Unlikely Wright Captures Gold Buckle


Courtesy of the PRCA

The Wright brothers made history as four of them qualified for this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. But it was the most unlikely brother - the youngest of the bunch, Spencer Wright - that amazed the rodeo world when he won the gold buckle in saddle bronc riding Saturday night.

Wright entered the 10-day rodeo - which set a record for attendance with 177,565 - in 11th place, but gradually moved up the list and won the average title to claim the world championship in his first WNFR.

"I knew this was a possibility, but it's just a little hard to take it all in right now," Wright said. "I'm speechless, and I really don't know what to say at this moment. All I can say right now is that I'm proud and happy."

Seven of the world champions crowned before a Thomas & Mack Center crowd of 18,095 - the fourth-highest attendance for one night in the 56-year history of the Finals - were also the average title winners. That group included bareback rider Kaycee Feild, steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, team ropers Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, Wright, tie-down roper Tuf Cooper and bull rider Sage Kimzey.

On a night when the world's greatest cowboys shared the spotlight, it was the 23-year-old Wright who was the unlikeliest champion. After all, he had to work hard just to qualify for his first WNFR and he had always competed in the shadow of his more famous brothers: two-time world champion Cody (2008, 2010), and twins Jesse (2012 gold buckle winner) and Jake, who finished second in the world in 2013.

They're the first set of four brothers to ever qualify for the WNFR - let alone in the same year.

The three older Wrights were ecstatic when it became official that their little brother was the world champ.

"I would hope they're happy for me and proud me of," Spencer Wright said. "They're my brothers and it makes me happy that they were going crazy for me. I came in here expecting to do the best I could do, and I guess I really have. This is hard to describe."

Cody Wright, who missed Rounds 8 and 9 of the Finals with a dislocated shoulder, came back to ride in Round 10 and finished ninth in the world. He was thrilled to talk about Spencer's victory.

"I couldn't be more proud of him," Cody Wright said. "He came in here and lifted on his rein, marked every horse out and took advantage of every opportunity he had. It's exciting to see him have that kind of success. When we found out he had won it, it was an awesome moment for our whole family."

Trevor Brazile, who has a record 21 gold buckles, clinched his 12th all-around world championship - and his ninth straight - in Round 3. He finished with $494,369; it's the second-highest total in ProRodeo history, and Brazile owns the top eight marks.

Another sensational story involved Branquinho, who won his fifth gold buckle despite missing more than two months of the season with an injury. He earned $202,380 in 2014, and won his third WNFR average title with a time of 41.6 seconds on 10 head.

"This one feels good because I sat out two-and-a-half months with an injury and had surgery, so to be able to win it is pretty meaningful to me," Branquinho said. "Every time you have to have surgery on a tendon repair, there's a chance you may not come back, but I took the risk and my therapist at home and the doctor that put me back together said everything healed up and looked great."

Branquinho was atop the world standings when he injured his right lat (latissimus dorsi) muscle July 18 at Rodeo California Salinas. He was sidelined until the WNFR - and had dropped to eighth in the world. The Los Alamos, Calif., cowboy won checks in the first five rounds of the Finals to take control of the average race and shoot back to first place in the world standings.

"I just tried to get as close to the barrier as I could and throw them all down," said Branquinho, who earned checks in seven of the 10 rounds. "Drawing good had a lot to do with that."

Branquinho also won gold buckles in 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012; he's just one behind steer wrestling record holder Homer Pettigrew, a ProRodeo Hall of Famer who has six world championships.

He previously won average titles in 2008 and 2011, and said, "I wanted to win the average. There are not many guys who have three average championships."

All-time leader John W. Jones Sr. won four average titles (1965, 1968-70) while Tom Ferguson (1977-78, 1981) is the only other bulldogger with three average titles.

Feild continued to rewrite the record book as he claimed a fourth consecutive gold buckle and fourth straight WNFR average title. A year ago, he became the first contestant in any event to win three in a row of each.

"I'm a blessed young man, just to stay healthy for four years and have so much success," Feild said. "Vegas has been very good to me. I've had a lot of luck and I draw good."

This year, Feild was in a danger of not winning the average title. But he won Round 9 and vaulted from third to first in the average. He finished strong and placed second in Round 10 to clinch the average title with a score of 818.5 points on 10 head, four points ahead of Richmond Champion, who finished third in the world. Austin Foss was second in the world standings with $201,025 while Feild earned $294,980.

Feild is just the second contestant to win four consecutive average titles; team roping heeler Leo Camarillo won four straight from 1968-71.

