Sage Kimzey is still the king of PRCA bull riders.
The Strong City, Okla., cowboy won his sixth consecutive world championship at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo before 16,904 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Kimzey finished the season with a PRCA bull riding record $480,797, breaking his record of $436,479 set in 2017. Kimzey also won the average with 709 points on eight head.
“It was just a grind,” Kimzey said. “I had a lot of bumps and bruises, but I put my best foot forward, and every bull matters – that made the difference. There are times we are sore and tired and question why we do this, but the guys with the gold buckles can block that out, and that is what I really excel at.”
Kimzey tied Jim Shoulders’ PRCA record for consecutive bull riding world championships at six. Shoulders won seven career bull riding titles and six in a row from 1954-59.
Don Gay holds the PRCA record for most bull riding world titles with eight.
“It’s hard to put into words, it is something that will take a long time for me to realize what it means,” Kimzey said. “I’m just riding bulls and having fun. I feel good about it (passing Gay’s record). It’s a tall mountain to climb, and I knew that when I set out to do it. To be one step closer feels great.”
Winning world titles has become common place for Kimzey, but he appreciates the work it takes to capture just one gold buckle.
“Each one is special,” Kimzey said. “I don’t get emotional often but this one is special. The road it took to get here, this year I didn’t know if I could ride (due to an injury suffered at the 2018 Wrangler NFR), and then I found a brace that worked for my elbow, and kudos to Justin Sportsmedicine because there were a lot of them. This year was a grind. Some years are smooth sailing, and this was a tough year. I learned a lot about myself in those tough times and set the stage for the year I had. I’m thankful for the tough times because I wouldn’t be the man I am without them.”
Rookie Stetson Wright Captures All-Around Title
Rookie Stetson Wright came in as the leader in the all-around standings and held off all challengers to win the prestigious title with $297,923. He edged team roping header world champ Clay Smith ($279,672) for the crown. Tuf Cooper, the 2017 all-around champ, finished third in the standings with $265,794.
Wright became the first roughstock rider to win the all-around crown since ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray did it in 1998.
Wright, who also is a saddle bronc rider, finished third in the bull riding standings with $267,345.
“I don’t know, I guess I just got lucky all year or something,” Wright said. “It’s pretty awesome. I don’t have much to say, but I’m super happy right now.
“You can’t control much other than what you do in your event. In the all-around you aren’t competing against them; you just have to do your events. Clay Smith and Tuf Cooper are two of the greatest cowboys I’ve ever seen.”
Although Wright is young, he was thrilled to come through in the clutch like a veteran.
“I do it for these moments right here,” he said. “Being a world champion is something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. Hopefully (I can win) many more world titles. I hope to win a bunch more and have a healthy season (in 2020).”
Clayton Biglow Caps Dream Wrangler NFR With Gold Buckle
Bareback rider Clayton Biglow had a Wrangler NFR for the ages to claim his first career gold buckle.
The Clements, Calif., cowboy won five rounds at the Wrangler NFR, including winning Round 10 with an NFR record-tying ride of 93 points on Northcott Macza’s Stevie Knicks.
It was all part of a victory binge for Biglow. He also won the average with 886.5 points on 10 head and earned $243,891 at the Wrangler NFR – not counting ground money. That total was the most money earned of any contestant at the Wrangler NFR and won him the RAM Top Gun Award.
Biglow also set a bareback riding record for most money won in a regular season counting the Wrangler NFR at $425,843. The record was $374,272 by Tim O’Connell in 2016.
“This is crazy,” said Biglow, 23. “I have been dreaming of this for a long time, and I don’t know what to say. This is something you work for your entire life and when it finally happens, you don’t realize it happened. It hasn’t hit me yet, but it will. It’s hard to put into words.”
Biglow won five rounds at the 2019 Wrangler NFR, one short of the bareback riding record of six set by Kaycee Feild in 2011. He also made history by becoming the first bareback rider to win four consecutive rounds at the Wrangler NFR, winning Rounds 5 through 8.
“This is the Finals I dreamed of and to have it come true I literally laid in bed every night for the last three months thinking about this moment,” Biglow said. “I got this gold buckle. That’s the only thing I was worried about this week. That gold buckle is going right on my belt.
