While Luke Brown's Slim Shady, Yeller and Fast Time got most of the press in the last decade, Cowboy has been quietly waiting in the wings. Previously reserved for long-score and jackpot situations (Brown rode Cowboy to win the BFI and Cheyenne), Cowboy had to step in after Brown lost his NFR mount Rebel just days before the 2019 Finals. Cowboy didn't disappoint in Vegas, and Brown finished the year third in the average with $97,154 in NFR earnings. This year, Brown's won 65,987.18 world standings points in front of Joseph Harrison at the 2020 NFR. Brown and Cowboy are in the driver's seat for the heading world title entering Round 10.
[Learn More: The 2021 Team Roping Journal Breeder's Guide]
Joseph Harrison jumped on "Capone" after Round 5 of the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, feeling his 16-year-old great Main Street Boon struggling with the strong cattle and big in-field setup. The horse came from Oklahoma cowboy/trainer Miles Baker, where he was Baker's wife Daci's ranch-horse competition mount. Before that, Montana's Delon Parker rode the gelding at Ariat World Series of Team Roping jackpots in Arizona in preparation for the Billings Livestock Horse Sale. Brown and Harrison, in his first NFR out on Capone, placed in Round 6 with a 4.2-second run. Harrison enters the 10th Round needing a top-notch performance from Capone for a shot at the gold buckle.
Erich Rogers' DMO Sand Drifter (Sandy)
The bay roan mare Erich Rogers is nailing the start on night after night came from his partner Paden Bray's dad Ken and NFR header Logan Olson. On Sandy, Rogers has won 48,923.08 and leads the NFR average as the only header to have stopped the clock on each run. The mare, who won the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo under Olson, is a little snorty, and she has a funky requirement that she must pee before she rides off to warm up.
Paden Bray's EM Magic Bar Eleven (Slider)
The Bray family halter-broke "Slider", who came off the Montgomery Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, as a weanling.
"My Pawpaw back home, he couldn't make it here because of his sickness, but he picked that horse out of a crop of colts and we halter broke him," Bray said. "Then, Marty Becker put about nine months training on him, and then I've rode the horse for literally nine years and he's 12 now. So it's pretty special."
Going into the 10th Round, Bray leads the average and is in the driver's seat for the heeling world title on Slider.
Clay Smith and Jade Corkill aren't out of it yet, and that's thanks to the mastery of Marty. The grade, gray gelding has carried Smith to back-to-back world titles, and he's been the stand-out head horse at every Finals he's appeared. Marty was just a horse that came through the Smith-family horse buying-and-selling operation, and Smith almost didn’t buy Marty—who’s sire is known to be a Hollywood Dun It, Smart Little Lena-bred horse named Royal Dept—because he bucked when Smith tried him. Smith haggled on price with former owner and family friend Marty Caudle, but the next day, Caudle took Smith’s offer, and the rest, as they say, is history. Heading into Round 10, Smith and Jade Corkill are seventh in the average and fourth and second in the world, so for them, tonight is a one-header for all the marbles.
Huey was Travis Graves' second stringer, but for Jade Corkill, he's been magic. Corkill, who has owned some of the greatest heel horses of all time in Jackyl, Ice Cube, Caveman and Switchblade, fit Huey from the time he bought him back in 2018. Corkill started the week on Caveman, swapped to his gray gelding Champ, but then settled in with a Round 5 win on Huey. He enters Round 10 second in the PRCA world standings and seventh in the average, so Huey's given him an outside chance at gold buckle number four.
Nelson Wyatt's WYO Pay N Play
Nelson Wyatt's 11-year-old gray, Playgun-bred gelding Teddy Bear got him to the Finals, and he's given him a shot night after night, even when steers have come left into him. The horse even let him fish one on when it mattered most. Heading into every round, top ropers like Turtle Powell, Ryan Motes, Trevor Brazile and Jhett Johnson have called out the gray for his performance in Arlington.
"My horse helps me so much," Wyatt told us earlier this year on The Score. "He's pretty free, and he tries to catch the cow. He's not trying to cheat me ever. He made it pretty easy on me over the Fourth and really the whole summer."
Levi Lord's Poco Sparta King is the fan-favorite NFR team roping horse. At 23, he's by far the oldest horse in the field. He only cost a 15-year-old Lord $2,700 when he bought him from Craigslist a decade ago, and he was nearly done last year after a major puncture wound sidelined him for months. He and Teddy Bear have Wyatt and Lord third in the average going into Round 10, with an outside chance at a world title. They're 50.70 on eight head, and have won 61,544.87 world standings points each this week. They'll rope sixth out tonight.