LAS VEGAS – The hottest cowboy entering the fifth round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was Utah saddle bronc rider Ryder Wright, who had earned wins through the first four go-rounds.
Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness is trying to make that sizzling start transition to him. On Monday night, he knocked his steer to the ground in 3.5 seconds to win a round for the third straight night.
“I’m just trying to catch Ryder Wright,” he said with a laugh.
He’s doing a pretty fair job of it. Through five nights of ProRodeo’s grand finale, Struxness has pocketed $91,442; of that, $76,000 has been earned since Saturday night.
“We all hope that it goes this way when we come out here,” said Struxness, 22, of Appleton, Minn. “My week turned around in the third round, and we got the momentum rolling. Hopefully we can just keep it rolling and finish out the week like we did the start.”
He sits second in the world standings with just five nights left in the 2016 season. He has pushed his annual salary to $175,876 and trails the leader, Tyler Waguespack of Gonzales, La., by just $7,158. Struxness is more than $25,000 ahead of the No. 3 man, Arkansan Jason Thomas, but that ground can be made up in a hurry.
That’s why it’s important that he remain on the roll he’s been on, and he has a solid team to which he gives the credit.
“The success is a combination of things,” he said, pointing to having a solid mount in Peso, a 13-year-old sorrel gelding. “We’re hitting the start every night and catching up in a good spot where we can win money. My hazer, Jacob Shofner, is doing a great job. He’s on the ball, and he’s there every night keeping the steers straight.”
Monday’s round featured the second time that set of steers had been run – each of the timed events includes three pens, so the steers in Round 5 had also been run in the second round. Each of the bulldoggers has done is homework and had a game plan for how they needed to make their run. Struxness conferred with Shofner prior to Monday’s race in the Thomas & Mack Center dirt.
“We knew this steer tonight was going to run, and he was going to be good on the ground, so we took a really aggressive start,” Struxness said. “Jacob did all he could to keep him straight, and I went after him. We knew that when my feet hit the ground that he was going to be good, so I just reared back and tried him, and he took it.”
While he has done well in four of five rounds, he did suffer a no-time on the second night. That puts him behind the leaders with regards to the average race, where the cowboy with the best 10-run cumulative time will receive a bonus of $67,269 at the NFR’s conclusion.
“We’ll just keep going after the rounds and see how much money we can win,” he said. “We can’t worry about the average anymore unless more guys go out, so we’ll just keep going after the rounds and try to get out of Vegas with as much money as we can.”
That seems like the perfect approach.