LAS VEGAS – Most nights this time of year, the Thomas and Mack Center is a basketball court.
This week, it’s home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It’s a lot smaller than at a typical rodeo, so times must be fast. Wyatt Smith is learning that the hard way.
On Tuesday night, the education came through for the Rexburg, Idaho, cowboy. He wrestled his steer to the ground in 3.6 seconds to finish second in the sixth go-round, earning $15,018 in the process. It was just the second qualifying run for Smith.
“The start is so fast here, and I’m just trying to figure it out,” he said. “I’ve been late on everything. Finally I figured out how to get out of the start, and it’s super-fast.”
Steer wrestlers must catch their steers before they reach midcourt if they hope to win. When the animal gets too big of a head start, the chances of the steer wrestler earning a check is slim.
“It finally felt good, and I can relax a little bit and have some fun now,” he said.
Smith wasn’t having much fun. After posting a 5.6-second run on opening night, he failed to secure a time in Rounds 2-5.
“Oh, yeah, you could see me take my hat off and wipe my brow,” Smith said. “I have been having heck and fighting things. I kept telling myself that if could get my hands on one, I’d be OK and remember how to tip one over.”
Then he did a back flip in celebration, showcasing his years in gymnastics.
“Everybody keeps saying we’re at halftime, and there’s still a lot of money out there and a lot of steers to get thrown down,” Smith said of the 10-round marathon that is the NFR. “Everybody’s bulldogging so good, and that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s tough. It’s a dogfight.”
It is, and now Smith is back in it. Each night, each of the top 15 race for their share of $61,298. The man with the fastest time earns a nightly paycheck of $19,000. That is plenty of incentive.
“I’m out of the average,” he said, referring to the cowboy who finishes the NFR with the fastest 10-round cumulative time. “Now it’s all about going for first every run. I know it’s going to be so fast, so you just have to have fun.”