LAS VEGAS – The 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was a display of awesome athletic talent, showcased over 10 nights in the Nevada desert.
For contestants who are part of Team MGM Grand, it was spectacular, featuring three world championships, two NFR average titles and $1.74 million paid out to the 31 cowboys and cowgirls. That is a substantial take for contestants who stayed at the Home of Champions, the fitting tag line for the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino properties.
Atop the list is 16-time world champion Trevor Brazile, who owns nine of the last 10 all-around world titles, a record the Decatur, Texas, cowboy continues to strengthen. Brazile, who also won the steer roping world title earlier this season, was the only cowboy in the field to compete in multiple events in Las Vegas. He finished the NFR with $106,250 in earnings, most of which came in team roping with his partner, Patrick Smith of Midland, Texas. Brazile had nearly $32,000 in tie-down roping.
While Brazile’s status is as high as anyone who has ever played the sport, no other Team MGM Grand contestant had a better 10 days of competition than barrel racer Lindsay Sears, who earned $133,558, won the NFR average with a cumulative time of 139.50 seconds on 10 runs and won her second Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“You are as good as your horse is in barrel racing,” said Sears, who teamed with her well known partner, an 11-year-old sorrel mare named Martha. “We’re like peas and carrots. She is the one for me. If I wasn’t going to get to get on her again, I’m not sure if I wanted to continue doing this for a living.
“I got to the finals on my backup horse, and Martha got to come here and be the star. She got to prove herself here in this arena again. It’s indescribable.”
The tie-down roping race was as tight as any in the game, with Team MGM Grand cowboys battling it out to the wire on the final night of the competition, Matt Shiozawa and Tuf Cooper. Shiozawa, of Chubbuck, Idaho, won the average championship, roping and tying down 10 calves in a cumulative time of 88.3 seconds; in all, he won $106,154 in Las Vegas.
But he finished runner-up to the world title to Cooper, the 21-year-old son of legendary roper Roy Cooper, who owns eight world championships. Tuf Cooper, of Decatur, Texas, won just $46,731 at the NFR, but his pre-finals lead carried him to his first world championship, the family’s ninth gold buckle. Tuf is one of four NFR qualifiers who are part of Team MGM Grand, joining brothers Clif and Clint and cousin Jim.
“We didn’t have the Finals that we were expecting, and if you look back on paper, that’s the ones we were expecting,” said Tuf Cooper, whose brother-in-law is Brazile. “It’s definitely worked out the way we wanted it to, and it all works out in the end.
“Everything’s going to change from this point on. We’re trying to take the steering wheel and do the driving instead of being along for the ride. I’ve got a big responsibility to a lot of people, and I’m going to try to do the very best job that I can.”
In all, Team MGM Grand contestants left Las Vegas with $1,739,132, nearly one third of the total prize purse available. That’s one reason why the MGM Grand is the Home of Champions.