LAS VEGAS – Casey Colletti sits on a bench inside a small locker room inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Preparing for the biggest competition of his life, he looks around and sees the biggest names in bareback riding.
“Those guys … they’re my heroes,” said Colletti, 25, of Pueblo, Colo. “It just makes me feel good inside that I’m here competing with them. Maybe I can be a hero to some up-and-comer, some other kid that still wants to be able to ride.”
Through eight rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Colletti has placed six times, is fourth in the average with a cumulative score of 657 points and earned $49,183, the third best earnings total in bareback riding. Yes, the NFR first-timer is beating most his heroes.
“It’s like a dream come true,” he said.
The dream includes Thursday’s fifth-place finish in the eighth go-round, which featured the nastiest bucking horses in the sport in what insiders call the “eliminator pen.” Colletti matched moves with Kesler Championship Rodeo’s Cool Pieces for 82 points, just a point and a half away from first place in a judged event where half the score is based on how well the animal bucks, while the other half is based on how well the cowboy rides.
“They’re just strong and rank and drop and pull and lunge,” said Colletti, who attended Garden City (Kan.) Community College on a rodeo scholarship. “They’re just not the fun kind to get on. It gives us a good reason to be here, because we can ride the rank ones. Sometimes, mine don’t look the prettiest, but we do it because we have to, I guess.
“I was actually really pleased to be 82 points. To win fifth out of 15 guys, it kind of makes me feel pretty good that I could ride the eliminators with these guys.”
Still, the sore cowboy is pretty happy to be done with the eliminators. He’s also pretty happy with his winning trip to Las Vegas so far.