The 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo steers are bigger and stronger than in recent years, with more room to run in Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field.
After the top 15 headers and heelers twice ran through the 60 Mexican Corriente steers Bobby Joe Hill of Hill Rodeo Cattle brought to Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field, Dec. 1, two National Finals Rodeo veteran headers helped Hill and Billy Bob Brown sort the steers into three even pens.
The bigger set, Hill said, weigh 540 pounds, with the smaller sets weighing 475 to 480 pounds, and they were all roped at the Stephenville, Texas Jingle Bell Classic in November. Last year's NFR cattle topped out at 485 and had not been to a jackpot.
The larger steers will pair well with the extra two-foot head start they'll receive, with the PRCA making the call to lengthen this year's NFR barrier for the new set up—up to two-foot under from the Thomas & Mack's four under.
"Some guys will pull their hats down and hunker down a little bit maybe," said Charly Crawford, 42, who ropes at his 10th NFR this week with $55,229 in 2020 earnings. "Some guys are going to get some goes and hook it on 'em, and then some of them might think they're going to start and tear it down, and some of 'em might see something and get smoked down."
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Also manning the sorting gate was two-time World Champion Chad Masters, 39, whose three NFR average titles and 3.3-second world record means he understands scoring and finishing under the pressure of the rodeo's big show. He enters the Finals with $52,682 won.
"You'll be chasing them if you miss it," Masters said. "The first night is the strong pen, and the second night is the really good pen, and the third night is a little softer, but still medium good.
"I think there will be a lot of fast times and a bunch of fast runs," Masters added.
The softest pen generally appears in the third, sixth and ninth rounds, with both 3.3-second world records (Masters and Jade Corkill in '09 and Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira in 2017).
"And you know, for the guys who like to watch the horsemanship side of it, because I know there's guys who like to see that, you'll see some of the runs out in the middle of the arena," Crawford said. "But you won't have to worry about hitting too much of the left wall, so that's good." TRJ