It was a day that Shania Twain and Sarah Palin shined in the spotlight at the 55th Annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and to the delight of nearly 17,700 fans, superstar and Caesars Palace headliner Shania kissed hubby Frederic Thiebaud for the Thomas & Mack Center kiss cam.
Just two days now remain until more than $4 million in prizes and shining gold buckles are presented to the champions before they depart town and leave the Strip as quiet as can be for the week before Christmas.
BRIAN JONES/LAS VEGAS NEWS BUREAU
Sarah Palin in sunglasses at South Point on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.
Former Alaska Gov. and GOP vice-presidential contender Sarah was in country clothes and a cowboy hard hat at South Point for the naming rights ceremony of the new Priefert Pavilion, a multimillion-dollar expansion project at South Point President Michael Gaughan’s Arena and Equestrian Center. Two new climate-controlled venues will add more than 100,000 square feet to existing facilities. Completion is expected next summer in time for events in September.
Shania opened Canada Night at the 2013 WNFR, where Wayne Void and Lexi Larsen performed the dual neighboring national anthems. Before her ride around the arena, three rodeo champions met up with Shania backstage: South Dakota saddle bronc rider Chad Ferley; steer wrestler Luke Branquinho from California; and steer wrestler Jason Miller from Wyoming.
Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his exclusive photos and action gallery and to WNFR for its assistance with this report.
Twenty-one-year-old Cody Teel is closing in fast on his quest for a second world bull riding championship in a row. He grabbed the average lead away from two-time world champ J.W. Harris, who has a $37,000 lead in the world standings. If Cody closes that gap with another round win, plus, the top average check winning the remaining two rounds — that would be four in a row — he’d claim another gold buckle.
“I knew coming into this that I was a long shot to be able to win another gold buckle,” said Cody. “Mathematically I wasn’t, but my main goal was to win the Finals average and let the rest play out.” Incredibly, it’s a comeback-kid story after last year’s win as the second-youngest bull riding world champ.
Cody, competing in only his second Wrangler NFR, broke his left elbow and had surgery March 7 that required 10 screws and two plates. It sidelined him nearly three months and in returning suffered a broken jaw. He has been competing here with a metal plate in his chin.
“Obviously, at the start of this season I was wanting another gold buckle, but with the injuries this year, I’m happy to be here and in this spot,” he added. “I’m going for the average, and if the world title comes with it, then it would be that much better.” He was one of only three of 15 cowboys who managed to stay on for the full 8 seconds, hanging off the side of the bull for the last few seconds of his ride, but making it to the whistle.
“The first thing I was wondering was how the heck did I get in this position?” he said. “To begin the ride, it felt great and I thought I was in total control, but by the end I was just trying to hold on and grit it out until the whistle. I guess I got a little too comfortable and lost my aggressiveness toward the end, but I got it done, and it worked out.”
Red-hot Jake Wright won his fourth round in eight days in saddle bronc riding and is poised to earn his first gold buckle. His twin brother, Jesse, claimed the world title last year, and older brother Cody won the championship in 2008 and 2010. Jake is now third in the average and leads the world standings with $175,535, nearly $21,000 more than third-place brother Cody.
“If I keep doing what I’m doing, I like my chances to win the world, but I have to ride well the next two nights,” said Jake, who has earned $87,440 here. “I came into this WNFR just wanting to do better than I did last year, and I’ve done that. Everything else is icing on the cake from this point.”
Utah’s Kaycee Feild, who became the third bareback rider to win back-to-back rounds, is now first in the average and world standings. By Saturday night, he hopes to be the first bareback rider to win three consecutive world championships since the mid-1970s. Kaycee leads the world standings by more than $25,000 over four-time world champ Bobby Mote.
Barrel racer Sherry Cervi claimed her third round win in 13.71 seconds. She leads the average by 1.7 seconds and tops the world standings by nearly $50,000 over defending champ Mary Walker. Sherry, looking for her fourth gold buckle, has picked up a winner’s check in all eight rounds and is trying to match Kristie Peterson’s record for earning money in all 10 rounds and winning the average.
Check back over the weekend for coverage of the final two rounds and then Monday we’ll have a report of the gold buckle and big-check presentations.
Luke Bryan, Rodney Carrington and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, at MGM Grand.
Country music stars Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley (Lady Antebellum), who were big winners at the 2013 American Country Awards at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Tuesday, surprised comedian Rodney Carrington at his comedy show in Hollywood Theater at MGM Grand.
Fremont Street Experience in conjunction with the Nevada Barbecue Association hosts the 2nd Annual Downtown Throwdown Barbecue Championships today and Saturday. Competition is sizzling as cooks fire up the grills for the contest sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Fans are invited to enjoy America’s best cowboy chefs’ chili, ribs, chicken, brisket and pork as judges pick winners over the two-day event.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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