Entering the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the tightest competition throughout the events was in team roping.
The margin of difference in team roping heading was $393, with Kaleb Driggers in second place. His heeling partner, Junior Nogueira, was in first place by $591.
That margin isn’t so close any more.
Driggers and Nogueira posted a 4.2-second run to win the first round of the 2018 Wrangler NFR, Thursday night grabbing the top spots in the PRCA | RAM World Standings in front of 16,864 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“I was excited coming here and coming in second,” Driggers said. “Honestly, the only team I ended up watching was the team in front of me. I was just trying to focus and do my job. The start is pretty much always the same, you’ve just got to watch the steer, try to focus, do your job and not get caught up in what everyone else is doing.”
Driggers, who trailed only Clay Smith, increased his 2018 earnings to $151,182. Nogueira upped his money to $152,166.
Last year, the team ropers each finished in second place.
“We work the whole year to get here and have a couple months to get prepared (for the NFR),” Nogueira said. “We set the bar high, being so close to winning the world. I missed winning the world two, three times, I was close. I’ve learned a lot and just want to do my job.”
The partners wanted to prepare for the Finals as much as possible. So they tried to re-enact what it was like to rope inside the Thomas & Mack.
“We set up our arena with the same dimensions to get prepared (for the NFR),” Driggers said. “With all the fans and money on the line, we’re just trying to get as much as we can and be as prepared as we can.”
Three teams were tied at 4.6 seconds ahead of Driggers and Nogueira, who were last out. They mostly focused on their run, not the teams ahead of them.
“I watched from behind a little bit but just wanted to do my job and focus on my run,” Nogueira said. “I let him head and I focused on heeling.”
While Nogueira, of Presidente Prudente Brazil, has an All-Around World Champion title, the longtime pair are hoping for a couple of team roping gold buckles.
“Your dream as a cowboy,” Nogueira said, “you want to make the NFR and be world champion.”
Erath County had several of the top performances in the first round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas Thursday night. Cort Scheer on Calgary Stampede’s “Y U R Friskey” won the saddle bronc riding with a score of
Stephenville’s Sterling Smith had a blazing 7.0 time, but his calf didn’t stay down for the required six seconds and left him out of the money for 2015 world champion Caleb Smidt won the round with a time of 7.6 seconds on board the horse Pocket – a horse he hasn’t ridden since May.
Stephenville’s Marty Yates has struggled with horse problems this season as well, but his horse Buster is back at full speed and giving Yates a chance to win the average.
Waguespack wins Round 1 for third consecutive year
Thursday night was Round 1 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. So it must mean a victory for steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack.
For the third consecutive season, Waguespack won the first round, kicking off the 2018 Finals with a 3.6-second run.
“Man, that is awesome, and that is the round where you want to get things started with and get everything going,” said Waguespack, of Gonzales, La. “I’ve been lucky enough to do it the last three times.”
Waguespack split Round 1 in 2016 with a 3.8-second run and won it outright in 2017 in 3.5 seconds.
The victory boosted the 27-year-old (he turns 28 Dec. 19) from 10th in the PRCA | RAM World Standings to second place, just $194 behind leader Curtis Cassidy.
“I just want to make the best run I can on the steer that I have,” said the 2016 world champion.
Waguespack was aboard Scooter, the PRCA | AQHA Horse of the Year for steer wrestling.
“Scooter is owned by Tyler Pearson and Kyle Irwin, and that is just incredible to get to ride him,” he said. “It gives you a lot of confidence knowing you’re riding the best animal there is in that event. He makes my job that much easier. I knew that steer was going to leave and run pretty sharp and be good on the ground, but luckily, we had a lot of horsepower underneath us. Scooter was able to run him down, and I was able to get my feet on the ground in a great spot.”
Waguespack edged Black Knowles, who finished in 3.8 seconds.
Waguespack entered the Finals with $79,584 won. He’s now up to $115,815.
Team Roping (Headers)
Team Roping Heelers
|15||1||Buddy Hawkins II||0.00|
|13||1||Joey Sonnier III||80.5/1||7/8||80.50|
First-round win has Smidt aiming for second title
Tie-down roper Caleb Smidt has plenty of experience. Heck, he won the 2015 world title.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get a little nervous before the opening round of the Finals.
“You get a little nervous every time you back in there, and if you’re not nervous I don’t know what you’re doing here,” said Smidt, of Bellville, Texas. “I get nervous back there, but once you get back in the box you have to think about what you have to do and just rope to the best of your ability.”
Smidt did that.
The 29-year-old made a 7.6-second run to win the first round Thursday night.
“This is awesome, and any round you win here is good,” he said. “That’s good to start off this week like this. Hopefully I can keep it going and see how it turns out after nine more rounds.”
If Smidt keeps at it for nine more rounds, he could be looking at title No. 2. Thursday’s victory pushed him up to fourth in the world standings with $126,202, up from eighth.
“I just need to rope my roping like I did tonight and see how it turns out,” Smidt said.
Smidt also pointed to his horse as a reason for the win.
“I’m riding Pockets, the horse I have ridden here the last three years,” Smidt said. “He’s my good horse and the only one I have. He’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden and dang sure the best one I’ve ever owned. He’s good in any situation.”
|3||1||Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi||14.01/1||8||14.01|
|3||1||Trey Benton III||88.5/1||1||88.50||1|
|1||1||Sage Steele Kimzey||88.0/1||2||88.00||2|