LAS VEGAS – When Stockton Graves failed to qualify for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, it marked the first time since 2004 the Oklahoma cowboy missed ProRodeo’s championship event.
He’s making up for lost time this year.
Graves, who turns 33 Monday, scored 4.3-second run to finish in a tie for fifth place in the first go-round of the 2011 finale. Going second in order, Graves set the standard for fast runs early. But the field of contestants chasing the $17,885 check that goes to each night’s winner is loaded with bulldogging talent.
Graves and two-time qualifier Blake Knowles shared the fifth-fastest time, but that was a common theme on Thursday night. Shawn Greenfield and two-time champion Luke Branqhino shared the third-fastest time at 4.2 seconds, and Trevor Knowles and 2007 world champion Jason Miller won the round in 3.9 seconds.
But steer wrestling often is the tightest race to the world title in rodeo. Graves earned $3,750 for his first-round run and moved up one spot to 13th in the world standings with nearly $59,000 in annual earnings. The NFR features a $6 million, so the Ponca City-born cowboy now living in Newkirk has a chance to increase his salary immensely over the 10-day championship.
Graves was the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association’s steer wrestling champion in 1997, then carried his ability to Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, where he was a standout, winning the Central Plains Region’s bulldogging title in 1999-2000. Just two weeks ago, he was announced as the rodeo coach at his alma mater.
Since turning pro in 1997, Graves has been one of the best in the business. Seven times he’s played on the biggest stage in ProRodeo, but also he’s added to it championships in the Prairie Circuit and the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo. Now he’d like to add his trophy case the hardware given to world champions, a Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.