Zeke Thurston rides Andrews Rodeo’s Brutus for 90 points to win Round 9 at the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. PRCA photo by James Phifer.
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — In 2016, Zeke Thurston wasn’t the leader of the pack heading into the 10th and final round of the Wrangler NFR, but he emerged as the World Champion when the dust settled on Saturday night.
This year, Thurston ranks No. 3 in the world standings heading into the biggest day of the year in the world of rodeo and ranks No. 3 in the WNFR aggregate race.
In Round 9, the Big Valley, Alberta athlete won for the second time of the week. The score was 90 points on a horse called Brutus from Andrews Rodeo for the $26,231 check.
“A lot of the points came from the horse,” Thurston said. “He leaves there like a house on fire, and it was a knife fight after that, but I kept my feet moving and that’s all you can do with a horse like that. He bucks off more guys than what rides him, but that’s the kind you want to draw.”
Heading into Saturday, Thurston is Canada’s best shot at a gold buckle this year, $24,307.02 behind No. 1 Ryder Wright. Wright however is No. 10, out of the aggregate race.
“It’s shaking up to be similar, and there is one more bronc to go that will determine everything,” Thurston said. “Everyone will go at them, and there will be some big scores tomorrow. The average will determine the world champion.”
Rusty Wright is No. 2 in the world and No. 4 in the aggregate, 6.5 points behind Thurston but $20,701.38 ahead of him in the standings. Thurston is also 2.5 points behind Wade Sundell, who’s No. 2 in the aggregate and No. 5 in the world. All bronc riders trail Coburn Bradshaw who’s a full horse ahead of the rest at 756.5 points on nine broncs a buckoff from him in Round 10 could change everything as he’s ninth in the world.
“It’s a lot of fun to win an eliminator round,” Thurston said. “There’s a lot of no-scores in rounds like that, so to get a win is a good feeling.”
So far, the 23-year-old has earned $106,250 so far including the $10,000 qualifier bonus and two round buckles.
“It’s been a blast,” Thurston said. “I had family down here and got a new baby with us. It’s fun having her around (Lucy, 4 months old). The whole thing has been great. Last year, I was so sick I didn’t enjoy any of ti and didn’t ride good, so there wasn’t anything that could make this year worse than last year’s NFR. Now, we’re going to the South Point to have some fun.”
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Also catching paydays in Round 9 were Orin Larsen and Scott Guenthner. Larsen rode Ted from Bridwell Pro Rodeos for 86.5 points and $8,885 moving his week to $85,731 past the $216,000 mark on the year. It would take a few low scores or a buckoff from world leader Tim O’Connell for Larsen to win the gold buckle but it’s not out of the question yet.
Similar crazy scenarios could play out in the bulldogging however it comes down to the fact that if Tyler Waguespack gets a decent time on Saturday he’s the world champ. Scott Guenthner picked up a split of fourth for $8,885 and ranks eighth in the aggregate and fourth in the world. Curtis Cassidy is second in the world but out of the aggregate, his hopes of a world title this year have been all but dashed.
Carman Pozzobon made a safe trip around the barrels in a time of 14.17. Going into the final round of her first Wrangler NFR she’s 3.09 seconds ahead of No. 2 Jessica Routier. If she’s that much faster than routier on Saturday, she wins the saddle and $67,269.
Our first World Champion was crowned on Friday as Hailey Kinsel earned her first gold buckle. There’s only one situation also that Sage Kimzey doesn’t claim his fifth world title. That’s is Chase Dougherty is the only man to ride a bull on Saturday and he wins the aggregate.
Money won on Canadian bucking stock at the 2018 Wrangler NFR: $394,450
Money won by Canadians at the 2018 Wrangler NFR: $365,532 plus $60,000 in qualification earnings.
Round 10 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo takes place on Saturday December 15th, 2018 at the Thomas & Mack Centre starting at 6:45pm Pacific. To follow along, watch live at ProRodeoTV.com, listen live at ProRodeoLive.com. Live scoring is also available courtesy of WranglerNetwork.com