dollars doing anything, it’s pretty special and pretty cool and so for me to be able to do that especially at such a young age would be an awesome accomplishment, no doubt,” Kimzey said.
Kimzey knows a thing or two about accomplishments, becoming the first bull rider to start his career with two world championships and experiencing immediate success.
In 2014, Kimzey pocketed $318,631, a new rookie record.
And while he’s dreamed about it his whole life, the success has come quicker than even he could have predicted.
“It’s something that I’ve envisioned every since I was a little kid,” Kimzey said. “For it to happen so quickly, this being my third year rodeoing really, I’d say that was really the only surprising part of it was how fast it all came.”
At 22, Kimzey is enjoying the opportunity to travel all over the country. He competed in his first Professional Bull Riders event last month in Las Vegas, the PBR Blue Def Finals, and said PBR might be something he’d entertain in the future eventually.
But right now, he’s busy taking the PRCA by storm.
“I feel really good this year. This being my third NFR, I’ve got a little more of a grasp of what it all takes to come in and be successful,” Kimzey said. “It’s the Super Bowl of rodeo. It’s the biggest stage that we have and this year, I feel way more prepared than I’ve ever been.”
Junior Nogueira retains all-around lead at NFR
By BETSY HELFAND
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
With Trevor Brazile out of the competition, the National Finals Rodeo began Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center with the promise of the closest race for the all-around championship in years.
Junior Nogueira (heeler) maintained his hold on the all-around lead with a fifth-place finish in team roping. Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza moved up to second and third, though Cardoza cannot win the all-around title because he trails his team roping partner by more than $9,000. Nogueira leads Bird by $130.62.
Brazile has won 13 of the past 14 all-around titles.
Tanner Aus began the NFR by taking first place in bareback riding with a score of 85.5.
Tyler Waguespack and Clayton Hass tied for first place in steer wrestling at 3.80 seconds, and Canadian team ropers Levi Simpson (header) and Jeremy Buhler (heeler) took first in team roping. They edged Bird and Cardoza.
Ryder Wright, competing in his first NFR, took first in saddle bronc riding. He beat his father, Cody Wright, who finished second. Jake Wright, Ryder’s uncle, finished third, and Rusty Wright, Ryder’s brother, placed fifth. Uncle Jesse Wright did not place.
“I think they’ll say ‘Good job,’ hopefully,” Ryder Wright said. “I’m on cloud nine.”
Shane Hanchey won tie-down roping, and Pamela Capper took first in barrel racing with a time of 13.75.
Sage Kimzey rode Aftershock to win bull riding and extend his world earnings lead.
The first night drew an announced crowd of 16,800.
Contact reporter Betsy Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.
NFR steer wrestler Cody Cabral of Hawaii embraces rodeo life
By ED GRANEY
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
The polls are almost always identical at the top, an opinion that when asked what song reminds certain groups most of Hawaii, one stands above all others.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole released a ukulele medley of “Over the Rainbow” in 1993, a new sound to an old friend, but the message never changed.
He still sung about dreams coming true and a wonderful world and wishing upon a star.
Cody Cabral has chosen a journey away from what most view as one of our most precious jewels, from crashing waves and a slight breeze and pineapple farms, instead chasing his rainbow from a trailer as he travels across the nation in search of the next rodeo.
It is said the magic of Hawaii comes from the stillness, the sea and the stars, but Cabral’s sense of glamour is more about the next time he mounts a horse and chases a steer, wrestling it to the ground by grabbing its horns and pulling it off-balance so that it falls.
It might not be as harrowing as dropping into a bomb at Pipeline, but risky just the same.
Cabral rode into the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday night holding aloft the Hawaiian flag, the first cowboy from the 50th state to make the National Finals Rodeo since Myron Duarte’s last of eight appearances as a bull rider in 2004.
A cowboy from Hilo might seem as unconventional as a surfer from Iowa, but ranching on the islands is actually more prominent than many would believe. Cabral inherited the love of life on a horse from his parents, who host the annual Panaewa Stampede Rodeo. Al and Nancy Cabral taught their children that before anything else, the animals were to be cared for and shown ample time and attention.
“I basically want to do this as long as I can make a living,” Cabral said. “Obviously, there has to be an end game at some point, but all my motivation to this point was making the NFR. I don’t really have a Plan B. I love this so much.”
He knew it was for him when visiting his older brother at college in Washington state, when he wasn’t allowed to drive the pickup all night to the next rodeo, so he sat in the passenger seat and ate sunflower seeds while watching the sun set and rise.
