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LAS VEGAS â Standing behind the golden bucking chutes, Casey Collettiâs heart raced as nervous energy coursed through his bloodstream.
âI was as nervous as you could get,â said Colletti, now competing for the third straight years at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sportâs grand championship that takes place inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. âYouâre here in front of everybody on TV, here in front of all your friends and your family. Thereâs a little bit more nerves. Youâre literally here with 14 of the best bareback riders in the world, and every nigh you get on 15 of the best bareback horses in the world.
âItâs different, but itâs good.â
So is Colletti, in a matter of speaking. The Pueblo, Colo., cowboy posted an 83.5-point ride Thursday night during the NFRâs opening go-round, finishing in a three-way tie for fourth place with Ty Breuer and Kaycee Feild â each cowboy earned $5,208.
So what calmed Collettiâs nerves enough to allow him to ride at the top of his game? Caleb Bennettâs 85.5-point, round-winning ride on the Pete Carrâs Classic Pro Rodeo horse Wise Guy, which was bucking at the NFR for the 16th time.
âI was jacked up watching Caleb be a bunch of points on Wise Guy for the last time ever,â Colletti said. âWatching Calebâs ride brought me back down, and I realized, âYeah, nowâs the time for me to come out and spur horses.â â
The NFR features the most pressure-packed 10 days in the rodeo season. Itâs where world champions will be crowned and where cowboys can earn a significant living in a week and a half.
âI feel like I could come to this rodeo 100 times, but Iâd still be as nervous as hell during that first round,â said Colletti, who rode Big Stone Rodeoâs Whisky Bent on Thursday. âI guess Iâve been resting, for lack of a better word. I feel good. I havenât been on a bareback horse since the middle of October.
âThe first couple of rounds, you want to make a statement. After that, I figure Iâve already got the sweet coat, the sweet ring; they canât take that away from you, so you might as well go out there and have fun and just win some money.â
Colletti has a plan, and Las Vegas is the place to make it pay off.
LAS VEGAS â The grin on Caleb Bennettâs face said quite a bit; so did his ride on Thursday night during the first go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
âIâm probably not going to quit smiling for a little bit,â said Bennett, who rode the Pete Carrâs Classic Pro Rodeo horse Wise Guy for 85.5 points to win on opening night of ProRodeoâs grand finale at the Thomas & Mack Center.
âHe is actually one of the horses to have in this round based off everybody elseâs talk. I knew if I did my part, heâd dang sure take me to the pay window.â
It worked out quite well. Bennett collected $18,630 and moved up from 15th to ninth in the world standings with nine rounds remaining in the sportâs super bowl. He also became the last cowboy to ride Wise Guy, which will be retired this week after his 16th trip to the Nevada desert.
âIâve been watching that horse on TV since I was probably 10 years old,â he said. âIâm 25 now, so Iâve been watching him for a long time.
âThatâs an amazing feeling. Growing up, those sure are the kind of horses guys dream of getting on.â
Over the course of Wise Guyâs career, he has led cowboys to eight go-round victories at the NFR, an amazing feat. In 2004 and 2006, he was part of the winning combination in both rounds in which he bucked. In all, cowboys have won $228,534 in Las Vegas on Wise Guyâs back.
âAutomatically I was a little bit nervous,â Bennett said. âIâd never been on that horse, and thatâs one of the greatest horses known to bareback riders. The nerves hit. Being the first (cowboy) out and having a horse like Wise Guy, it put the jitters in my gut a little bit. I couldnât have asked for a better place to have him.
âThe outcome, being able to win the round on him, is unbelievable.â
So is Bennettâs start to the NFR.
âI feel very healthy, very confident,â he said. âLast year I had an elbow issue. I feel like Iâm in better riding shape than most guys here. I think Iâm more ready now than I was ever before.â
1. Sherry Cervi, 13.77 seconds, $18,630; 2. Syndi Blanchard, 13.80, $14,724; 3. Fallon Taylor, 13.83, $11,118; 4. (tie) Sabrina Ketcham and Trula Churchill, 13.88, $6,310; 6. Jane Melby, 13.91, $3,005.
