LAS VEGAS – Nickel-and-diming at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is worth thousands of dollars.
Just ask Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla., who has yet to win any of the first seven go-rounds at ProRodeo’s championship. Still, he has earned $41,191 and has placed six straight nights. On Wednesday night, McDaniel, the 2008 world champion bareback rider, rode Cervi Championship Rodeo’s Red Brand Hello Dolly for 82 points, earning a $4,519 check for finishing fifth in the seventh round.
“That’s a good horse, but I could’ve ridden better,” said McDaniel, who watched three-time world champion Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore., win the round with an 85.5-point ride. “I haven’t been happy with my riding yet, but I guess I can’t complain.”
Most of the top 15 bareback riders in the field would like to be in McDaniel’s spot, atop the average with the best cumulative score of 586 on seven rides – the cowboy with the best aggregate score at the conclusion of the 10-round championship will win the NFR and collect another $44,910.
“If you can ride to the best of your ability every time, the average will take care of itself,” McDaniel said.
He knows better than most. Two seasons ago, he won the NFR title while setting the record with a cumulative score of 859 points in the process of winning his first gold buckle.
And while he leads the race to the average title, the ultimate goal is the season’s world championship. In the field of the elite bareback riders in the game, four cowboys represent eight gold buckles – McDaniel, Kelly Timberman, Will Lowe (3) and Bobby Mote (3).
“These guys ride tough every night, so you know you have to be at your best,” McDaniel said. “I’m still trying to get there.”