WORLD CHAMP: Kaycee Feild
FANTASY PICK: Tim O’Connell
This will be a five-man battle in Las Vegas, with a possible sixth-man spoiler in Tim O’Connell. The men between fifth and first are separated by about $50,000. If you know Vegas, you know anything can happen there. But, it will be a big battle between the top three. They’ve been duking it out all season long. Kaycee Feild, at No. 2, had a head injury, and that put him out for a long time mid-season, but that put him only a little more than $5,000 behind Clayton Biglow at No. 1. Orin Larsen just won a Canadian title, and Richmond Champion won second. Tim O’Connell is roughly $64,000 out of it, but he didn’t start until Reno, and he catapulted himself to sixth in the world. Tim is healthy, and he’s riding as good as he ever has. Put him inside the Thomas & Mack and watch him work. The only guys who don’t have a chance at a world title are the guys who finished 16th on down.
WORLD CHAMP: Ty Erickson
FANTASY PICK: J.D. Struxness
This is one of the tightest races there is this year. The No. 1 man of Ty Erickson will be extremely hard to beat. Hunter Cure obviously has bulldogged so well at the Thomas & Mack, and he just never has any kind of struggle there. If you go farther down the list, Dakota Eldridge, Kyle Irwin, J.D. Struxness and Tyler Pearson jump off the page. The money between No. 15 and No. 1 can be won in three rounds. There’s nobody just dominating this year, but Erickson is No. 1 by $42,000. He won The American, though, and if you take that $50,000 away, Hunter Cure is your world No. 1. Tyler Pearson and Kyle Irwin own Scooter, the greatest steer wrestling horse going, and I bet Ty Erickson and Dakota Eldridge ride him, too. That’s a significant advantage in their favor and, if Erickson rides him, there’s no way to beat him.
WORLD CHAMP HEADING: Clay Smith
FANTASY PICK HEADING: Erich Rogers
WORLD CHAMP HEELING: Ryan Motes
FANTASY PICK HEELING: Hunter Koch
Oh man. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira will finally have it figured out there, and Clay Smith and Jade Corkill know how to win gold buckles in that building, too. I think Clay Smith has proved himself this year as the World Champ and a guy who wants to win multiple world championships. He’s lights-out wherever he goes. Clay Tryan, coming in at No. 4, has found a new youthful vigor. He’s probably the second-oldest guy competing there, besides Matt Sherwood. I think Clay Tryan and Jake Long will win so much. History tells us that Jake Long combined with a Tryan in Las Vegas will be cool to watch. Then, there’s my home team of Coleman Proctor and Ryan Motes, who won The American this year and who, separately, have a history of winning a lot of go-rounds in Las Vegas. In 2016, Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler proved to us it doesn’t matter where you came in when they won the world from the No. 15 spot, and that means Tyler Wade and Cole Davison have just as much a chance at getting on fire in Vegas as the leaders. But this top four on both the head and heel side has shown such domination throughout the year. Clay Smith and Jade Corkill are your shoe-in, but I do believe we’ll have an off-kilter world title this year.
SADDLE BRONC RIDING
WORLD CHAMP: Ryder Wright
FANTASY PICK: Chase Brooks
Ryder Wright and Zeke Thurston will battle it out. Not taking anything away from the other competitors, but third is $100,000 out of first place. It’s the largest margin in any event other than the bull riding. Thurston will stay good in the average. Ryder has to mark horses out every round at the NFR, and that’s something he’s struggled with in the past. Chase Brooks will be the guy to watch in the rounds. He’s been riding great all year, and he’s got the confidence that he belongs at this level. Obviously, Dawson Hay, when he does ride, is lights-out phenomenal. He has trouble finishing rides but, his dad has been working on that with him. He’ll be fun to watch. Colt Gordon is as ranchy as John Wayne wishes he would have been, so he’ll be fun to watch there, too.