1. Shane Hanchey, 7.6 seconds, $18,630; 2. (tie) Stetson Vest and Ryan Jarrett, 7.7, $12,921 each; 4. Sterling Smith, 7.8, $7,813; 5. Caleb Smidt, 7.9, $4,808; 6. Scott Kormos, 8.0, $3,005.
1. Jake Wright on Korkow Rodeo’s Wiggle Worm, 84 points, $18,630; 2. Sterling Crawley, 82.5, $14,724; 3. Cort Scheer, 80.5, $11,118; 4. (tie) Cody Wright and Heith DeMoss, 79, $6,310 each; 6. (tie) Taos Muncy and Chet Johnson and Wade Sundell, 78, $1,002 each.
1. Riley Minor/Brady Minor, 4.6 seconds, $18,630; 2. Justin Van Davis/Clay O’Brien Cooper, 4.9, $14,724; 3. (tie) Clay Tryan/Jake Corkill and Derrick Begay/Cesar de la Cruz, 5.0, $9,465; 5. Dustin Bird/Paul Eaves, 5.1, $4,808; 6. Trevor Brazile/Patrick Smith, 5.3, $3,005.
1. Caleb Bennett on Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo’s Wise Guy, 85.5 points, $18,630; 2. Clint Cannon, 85, $14,724; 3. Jessy Davis, 84.5, $11,118; 4. (tie) Kaycee Feild and Ty Breuer and Casey Colletti, 83.5, $5,208 each.
1. Trevor Knowles, 3.1 seconds, $18,630; 2. (tie) Dakota Eldridge and Stand Branco, 4.0, $12,921 each; 4. Casey Martin, 4.2, $7,813; 5. Jason Miller, 4.3, $4,808; 6. Dean Gorsuch, 4.5, $3,005.
LAS VEGAS â Before he was old enough to smile, Rob Matthews was quickly moving into life in the world of rodeo.
He was 1 month old when his parents took him to the West of the Pecos (Texas) Rodeo, just down the street from his home. Heâs been part of the sport ever since, from riding and roping to telling stories about the sport on the Pro Rodeo Roundup, a weekday radio feature that has been picked up by 50 affiliates in 10 states across the country.
Matthews was awarded for his lifetime of work in the sport by earning the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Associationâs Media Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism during the organizationâs annual awards banquet in Las Vegas. The ceremony took place in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sportâs grand finale.
âThis is an honor, and itâs something that I can be proud of and know that itâs helping rodeo fans across the country stay up to date with whatâs happening in the rodeo world,â said Matthews, who lives in Seminole, Texas, with his wife, Mandy, and their two children, Jordan and Jaylee. âThe contestants have been great, and I thank them for always making time to do interviews, even during that busy summer rodeo schedule. Without them, this show doesnât exist.â
The list of past winners includes world champion cowboys/rodeo analysts like Joe Beaver and Don Gay; ProRodeo Announcer of the Year Hadley Barrett; and television commentators Jeff Medders and Butch Knowles, who continue to call the action from various rodeos, including the NFR.
âTo join a group like that is more than I even thought was possible,â Matthews said. âThis buckle will probably never come out of the case.â
Sponsored by Cowboy Up Energy Drink, Pro Fantasy Rodeo and Capital Hatters, the Pro Rodeo Roundup is a daily 3-minute program that includes tidbits of timely information on the sport, including interviews from the top names in the sport.
âI have always followed the sport,â Matthews said. âWhen the idea came to me of doing a radio feature, I immediately started putting things in motion. It took several months for me to get everything in place regarding equipment and format. Once I was ready to move ahead, my first affiliate station was KZZN in Littlefield, Texas, which is owned by one of my friends, Cody West.â
What makes Pro Rodeo Roundup successful? The format works well for stations and fans, and the stories are poignant and timely.
âI try to make the program more about the cowboys and cowgirls telling the story than me telling it for them,â he said.Â âThe fans want to hear the cowboys and cowgirls tell the story. I try to feature comments from two contestants per show. I produce and present the show, but itâs the cowboys and cowgirls that make it what it is.
âJust about everyone has been really easy to work with. There are times that they are unable to do the interview when I call, but 99 percent of the time they will call me or schedule a time for me to call them back. From rookies to multiple-time world champions to hall-of-fame inductees, everyone has just been a pleasure to work with.â
So has Matthews, which is why heâll have a buckle recognizing him for his outstanding work.