“A lot of the time, to get my mind off the gold buckle, I just kept thinking go win that Top Gun. If you win that Top Gun, the world championship is yours because you’re going to win more money than anybody else. I’m so glad I drew great horses all year long and here.”
By winning the Top Gun Award, Biglow earned a 2020 RAM 3500 Heavy Duty Truck, a one-of-a-kind RAM Top Gun-branded revolver from Commemorative Firearms, as well as a custom Top Gun buckle from Montana Silversmiths.
“I’m going to rodeo with that truck next year and drive the wheels off it,” Biglow said.
Rookie Haven Meged Is Tie-Down Roping World Champion
When the 2019 Wrangler NFR began, rookie tie-down roper Haven Meged wasn’t in the title talk.
Well, Saturday night, the Miles City, Mont., cowboy was holding the gold buckle with $246,013. He also won the average with an 85.7-second time on 10 head.
The 21-year-old Meged narrowly defeated Shane Hanchey, the 2013 tie-down roping world champ, by $1,181 for the world championship.
Meged, the 2019 PRCA | Resistol Rookie of the Year, is the first rookie to win a tie-down roping gold buckle since Joe Beaver in 1985. Meged also became just the fourth person in ProRodeo history to win a college championship and a world championship in the same year, following in the footsteps of Ty Murray (all-around, 1988); Matt Austin (bull riding, 2005); and Taos Muncy (saddle bronc riding, 2007).
“It’s a dream come true,” Meged said. “I hurt myself three weeks before here and have just had faith in God that it would be alright, and this is his plan. To come together, to win Rookie of the Year, the average saddle and this (a gold buckle), it’s unbelievable.”
Meged didn’t have any complex approach to his first Wrangler NFR.
“Honestly, just keeping it simple,” Meged said. “Coming in here, everybody talks about how cool it is talking to guys who have roped here. To be in the Top 15 in tie-down roping and now the world champion at such a young age is unbelievable.
“I kind of kick myself for not placing better. I let a couple calves get away from me. I went out (Saturday) morning and practiced to slow down, think about why I’m here, and to not overdo anything. To do what we do, focus on why and how we got here, just try not to make it complicated.”
Saddle Bronc Rider Zeke Thurston Claims Second Gold Buckle
For the second time in four years, saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston is PRCA world champion.
Thurston snared the world championship by earning $347,056. That season total is a record, breaking the mark of $284,938 set by Ryder Wright in 2017.
Brody Cress finished second in the world standings with $286,372 and won the average with 840.5 points on 10 head.
“It’s awesome,” Thurston said about winning his second gold buckle. “Honestly, I don’t know what to say. I wanted this second one worse than I wanted the first one. I came close last year, but it was a roller coaster out here. Lots of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Thurston, of Big Valley, Alberta, became the first cowboy to win a PRCA world championship and Canadian Professional Rodeo Association world title in the same year since saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy in 2011.
“Man, the first one (gold buckle), I didn’t know it was coming because I was coming from behind,” Thurston said. “This year, just being out front and having everybody chasing you, I’d rather have it the other way. It’s pretty stressful, starts playing tricks with your mind and you think you’re losing it, but it all worked out.”
Steer Wrestler Ty Erickson Snares First World Championship
Ty Erickson came into the 2019 Wrangler NFR as the regular-season leader for the third time in four years. Each previous time he came up short of winning a gold buckle.
That’s not the case anymore.
The Helena, Mont., cowboy earned $234,491 to win the world championship. Matt Reeves won the average with a 48.4-second time on 10 head.
Erickson finished fifth in the average with a 62.7-second time on 10 head. He earned $22,846, which helped him secure the world championship by $17,129 over second-place finisher Bridger Chambers.
“Oh, man, that’s better than I expected,” Erickson said about the sound of him being the world champion. “This is a dream come true. I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a little kid. Now that it’s happened, it’s pretty surreal.”
Erickson tried to keep his emotions in check before Round 10.
“Today, I was just focused on my job and what I wanted to do,” Erickson said. “I wanted to get a good start and just go make a good run. After I saw what I had drawn, I knew I had a good, honest steer tonight and would be able to do what I wanted. I was just outside (the money) in the round, but that’s OK because I made the run I wanted tonight, and everything worked out.