Feild, who also won Round 1, knew the average title - and even the gold buckle - was in doubt with two rounds left.

"Before the ninth round, I was nervous if I would draw good enough, or ride good enough," he said. "It all worked out. To feel as healthy in the ninth and 10th rounds as I did in the first round felt really good. It was really important to achieve my goals I set at the first of the year. I set my goals higher and higher each year and it's great when I can achieve them. It makes me more excited for next year."

Feild said his career goal is simple.

"I want to win seven world titles," he said. "In my mind, Joe Alexander could've won seven straight; he won five (as did Bruce Ford) and (Alexander) could've won the next two based on how much he won for the year, but they decided the world champ those two years based on who won the average title, so he didn't win the gold buckle. In my eyes, he's the best bareback rider of all time."

Tryan and Corkill repeated as world champions - Corkill has won three straight gold buckles as a heeler - and broke the earnings record for the year in the event with $220,058. The old record was $202,189 by heeler Patrick Smith in 2010, when his partner, Trevor Brazile, earned $201,392 as a header.

"I knew I was capable of winning multiple championships, but it took me awhile," said Tryan, who has competed in 13 WNFRs and won a third gold buckle in 2005. "I feel like I gave a few away along the way, and that fuels the fire to make sure you try harder and it doesn't happen again.

"My goal when I go out and practice every day is to be in the conversation when they're talking about the best ever. I still have a lot of work to do, and a lot more winning to do, but this is another big step."

Corkill knew the partners just had to record a qualified time to win the average.

"All I was thinking about was catching two feet," he said. "We were the only team who had 'em all caught before tonight, and the average alone was worth $48,000. We do this for a living, so the money is the main thing."

Corkill was also tremendously satisfied to take another victory lap after Round 10.

"This gold buckle makes it all feel real," he said. "You win (the world) once and it doesn't sink in. It still wasn't real for me last year. Three in a row makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing."

Cooper returned to the top of the tie-down roping world after a year's absence - he won gold buckles in 2011-12 - and also won the average with a time of 89.7 seconds on 10 head. Cooper shared the Round 7 win, and finished the season with $241,734.

Cooper knew he could be cautious in Round 10 and wrap up the world title. Brazile finished second and Matt Shiozawa was third.

"I just had to go tie one down," Cooper said. "Those guys (Brazile and Shiozawa) were going for a world title. They weren't backing off and playing it safe. They wanted a gold buckle just like everybody grows up roping wants, and hats off to them for sticking to that. It's great (to win the gold buckle and average). It's such an honor. You want to win a round, you want to win the average and you want to win a world title - and I'm so blessed to do all three in one year."

This is the first time Cooper has won a gold buckle and the average in the same year. He also won the WNFR average title in 2009.

Kimzey, the amazing 20-year-old from Strong City, Okla., put an exclamation point on his historic bull riding season by winning the average title at the Finals. He's just the second bull rider to win the world championship and Rookie of the Year in the same season; Bill Kornell was the first in 1963.

Kimzey was a revelation at the WNFR as he won four rounds and dominated the competition while also winning the RAM Top Gun Award as the top money earner in any event with $175,466. His four round wins tied the record shared by Bob Wegner, Denny Flynn, Cody Custer, Blue Stone, B.J. Schumacher and J.W. Harris.

The red-hot Kimzey shattered Steve Woolsey's record of $202,128 earned in a rookie season. He failed to ride for eight seconds in Round 10, when earning a check would've pushed him past Matt Austin's single-season earnings record of $320,766 in 2005 and would've made him the first bull rider since Adriano Moraes in 1996 to cover nine of 10.

Kimzey's earning total is 11th on the all-time single season list. Brazile owns the top eight totals, followed by Austin and Feild ($319,986 in 2011).

"The record books are the Holy Grail for us," Kimzey said. "Matt (Austin) is a great guy and role model, and has always been someone I looked up to - inside the arena and out. He's one of the best bull riders to ever put his hand in a bull rope."

Fallon Taylor won the barrel racing world championship in a close battle with Lisa Lockhart. Taylor earned $276,441 and finished second in the average while Lockhart won the average and totaled $265,514.

"Oh, my gosh, I am breathless," Taylor said. "It was so very close. I give all the credit to (my horse) Baby Flo. I am thrilled. I have had such great support. The fans are wonderful. I just wanted to put on a good show for them. It's such an honor to have competed with such tough competition and still get the win. It's just so wonderful."