Contestants on the bubble hope American Royal pushes them toward the NFR
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is a major goal of every cowboy and cowgirl who has ever competed in the sport.
There’s just one problem: Only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season qualify for ProRodeo’s grand finale, which takes place each December in Las Vegas. With the 2012 campaign winding to a close on Sept. 30, there is a mad scramble to fill those coveted spots.
“It’s a little scary, especially for someone like me who’s never made it to the finals before,” said Jared Keylon, the 15th-ranked bareback rider from Uniontown, Kan., near Fort Scott. “It can add a lot of pressure. I don’t feel like I’ve had it bad in any regard, but it hasn’t went real well lately.”
He’s hoping a little hometown karma will cure what’s been ailing him late this season during the American Royal Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex. Keylon spent much of the season in the top 10 in the standings and only fell to the bottom hole this week.
“It’s pretty frustrating, because I’ve been in this position before and had a chance to make it to the finals,” said Keylon, who finished 16th in 2009, just one spot out of a trip to the Nevada desert. “I’ve been in there all year long, and now I have to win everything I can to go. It’s definitely been hard, but it’s been fun.
“When you’re in this position, it’s very exciting.”
Yes, it is. Josh Peek can attest. Peek, a six-time NFR qualifier from Pueblo, Colo., has competed in Las Vegas in both steer wrestling and tie-down roping. This year, he’s trying to move up just a few spots in both events – he is 20th in steer wrestling and 19th in tie-down roping.
“The American Royal is in a position that it’s a last-chance rodeo for a lot of guys,” Peek said. “It gives the guys that are from 20th to 13th in the standings a chance to make up some grounds. At the end of the year, Kansas City is a very good rodeo to be able to attend.”
The rush that comes with the chase has worked for Peek in the past. But he knows it’s better to secure a spot in the NFR much sooner as to avoid the anxiety.
“The end of the year has always been great for me, but this year’s been tough,” he said. “I’m definitely going to these next few rodeos with everything I can. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll just have to work harder.”
Bareback rider Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla., knows how important a strong finish is. In each of his four NFR qualifications, McDaniel has utilized a late-season push to earn his spot in the top 15.
“The first time I went to the finals in 2007, I was 15th in August,” said McDaniel, who moved up from 19th to 14th in the last three weeks. “It’s nothing new to me. The fall has always been good to me.
“I’ve had years where I’ve been injured earlier in the year, then it comes to clutch time, and I have to make it work at the end. You’ve just got to lay it all on the line and go for it.”
That’s going to happen in every event each of the three nights of the American Royal Rodeo. It’s just more flavor to an already exciting event.
“It’s going to come down to the last day, so it’s going to be exciting,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to be a knife fight down here at the bottom to get those last few spots to make it to Vegas, that’s for sure.”