ARLINGTON, Texas – Richmond Champion has been here before. Through seven nights of the National Finals Rodeo, he sits in contention for the prize he most covets: a world championship.
To look at him, there is no worry or trepidation. He’s a man on a business trip, and his work involves riding bareback horses. He’s pretty good at it, too, having qualified for ProRodeo’s grand finale six times in seven years – the only year he missed was 2015, and injuries left him on the sidelines a little too long to put him into the top 15 when the regular season ended.
At this year’s NFR, he’s placed in just four rounds so far, but he’s snagged some nice paychecks. He won the opening round last Thursday, then placed again on the third and fourth nights. He earned another payout Wednesday, when he rode Big Stone Rodeo’s Mayhem for 81.5 points to place fifth, worth $6,769.
Still, he’s ridden consistently each night, and it shows. He is tied for first in the average race with 594 cumulative points on seven rides. That could be a big bonus in the end, but he’s already clinched $62,321.
“It’s a marathon,” said Champion, who grew up in The Woodlands, Texas, and now lives in Stevensville, Montana, with his, Paige. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad. I feel like I’ve done a good job of placing on horses that normally don’t get placed on, taking advantage when they give me a chance.
“The last two nights were a little bit of a lull, but I feel like I was riding good through those two rides, so I just tried to focus on that.”
He’s got three more nights remaining in his 2020 campaign to see where it all takes him. If he remains at or near the top of the aggregate race, then he’s looking at a substantial bonus when the NFR ends Saturday night.
“Three rounds are a long time,” he said. “My goal tonight was to just stay focused, don’t worry about the average, don’t worry about the world standings. I wanted to win some money, and we did that.”
After the third cowboy to ride Wednesday night, Champion knew his chances of winning the round had been diminished. Canadian Orin Larsen scored 90 points on a Calgary Stampede bucking horse named Yippee Kibitz to win the round. After seeing that ride happen knew he and Mayhem had a big uphill climb. It was Mayhem’s second trip at this year’s NFR; he bucked off Jake Brown in the second round last Friday.
“We have to take horses back a second time, and sometimes they’re not as good the second time,” Champion said. “After I watched Orin’s ride, I looked down at Mayhem in the chute and said, ‘Let’s just do our best today.’
“That’s a great little horse. He’s ranch-raised by Bruce Sundstrom (of Big Stone Rodeo), and I’ve seen him a lot. He didn’t have his best day, but it was still fun.”