WORLD CHAMP: Caleb Smidt
FANTASY PICK: Marty Yates
The tightest race this year. The NFR rookies are roping like veterans. Six of the 15 are first-timers: Haven Meged, Taylor Santos, Ty Harris, Tyler Milligan and Shad Mayfield. These guys have been so close in their short careers. Santos is a throwback to Dean Oliver. He’s such a good horseman and so athletic. It’s Meged’s and Mayfield’s true rookie years. They tell me Shad is nothing to be messed with, that he’s an 18-year-old superstar. There’s only been one man that young to win a world title in his rookie year: Joe Beaver in 1985. It’s hard for a rookie to come into the NFR to have a dominating performance. That will be tough with Caleb Smidt, Tuf Cooper, Shane Hanchey and Tyson Durfey, who all know how to deal with the city, the pressure, the busy days and the electric nights.
WORLD CHAMP: Lisa Lockhart
FANTASY PICK: Amber Moore & Ivy Conrado-Saebens
It’s the battle of the Sisters—one ridden by Nellie Miller, and the other by Hailey Kinsel. They’re No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, and they’re the last two World Champs, too. Miller went to 28 rodeos. Kinsel went to 49, but I guarantee she only rode her Sister at 30 of those and seasoned horses at the others. At No. 3 is Lisa Lockhart. I’m a huge fan of Miller and Kinsel, but to see Lisa win a World would be really special. It’s harder to make the NFR than ever because of horsepower, and Miller and Kinsel don’t make mistakes. Coming in lower but able to make noise: Ivy Conrado-Saebens and Amber Moore. They will have great NFRs. They’re a steal in the Fantasy game. Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi will be a spoiler. She’s going to insert herself into the world standings race coming in at fourth.
WORLD CHAMP: Sage Kimzey
FANTASY PICK: Daylon Swearingen
Sage Kimzey has a little more than a $90,000 lead over Stetson Wright. I don’t know if Wright has ridden a bull since Dodge City when he broke his jaw but, when he was riding, Sage Kimzey was in trouble to win his sixth world title. With that being said, if Kimzey didn’t have such a large lead, I’d say Wright will win the title. However, ground money counts in the world standings, not the all-around. If Wright wins one round and maybe just one other guy rides, he’s winning $50,000. That could put him just $20,000 behind after Round 1. Kimzey always rides a lot of bulls, especially in Vegas. Kimzey went five-for-six at the Canadian Finals, and 85.75 was his worst score. He’s riding good, and he’s going to be hard to beat. Because of the ground money part of it, if Sage stubs his toe on one and Stetson doesn’t, and they ride one or two bulls in a round, that can change the trajectory of the Finals. I’m excited for Josh Frost on his first Finals, because he’s a great all-around hand. Trevor Kastner, he retired last year. He got into the winter rodeos so, he went. He wins Rodeo Houston and the guy has had the best season of his career and, now he’s No. 3. It’s going to be a fun race. New York native Daylon Swearingen won the College title, made the PBR Finals and is en route to win the PBR Rookie of the Year title, plus he qualified to the NFR. I’d love to know how many short rounds he had to turn out of this year because he’s on the PBR tour. He’s such a phenomenal talent. He’s an easy fantasy rodeo pick.
WORLD CHAMP: Caleb Smidt
The race is from fourth up, with bull rider Stetson Wright leading, team roper Clay Smith second, and tie-down ropers Caleb Smidt and Tuf Cooper at third and fourth. Cooper, however, will rope at the National Finals of Steer Roping late in November, and those earnings could change the all-around leaderboard before the Finals even start. The one thing Cooper and Smidt have on their side—they don’t have to rely on anyone. It’s just them. Smith has to hope Corkill has a good NFR. That’s what makes it so tough for a team roper to win the all-around. Smidt will win what he needs to win. If Wright rides like he did before Dodge City, he’ll win a lot in the bull riding, but he’s at a disadvantage. Nightly, he’s up against 10 of the rankest bulls in the world, as opposed to having to be smooth and steady in the timed events. Wright has to stay healthy for 10 nights and, even if he rides eight bulls, he’ll still take a beating. Wright is young, though, and it will be a fun race to watch.
WATCH: “LIVE WITH LUCIA”
2019 will mark Anthony Lucia’s 10th year interviewing rodeo’s best and brightest starts on his show, “Live with Lucia.” The streaming service, RidePass, will broadcast the show live at noon each day from the Rio’s Priefert Arena Stage during the first seven rounds of the NFR. Guests will include Richie Champion, Erich Rogers, Tyler Wade, Paul Eaves, Caleb Smidt, Emily Miller and many, many more. To watch online, visit ridepass.com and subscribe.