Cody wanted it then more than anything else.
He, too, received a rodeo scholarship to Walla Walla Community College (Wash.), and from there began his pursuit of what transpired Thursday, when he became the first Hawaiian in the timed events to qualify for the NFR.
His time of 4.6 seconds gave him a tie for fifth and $5,500, pushing his season winnings to $70,869.80. At 27, he’s young by steer wrestling standards, and yet this NFR includes more cowboys in their 20s competing in the event than most years. When he was a rookie in 2012, Cabral remembers the youngest being 31.
He has nine more go-rounds in which to compete, a reality that came exceedingly close to not happening. Cabral had run in the maximum 70 rodeos this year when he had to sit and wait through the final few weeks of the regular season, hoping his earnings would keep him in the top 15 and qualify for the NFR when final numbers were tabulated.
He held onto the 15th spot by $1,035.
It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the sun and surf back home, that he didn’t wake up at 5 a.m. to go boogie boarding with friends before tending to the horses, or that he didn’t compete in other sports such as basketball, where his 6-foot-5-inch frame played well on high school courts. But the draw of creating a trail where there is no path wouldn’t leave him, so he has mail sent to a house in Oregon and sees the sun rise and set day after day, a land of open roads and rodeo stops defining his existence.
His home is the voyage.
“I have a lot of friends in different states and travel with other competitors all the time,” Cabral said. “When it’s not rodeo, I’ll pretty much do any job I can get paid for. I studied welding in college and have done a lot of that. Hauling horses, electrical work, irrigation. Basically, I’m just not smart enough to quit this life.
“It’s not only incredible to make the NFR for the first time but to carry the Hawaiian flag. There isn’t a greater honor to represent all the people who helped me get started in this life and who made it possible back home. Rodeo is hard, full of ups and downs. You can do two in a day, be great in the first and horrible a few hours later. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
So as the song goes, he sees skies of blue and clouds of white and the brightness of day while traveling those open roads.
It’s his wonderful world, his slice of paradise.
Turns out, crashing waves and a slight breeze and pineapple farms aren’t everything.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
NFR’s first night lives up to rodeo fans’ expectations
Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal Follow @Erik_Verduzco
By RAVEN JACKSON
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
It’s rodeo time again in Las Vegas, and the first night of action at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo didn’t disappoint the throngs of fans who packed UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
Organized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the NFR, which carries a $10 million prize purse, showcases the talents of the PRCA’s top 15 money-winners in each of seven events — bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. As the final rodeo event of the season, the NFR awards world championship titles to the individuals who earn the most money in his or her event throughout the year.An All-Around World Champion title is awarded at the end of the 10-day rodeo to the highest-earning cowboy who has competed in more than one event during the course of the season.
The National Finals Rodeo is a perennial sellout, and this year’s event looks to be no exception.
Vlrike Meier, a Las Vegas visitor from Germany, basked in the rodeo’s western ambience as a first-time rodeo attendee with her husband.
“We read a book of things to do in the United States, while in Las Vegas we saw the rodeo and had to come,” she said. “This event is a sign of home for my husband: He grew up on a farm and loves horses.”
The national finals event delivered precisely what 64-year-old Kathleen Dougherty was looking for on her visit to Las Vegas.
“It’s my first big rodeo. I’ve seen smaller ones back home,” the Sutton, Alaska, resident said. “I don’t know any riders. I came for good, clean fun. I didn’t come for anything else besides this rodeo.”
As the saying goes, this wasn’t Independence, Minnesota, resident Bill Thomas’ first rodeo. It was his second.
“I grew up riding horses and I’ve always liked the rodeo,” said Thomas, 58. “This is my second time coming to this rodeo. Now, I can afford to come see the big ones.”
Thomas said he also plans to spend some money at the rodeo’s annual Cowboy Christmas gift show — filled with all things rodeo and western — held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
As show time approached, nearly 17,000 attendees made their way to their seats inside the center. After the national anthem played, and fireworks erupted, attendees watched the pageantry of the grand entry of each competitor.
Then the real action began, and the crowd cheered on competitors in each event.
Lana Peercy, a South Jordan, Utah, resident, stood on the stairway of the arena seating area in the arena anxiously waiting for the women’s barrel racing to begin.
“I’m thrilled to see the world champions. I came to see Cassidy Black,” the 50-year-old said. “Every night is different — a different atmosphere. It’s incredible and I love Vegas.”
At a concession stand, Desiree Gurney, 38, of Clarkston, Washington, stood in the beer and cocktail line, laughing and chatting with her friend.
