LAS VEGAS – The grin on Caleb Bennett’s face said quite a bit; so did his ride on Thursday night during the first go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“I’m probably not going to quit smiling for a little bit,” said Bennett, who rode the Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo horse Wise Guy for 85.5 points to win on opening night of ProRodeo’s grand finale at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“He is actually one of the horses to have in this round based off everybody else’s talk. I knew if I did my part, he’d dang sure take me to the pay window.”
It worked out quite well. Bennett collected $18,630 and moved up from 15th to ninth in the world standings with nine rounds remaining in the sport’s super bowl. He also became the last cowboy to ride Wise Guy, which will be retired this week after his 16th trip to the Nevada desert.
“I’ve been watching that horse on TV since I was probably 10 years old,” he said. “I’m 25 now, so I’ve been watching him for a long time.
“That’s an amazing feeling. Growing up, those sure are the kind of horses guys dream of getting on.”
Over the course of Wise Guy’s career, he has led cowboys to eight go-round victories at the NFR, an amazing feat. In 2004 and 2006, he was part of the winning combination in both rounds in which he bucked. In all, cowboys have won $228,534 in Las Vegas on Wise Guy’s back.
“Automatically I was a little bit nervous,” Bennett said. “I’d never been on that horse, and that’s one of the greatest horses known to bareback riders. The nerves hit. Being the first (cowboy) out and having a horse like Wise Guy, it put the jitters in my gut a little bit. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have him.
“The outcome, being able to win the round on him, is unbelievable.”
So is Bennett’s start to the NFR.
“I feel very healthy, very confident,” he said. “Last year I had an elbow issue. I feel like I’m in better riding shape than most guys here. I think I’m more ready now than I was ever before.”