Tom Richards and Cesar de la Cruz gave themselves a fighting chance at making the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with their 4.6 second run worth $6,120 a man at the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb.
de la Cruz made this his third win in the Century Link Center, his second in a row. In years past, a win in Omaha meant the team could breathe easy and coast into the Wrangler National Finals. This year, the format changed and the top 24 in the World Standings got to rope, as opposed to the top 12. The other bubble team of Chad Masters and Clay O'Brien Cooper split third, fourth and fifth, worth $4,187 a man, in Omaha. Now, what used to be the Saturday short round of Omaha will be the Wrangler Champions Challenge Finale, a separate rodeo, that will pay $6,800 a man to win.
Add another level of drama to the mix: Derrick Begay is flying in tomorrow to rope with de la Cruz, as mandated by the PRCA, because the team were last year's Omaha champs. That win last year automatically qualified them for the Champions Challenge Finale, so Richards will rope with Allen Bach, whose time of 4.8 tonight qualified him for the Champions Challenge Finale as the highest-placing heeler who was not already previously qualified for Saturday's rodeo. Is your head spinning yet?
Before tonight, Richards was 17th in the World, while de la Cruz was 20th. They split the win in Albuquerque and are placing at Kansas City. After tomorrow, things will look a lot more clear.