LAS VEGAS – The feelings Richmond Champion experienced Saturday night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo ran the gamut.
“I woke up this morning at 7 o’clock, and my heart was just beating out of my chest,” he said, referring to his long day of preparing to ride one of the rankest horses in the sport, Frontier Rodeo’s Full Baggage, the two-time Bareback Horse of the Year.
“It took me a while to calm down and go back to sleep. I’ve been thinking about it all day.”
It must have paid off, because Champion and Full Baggage danced across the Thomas & Mack Center dirt for 89.5 points to finish second in the third go-round. It was worth $20,731 for The Woodlands, Texas, cowboy, who pushed his NFR earnings to $54,212. He did this all in the eliminator pen of bareback horses, those that are the hardest to ride.
“This pen gets everybody,” he said. “The locker room was quiet. We all know what we have to do, and it showed tonight. It’s a 90-or-nothing pen, and that’s the way it should be. I was thankful to have that horse, because he’s all there.
“That couldn’t have gone any better. I got to add a new favorite horse to my list.”
He should. With his winnings, Champion has pushed his season earnings to $155,408 and sits fourth in the world standings.
“I’m feeling good, and I’m just want to keep the ball rolling,” Champion said. “It’s such a marathon. I want it, and I’m excited, but at the same time, you can’t count your chickens. Tomorrow are the fun horses, the ones you like to get on, but there will be no difference in intensity tomorrow.
“That’s what we signed up for, for 10 days. I love it, every moment of it.”
This is Champion’s third trip to Las Vegas for the finale. He had a superb inaugural run in 2014, then missed the next campaign because of injury. Things didn’t go his way a season ago, but he’s making up for it already – in fact, he’s earned almost as much in three days as he did all of 2016.
“Last year didn’t go my way, but I still appreciate it,” he said. “I had a moment of peace after this round, like I’ve done everything I could do, and that was a great feeling To get the ball rolling this early, I just want to keep it going. I’m a creature of habit and will keep it the same: Keep it simple, have fun and ride every horse for what they are.”
He’s done just fine so far.