LAS VEGAS – When Justin McDaniel walked onto the stage at the South Point Hotel & Casino for the Montana Silversmiths Round Buckle Presentation Thursday night, he was sporting new footwear.
The walking boot to protect a new broken big toe and a sprained ankle didn’t deter the Porum, Okla., cowboy from celebrating his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo go-round victory in more than a year. McDaniel scored an 86-point ride on the Andrews Rodeo horse Cool Water to split the eighth-round bareback riding victory with three-time world champion Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore.
“That was the horse I wanted in this pen,” said McDaniel, 24, who pocketed $15,676 and moved his NFR earnings to $56,867. “I won a go-round on him last year.”
That was the last time he earned the top prize at ProRodeo’s grand finale, and it happened during the third round at the 2009 championship. While it’s the first round win of this year’s NFR, it’s actually the seventh straight night he earned a paycheck by placing among the top six bareback riders.
“My hand was coming out at about the five-second mark,” he said, noting he held on with his fingertips to make the final three seconds to secure a qualified ride.
But problems started when the ride was over. In the process of getting off, Cool Water stepped on McDaniel’s foot to cause the injury.
“I felt 100 percent until today,” said McDaniel, who missed much of the 2010 regular season because of a back injury that was surgically repaired in February; he’s also fought through shoulder pain, which is very common among bareback riders, who wedge their hands into a tight rigging that is strapped tightly to a bronc’s back during the ride. “My back feels great, and my shoulder feels good.”
Despite the pain caused by the sprain and fracture, McDaniel plans to take the same approach during the final two nights of the 10-round competition that has worked for him the previous eight. He leads the average race with a cumulative total of 672 points; he leads Mote, the No. 2 man, by 10.5 points, but he’s well off the average record of 859 he set two years ago – he would need to score 93.5 points in each of the final to rounds to match that aggregate.
The winner of the average title wins an additional $44,910, so there’s plenty of motivation. That could go a long way into crowning the 2010 world champion – McDaniel’s season earnings have grown to $138,717, but he trails world standings leader Steven Dent by $31,773.
“I try to win the go-round every night I go out there,” McDaniel said. “If you do that, everything else will take care of itself.”