“I slept pretty well last night, because I was just trying to stay focused and do my job. I tried as best as I could to not let the outside noise affect me too much.”
Erickson was the last steer wrestler out in Round 10 which added to his stress.
“When you have to wait for 14 bulldoggers to go, then you get to go and you know all you have to do is throw one down, that’s pretty hard,” Erickson said. “I think it’s harder to just go throw one down than if you have to go and be 4-flat. That was nerve-racking going last, but it all worked out.”
Erickson acknowledged his world title was a group effort. He was handed the gold buckle by his aunt Judy Wagner, of Montana Silversmiths.
“This means everything,” Erickson said. “This is all we’ve been working for the last seven years. Every morning, this is what we get up and work toward, so now that it’s actually come true and we’ve accomplished that, it couldn’t mean any more to me. My aunt being the one to hand me the buckle made it even more special.
“This makes all the all-night drives, not doing well at a rodeo, all the tears, sweat and blood all worth it now.”
Clay Smith Wins Second Consecutive Gold Buckle
Team roping header Clay Smith now has won back-to-back gold buckles.
The Broken Bow, Okla., cowboy earned $268,820 to edge Cody Snow ($256,938).
Smith – with partner/heeler Jade Corkill, who finished fourth in the world standings – placed in six rounds, including winning Round 2 to clinch his world title.
“I really want to thank Jade for heeling steers, and there were ones only he could heel this week,” Smith said. “I feel bad, like I let him down. It is a team deal and I didn’t do well enough for him to win too. He is the best heeler in the world.”
Smith said capturing another gold buckle was a grind.
“It’s a long process throughout the year and it seems like 12 months all year long with the rodeos, but I was blessed to have a good partner and good horse – but it’s bittersweet not having my partner win the world, too,” Smith said.
Smith took a moment to digest what his second gold buckle means to him.
“It means a lot to me – it comes in order of faith for me, then my family and this is No. 3, and it’s all I think about,” he said. “We were raised in rodeo, and to win the world is an accomplishment, a big one for me, and I’m very thankful.”
Team Roping Heeler Wesley Thorp Grabs Gold Buckle No. 1
Team roping heeler Wesley Thorp left the Thomas & Mack Center as a world champion for the first time.
The Throckmorton, Texas, cowboy – roping with header Cody Snow, who finished second in the world standings – earned $249,181 to finish atop the world standings. Heeler Junior Nogueira was second with $238,243.
Snow/Thorp won the average with a 43.8-second time on eight head.
“It means that these are the guys I looked up to the most growing up and I put on a pedestal still as heroes,” Thorp said. “It’s like they were on a different playing field and even today they are guys I look up to, and to be one of them is amazing and a dream come true. You hope it could come true, but you never grasp what it feels like. I’m at a loss for words on it, but it feels unbelievable and I’m happy with everything. We came with a game plan and stuck with it. I had tremendous support the whole time.”
Thorp also praised his partner Snow for helping reach the pinnacle of rodeo success.
“I’m so proud of how he has done this week,” Thorp said. “I truly thought he had more control with his roping and his horse than anyone in this arena, and that goes a long way. He made my job easier and he ropes phenomenally all year long, and he is one of my best friends.”
Barrel Racer Hailey Kinsel Wins Second Consecutive Gold Buckle
For the second consecutive year, barrel racer Hailey Kinsel finished the season as a world champion.
Kinsel, of Cotulla, Texas, earned $290,020 to finish atop the world standings. Ivy Conrado-Saebens was second with $264,673. Conrado-Saebens also won the average with a 138.44-second time on 10 head.
“Definitely not,” said Kinsel when asked if winning her second world title had sunk in. “I wish I’d have finished stronger, and I think that’s still on my brain a little bit. Other than that, I’ve dreamed of this, and it’s awesome. I’m floored, and it’s very emotional.”
Kinsel was quick to praise her horse, Sister, whom she rode for both world championships.
“She’s incredible. I can see how incredible she is, and I hope others can, too,” Kinsel said. “She’s just done things that I don’t know how many other horses can do. It’s incredible, and I’m thankful because I hardly have to ask for anything from her to give me her best effort. She just does it.”
Courtesy of PRCA