This event is as tight coming in as it ever has been-with no clear frontrunner. Steven Dent has held the lead in the world standings, but rarely does that translate to a world championship. The Wrangler NFR offers so much money and presents so many opportunities for injury, regular seasons earnings don't always translate.
Bobby Mote is chasing Dent, and at press time was only behind him by about $17,000. That is just a little more than one round win pays. Mote himself is in contention as well, of course. As the reigning world champion knows what it takes to win.
"That rodeo is also about outlasting them," he said. "Everybody starts out good there. They're excited, and you're not sore and the first three or four rounds are really tough. The endurance mentally and emotionally to go through 10 rounds and being as strong the 10th day as you were the first day is a real challenge and that's where you see it weed people off. In the past, I've won the majority of the checks toward the end. I feel better this year, mentally and physically, than even last year. Like it or not, when you have a big lead and you spent all year trying to keep that lead, it puts you on the defense. I've spent this whole year trying to make up a $50,000 dollar deficit rather than keep it and that's been good for me. I'm chasing a guy that rides awful good and I've got 13 guys behind me that are equally as good and ambitious, too. So that's fun."
But one slip mentally can open the door for the competition. Remember the last-minute charge Justin McDaniel mounted at the Wrangler NFR? Mote admits it was him trying to do more than he should have that allowed McDaniel a shot. Plus, anyone can get hot out there and make a run. There are a few guys who have been riding well lately that seem more likely than others.
Will Lowe looks good, but not as dominant as he was three or four years ago. Kelly Timberman seems to have found the magic he employed when he won his only world title in 2004. McDaniel also continues to impress, and he didn't catch serious fire until Dallas last year.
Royce Ford is a question mark. He shows a steady winning ability during the regular season, but when it comes to the Finals-he's been there five times-only flashes of his brilliance show through. If he finds a way to be more consistent in Las Vegas, he's got a real shot as well.
The surprise performance of the NFR will come from Chris Harris. Suddenly, after a couple of years of being back in the game, he's competitive again. Two of the best rides of his career came in Puyallup last September when he won the semifinal and final rounds of the Ariat Playoff stop there. Don't be surprised if he's nodding his head for a world title come round 10.
The average will play a huge role in this race because, for the most part, it's a tight race and everyone of the players will get a round win or two. The winner of the average, the man who rides 10 broncs in Las Vegas, will win the world.
Despite a very tight race right up until the end, Kelly Timberman has the tools, the experience and the health. He's won the average in 2005 and he'll draw on all that to win his second gold buckle.