NFR Update

Despite all the big money won at the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship in Dallas, Texas, Nov. 10-12, most of the predictions made by WH's expert panel (see "NFR Preview"in November 2006 WH) for the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appear to be on track.

The NFR gets underway Nov. 30 at the Thomas and Mack Center on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas campus. Rodeo competition will appear nightly on ESPN and ESPN2, so consult your local listings for times in your area.

In the all-around, the championship is still Trevor Brazile's to lose. He carries a $134,000 lead into Thomas and Mack. But he'll still have to pick up at least a few checks in tie-down and team roping to claim his fourth all-around crown. That's because Joe Beaver, himself a three-time all-around champ, is also qualified for the NFR in two events. He'll try to match wins with Brazile in tie-down and team roping. While even Beaver admits he's a long shot to catch up, the Huntsville, Texas, cowboy never enters an event with second place as his goal.

Two-time world-champion bareback rider Will Lowe helped his cause in Dallas-winning the tour championship and padding his lead with $17,919 in last-minute winnings. His lead sits at nearly $28,000 over Andy Martinez heading into the national finals.

Steer-wrestling leader Dean Gorsuch followed in Lowe's footsteps. His win and $17,919 Dallas payday pushed his lead to nearly $22,000 over Shawn Greenfield. Ronnie Fields and Luke Branquinho are just behind Greenfield.

Legendary team ropers Speed Williams and Clay O'Brien Cooper made up some ground on season-long leaders Matt Sherwood and Walt Woodard with their $21,738 payday in Dallas. Less than $20,000 now separates them from the leaders in the heading and heeling standings.

Chad Ferley was already considered a legitimate NFR threat, but his big win in Dallas jump-started his chances two weeks before the finals even begin. Ferley pocketed $20,660 to move within $1,000 of standings leader Cody DeMoss heading into Las Vegas. Six-time champion Dan Mortensen is roughly $20,000 back after opting to compete in the Canadian Finals Rodeo (where money won doesn't count in the world standings) instead of the Dallas competition.

Not much changed in the tie-down standings-where Cody Ohl carries a $40,000-plus lead into Las Vegas. Given his track record of success at Thomas and Mack, that's bad news for the rest of the field. But with Brazile, Blair Burk, Ryan Jarrett and Fred Whitfield all in the top five going in, anything's liable to happen.

For the second straight year, a big win in Dallas gave Sherry Cervi quite a boost. A year ago it put her in contention for a world title. This year, her five-figure payday pushed her into the top 15-qualifying her to compete in Las Vegas. But she's still got a long way to go to catch Brittany Pozzi. The young Texan leads Mary Burger by nearly $19,000, and the third-place barrel racer, Tana Poppino, is more than $55,000 behind.

Coming off his record-breaking 2005 season, Matt Austin had another great year. But an injury kept him out of the Dallas event and led to speculation that the door to the world championship might be somewhat ajar for other bull riders to come crashing through. Austin still carries a $25,000 lead into Las Vegas. And even the healthiest bull riders can quickly take a turn for the worst when attempting to ride rank bulls for 10 straight days. Whoever survives for all 10 rounds is likely to come out on top.