Tom Richards roped at his second Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2017. He roped at his first Finals with fellow Arizona native Cesar de la Cruz in 2014, and returned to Rodeo’s Super Bowl last December heading for 2016 World Champion Heeler Jeremy Buhler from Canada. Richards is ringing in the new year with Oklahoma cowboy Jake Smith, who’s a little brother to three-time NFR header Clay Smith.

Kendra Santos: Remind us of how you got to the 2017 NFR.

Tom Richards: I started out the year with Tyler McKnight. We split right before Salt Lake City in July. Tyler wasn’t qualified to go to Salt Lake and I was, so I entered there with Kyle Lockett. Then Tyler got into Salt Lake at the last minute and roped with Junior Dees. (Dees and McKnight won the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games for $50,000 apiece, and Richards and Lockett were second for $25,000 a man.) I roped the second half of the regular season with Ryan Motes.

KS: What do you consider your 2017 regular-season highlight and low point?

TR: The highlight was second at Salt Lake. Winning $25,000 at one rodeo is a huge hit, especially for second. The low was probably over the Fourth. We struggled a little bit. Everybody expects to win $20,000, and realistically only one or two teams do that. It’s kind of a long week and a half there. We won about $3,000.

KS: How did you get paired up with Jeremy for the 2017 NFR?

TR: We talked about it when he and Buddy (Hawkins) were fighting it out for 15. On paper, Levi (Simpson, Buhler’s gold-buckle partner in 2016) couldn’t make it, so I was trying to figure out who I was going to rope with. When neither of our partners were going to make it, I asked Jeremy what he was going to do if he made it, and he said he wanted to rope.

KS: How much did you and Jeremy get to practice together before the Finals, and how did that go?

TR: We roped probably 10 different days, and it went great. We roped good together. Our run felt good, and all of our horses felt good.

KS: You and Jeremy placed in two rounds for $30,096 a man, which was the least won by any team there. Why do you think you guys had such a rough week?

TR: We made a couple really good runs. There were some other teams who made two really good runs and won $50,000. The two rounds we caught in just happened to be the two toughest rounds of the Finals. We were 4 flat (to split third in Round 5) and 4.1 (to finish fifth in Round 9). Those times won some of the other rounds, but placed down lower the nights we were that fast.

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KS: Who was the one person you talked to every day during the run of the Finals that helped you the most?

TR: My dad (1978 World Champion Header George Richards). He talked to me about just being consistent and doing my job, and reminded me that there’s so much money to win every night. He told me to just keep trying to get some of it, and that kept me positive and looking forward instead of looking back.

KS: A month or so after the fact, does your 2017 Finals bum you out or fire you up?

TR: Just making the Finals is a big deal. So you can never be bummed out to be there. How things went makes me want to try to get back there and win more. So I’d say it fires me up. There are no guarantees once you get there that you’re going to win anything. That’s what’s tough about our sport. I wish they’d give everybody $100,000 when they got there, but that’s not the way it works.

KS: You’ve now roped at two NFRs (Tom and Cesar placed in four rounds in 2014). What’s the most important lesson learned at your first two Finals that you think will be most beneficial if you can get there a third time?

TR: I need to catch more when I get there. I missed two steers for Cesar in 2014, and I missed four for Jeremy there last year. It seems like the guys who win the world catch all their steers. I think the header has to turn all 10 steers.

KS: You’re roping with Oklahoma’s Jake Smith in 2018. What do you like about your team?

TR: Jake and I get along good, and I think we’re both hungry enough and want to win enough that we’re going to do whatever it takes. I think we’re a really consistent team, so catching a lot of steers is going to be our strategy.

KS: What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of roping with a guy who hasn’t yet made it to The Show?

TR: The advantage is he wants to get there. The disadvantage is that, speaking from experience, there can be just a little bit of nerves when you do get there that first time. It affects people differently. Some first-timers have won the world their first year. You never know until you go, so getting there is job one.

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