Photo by Kirt Steinke
Canadians and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookies Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler put the team roping world on notice Thursday night in Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Arena, winning Round 1 at the 2016 WNFR on a big, fresh pen of cattle with a time of 4.4 seconds worth $26,230.77 a man.
Simpson, from Ponoka, Alb., and Buhler, from Arrowwood, Alb., beat out Cut Bank, Montana's Dustin Bird and Terrebonne, Oregon's Russell Cardoza for the round win. Bird and Cardoza, who just three weeks earlier took home the Canadian team roping title, were 4.6.
"I've gotten so many texts and calls in the last week from everyone at home," Simpson said. "It's pretty awesome to have the whole country and that kind of support," Simpson said.
Buhler, soft spoken behind a beard that covers most of his face and all of his neck, was overwhelmed with the enormity of the moment. The impending trip to the South Point's stage had yet to sink in.
"I've run that steer 10 million times on the Fastlane with my brothers and my sister," Buhler said. "We'd all watch the finals on TV, it would be minus 10 degrees, and we'd go out to the garage and be all pumped up matching."
Simpson rode his 20-year-old gelding, Frasier, while Buhler counted on his 15-year-old gelding Rick James.
Luke Brown and Jake Long tied Riley and Brady Minor for third and fourth with steady 4.9-second runs, indicating they'll all look to rope smart and stay solid over the 10-round marathon. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira were fifth with a 5.1-second run, maintaining their lead in the PRCA world standings. Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens, also a WNFR rookie, were sixth.
Bird and Cardoza are both in the all-around race, which will be one of the most exciting contests of the week. Bull dogger Clayton Hass, who sat fifth in the all-around going into Round 1, split the round to move to fourth. Bird's second-place finish in the round put him within $130 of leader Junior Nogueira.
1. Levi Simpson/Jeremy Buhler, 4.4 seconds, $26,230.77 each
2. Dustin Bird/Russell Cardoza, 4.6 seconds, $20,730.77 each
3/4. Luke Brown/Jake Long and Riley Minor/Brady Minor, 4.9 seconds, $13,326.92 each
5. Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira, 5.1 seconds, $6,769.23 each
6. Coleman Proctor/Billie Jack Saebens, 5.2 seconds, $4,230.77 each