LAS VEGAS – Jess Pope looks at things a little differently than most people.
He’s a bareback rider, so it comes with the business. It works for him, and it worked Saturday night with an 86.5-point ride on Stace Smith ProRodeo’s Mr. Harry to win the third go-round of the National Finals Rodeo.
It was not only important to his place in the race for a world championship, but he proved his mettle by winning the eliminator pen, the section featuring the hardest-to-ride broncs in bareback riding.
“The eliminator pen is a kill-or-be-killed mentality,” said Pope, 24, of Waverly, Kansas. “A lot of this is connected to a wrestler’s mentality. When you step on that mat, it doesn’t matter what happened to all your buddies. It’s what’s right there in front of you.
“You have to dig down deep and find that alloy, and I just have to control the strategic chaos that’s at my hand.”
He controlled it quite well, pocketing $28,914 for the victory. He pushed his NFR earnings to $73,890 and holds down the top spot in the average with a three-ride cumulative score of 258.5 points. He is five points better than two cowboys in second place.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s good to get things going really good at the beginning of the week. The eliminator pen, especially, makes you feel really good, because those are the hardest horses in the world. To get the win on one of those (animals) is special.
“I was a little bit nervous coming into tonight, because it’s the eliminators, it’s hard. I knew Richie (Champion) had done really good on that horse last year, so I knew I had to show up and do my job and see where everything laid out at the end.”
His belly full of butterflies may have played a little into it, but he was prepared down to the pre-game meal he had before Saturday’s round. As he has done every time he gets on very rank bucking broncs, he made his way to Jimmy John’s for a sandwich.
“I get the Billy club, jalapeno chips and a lemonade,” he said with a smile. “That’s been my deal since I first started rodeoing with Tim. I don’t know where we were going, but we were getting on some eliminators that day, and that Jimmy John’s makes you light on your feet and makes you freaky fast.
“This is the best job in the world. All year long, the places you see and the people you meet is just great. You get out here, and there are thousands and thousands of people that travel to Las Vegas to watch one rodeo. To be able to be here and soak it all in, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little bitty kid, so it’s something special.”