LAS VEGAS – Richmond Champion found himself on top of a difficult puzzle Thursday night.
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is a mixed bag of amazing animals, but Champion found a way to put the pieces of the package together, riding Sankey Rodeo’s Sudoku for 82 points to finish the eighth round in third place. That was worth an additional $11,340.
The young cowboy is having the time of his life riding the greatest – and, as was the case Thursday, the most difficult – bucking horses in the sport. The eighth round featured the eliminator pen, the nastiest bareback horses in this year’s finale, and Sudoku definitely fit the bill.
Champion, of The Woodlands, Texas, is just days away from his 22nd birthday, but he’s riding like a veteran. In fact, he has performed better than a number of veterans. Of the 15 men in the bareback riding field, only three others have earned more.
He has placed in four of the last five go-rounds – including victories in Rounds 5 and 7 – and has collected more than $50,000. That’s a pretty good wage for eight days of work, but Champion has made a habit out of cashing in on the backs of bucking horses.
In March, he won $1.1 million at The American, a non-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sanctioned event that offered a large incentive for qualifiers. Champion not only won the bareback riding title but was the only contestant who worked through the qualifier system to do so.
He’s done awfully well in the PRCA, too. He qualified for his first NFR as the No. 7 man in the world standings. He has now pushed his season earnings past $140,000 and sits fifth with two rounds remaining.
Champion also sits fourth in the average race with 646.5 points. If he finishes in that position, he will add another $23,000 on Saturday night. But he’s just half a point out of third place, which pays a little more than $31,000. Of course, winning rounds pays $19,000, and the Texas cowboy knows that as well as anybody in the field.