“I’m excited to see Mary Burger. I’m a five-time attendee,” she said as she she waited for her friend who purchased drinks. “This is history— livestock and ranch history. This is how people lived and survived.”
Standing in the hallway practicing his lassoing skills, competitor Reese Reimer psyched himself up for the tie-down event. He said he’s figured out how not to let nerves get the better of him. “You learn to deal with the adrenaline,” he said. “You just go through the runs in your head until you don’t have to think about it anymore.”
Apparently, Pamela Capper also learned that lesson too. She came in first Thursday in the barrel racing competition.
“I can’t believe it,” Capper said as she walked to go pick up the round buckle. “I wasn’t nervous. I just wanted to get in there and get it done. I did what I was suppose to do and she (her horse Jesse) did too.”
Thomas & Mack Center bolsters National Finals Rodeo fan experience
By PATRICK EVERSON
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Nearly two years ago, a massive renovation project began at the Thomas &Mack Center, the home of rodeo’s biggest annual event. Since the Oct. 1, 2014, groundbreaking, fans of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo have been able to take advantage of some of the amenities and changes, slowly but surely.
This year, fans will enjoy a whole new experience — with emphasis on “new,” as the $72.5 million project, overseen by Thomas &Mack Executive Director Mike Newcomb, has left no stone unturned.
“Everything the guest will see is all brand new — all new seating, new concourse, new concession stands and restrooms,” Newcomb said. “Additional points of sale for concessions and additional restrooms were added.”
Still more enhancements: Newcomb said the number of seats in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was nearly quadrupled, from 26 to 98. This includes new ADA-compliant sky decks that have been built into the balcony.
As cool as the sky decks are — and fans will no doubt fall in love with the unbelievable views offered of the arena floor — they aren’t the most spectacular component of the renovation. That honor goes to a 36,000-square-foot addition off the northwest end of the arena. During the 10-day WNFR, the space will be known as The Shoe and will feature interactive areas, the Walk of Champions, saddle displays and a 2,500-square-foot, glass-enclosed balcony with Strip views. The Shoe will also be the site of CBS Sports Network’s rodeo pre-show.
All the arena upgrades are certain to make the already-incredible WNFR experience that much better.
“This year, fans will have the benefit of the renovation being 100 percent complete,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, which produces the WNFR. “There is no bigger priority for LVE than that of the fan. There are improvements fans will see from the time they arrive until they depart.”
Perhaps as important, there is a new way to enter and exit the arena adjacent to The Shoe. Between expanding the concourse and the new entry point, the flow getting into, around and out of the rodeo on a nightly basis will be greatly improved. Also new this year, tickets include the recommended entry location to help fans get to their seats as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“Outside, as fans arrive, there will be an enhanced plaza experience on the northwest side, and there will be an improved NFR Fan Zone,” Christenson said. “In addition, all of the added space provides fans with more interactive opportunities, but also greatly reduces congestion on the concourse. In the past, a half-hour before the rodeo and a half-hour after, you couldn’t move on the concourse.”
Meanwhile, on the arena’s southeast side opposite The Shoe, fans can enjoy all the activities and amenities of the returning Cowboy Corral, which takes over the adjacent Cox Pavilion with live music, a huge bar and plenty of space to sit and relax or kick up your heels. A new, similarly named space, The Corral, which is ostensibly an extension of the Cowboy Corral, will offer its own bar and food service.
Further enhancing the fan experience, two new outdoor video boards were added to the face of the arena and will broadcast WNFR moments, highlight videos, interactive content and contestant interviews. And this being the digital age, fans can stay better connected with free WiFi in both The Corral and The Shoe, and Christenson said the entire building will have improved cellular service and charging stations.
But as is the case every year, the best part of the 2016 WNFR will be what happens on the dirt in arena. The fans’ ability to see as much of the action as possible, unobstructed, has been paramount for Newcomb, Christenson and all involved with the WNFR.
“If you look at what has made the Thomas &Mack a great venue for the WNFR, it’s the sightlines,” Christenson said. “The fans (will still) have excellent sightlines, but now with an upgraded building and upgraded concessions.”
And if you can’t secure a ticket for a seat in the arena, or if you just want to enjoy the festivities at The Shoe or the Cowboy Corral, you can take in nightly action there, as Christenson notes that all TVs will have live feeds of the rodeo action.
Indeed, the mission to create a bigger, better WNFR Experience has been accomplished.
“The whole experience of watching, being a part of the WNFR, is more convenient, seamless and entertaining,” Christenson said.