Team MGM kicks off NFR’s opening night in a big way

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LAS VEGAS – Four contestants from Team MGM Grand made a big statement Thursday night by winning the opening go-round of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Steer wrestler Jason Miller, tie-down roper Cody Ohl and barrel racers Brittany Pozzi and Lindsay Sears left the Thomas & Mack Center with the fastest times in their respective events and carried their huge one-night paychecks back to their comfortable rooms at one of the MGM Grand properties just a few blocks from the arena.

Combined, the four competitors own 10 world championships, which is why it’s fitting they’re residing in the Home of the Champions during their stay in Las Vegas. Miller, the 2008 world champion from Lance Creek, Wyo., split the go-round win with Oregonian Trevor Knowles with 3.9-second runs, while Ohl, a six-time world champion (five in tie-down roping and the 2001 all-around winner), posted a 7.5-second run; it was the 41st time the Hico, Texas, cowboy has won an NFR go-round. Sears and Pozzi rounded the cloverleaf pattern in 14.03 each.

“It’s great,” said Sears, the 2008 world champion from Nanton, Alberta. “It makes for our sport to be great watching.

“It’s a tough competition. She’s such a great competitor, but so are the other 13 girls. It’s so tight, anybody can win this. I don’t think any one of us could relax.”

The cowgirls are ranked Nos. 1-2 in the barrel racing standings, with Pozzi carrying just a $10,000 lead heading into the next nine rounds.

“I just wanted to take my first run tonight clean,” said Pozzi, the 2007 and 2009 world champion from Victoria, Texas. “And just get the first one by me. I didn’t expect what happened to happen.”

Miller and Knowles rode the same animal, two-time Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year Jessie, owned by two-time world champion Lee Graves. That was the key to the cowboys’ success.

“You’ve got to have a lot of confidence in your horse, and Trevor and I have a lot of confidence in Jessie,” Miller said. “He’s going to win us a lot of money this week.”

Ohl has been down this path before. He won the first of his gold buckles in 1997; his last came just five seasons ago, but the focus of his rodeo career has changed for the 38-year-old champion. He competed in just 26 rodeos through the season and planned to just rope for the average title, meaning he wanted to have the best cumulative time over the course of the 10-day finale.

“(As) soon as I rode in there, (announcer) Boyd (Polhamus) said, ‘$60,000 behind,’ (then it was) blow the barrier and wrap and a hooey,” Ohl said, explaining that he his plan to rope safe went out the window and he decided to chase the go-round money instead, taking a few more gambles along the way in order to try to cash in with a $17,885 check given to the round winners. “My whole philosophy changed.”

But that’s what happens in the minds of champions. When they’ve got their minds right, they can focus on the tasks at hand. With a $6 million purse on the line in the eight disciplines of rodeo, it’s important to be prepared when it’s time to go to work.

“The thing I love about the MGM is they take care of everything for us,” Pozzi said. “We don’t have to worry about anything but the rodeo.”


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