J.W. Harris had never competed at the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals prior to Wednesday night but the Texas bull rider is certainly no stranger to the Thomas & Mack, the Las Vegas, Nevada home of the event. Harris is a four-time World Champion of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and has competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) eight times. In fact, he will be right back here in Vegas, in the Thomas & Mack, in little over a month for his ninth WNFR.
But first things first. Looking right at home, Harris won his first go round at the PBR World Finals in his first attempt. Harris put up 88.75 point aboard Jo Jo (Owens / Lane) to earn $25,000. Stormy Wing was second with 88.5 points on Slappy (Torres Brothers) while J.B. Mauney broke his slump with an 88 point ride on More Big Bucks (Dakota Rodeo/Berger/Struve).
“It was pretty cool,” Harris told PBR.com. “It is something that has been long overdue. To come out here and win the first round in my first PBR Finals (is good). So now it is all smooth sailing.”
Harris started his PBR season a little later and won’t factor in the very interesting World standings race but stated he was here to win as much money as possible. He is certainly a threat to win the World Finals average following the Championship Round on Sunday, worth another $250,000.
Meanwhile, the chase for the 2014 World Championship continued to be intriguing. Four of the top six riders posted a qualified ride in the first round. When world leader Joao Ricardo Vieira and second ranked Fabiano Vieira both came down early, the pack inched closer.
The PBR World Championship is determined using a point system. Riders earn points equal to their ride score as well as bonus points if they place within the top ten in each round and average. In Las Vegas, 5,500 points are up for grabs: 400 bonus points for each round win and 2,500 for winning the average.
Two-time PBR World Champion Silvano Alves moved from third to second in the standings after his 86.25 point effort aboard Dumber (D&H Cattle Company/Buck Cattle Co.). Alves shared eighth on the night, earning some bonus points as well and moved to within 399.94 points of Ricardo Vieira.
2008 PBR World Champ Guilherme Marchi (86 points on D&H Cattle Company’s Flyin’ Crazy) also cut into the lead and trails by less than 1,000 points while fifth ranked Mike Lee moved to within 1,121.19 points after earning 87.25 points on McIntyre Transports Back Jackin. Sixth ranked Matt Triplett tied Lee with his ride on Pearl Harbor (Boyd/Floyd Bull Company). Triplett is still in the hunt, trailing by about 1,700. Triplett has to wait out an official review after getting out of position late in his eight second ride.
Fifteen riders earned a score on Wednesday night. Round two begins at 6 p.m. local time on Thursday night, October 23 and will feature the first appearance of the 2014 World Champion Bull contenders: Bushwacker, Asteroid, Jared Allen’s Air Time, Shepherd Hills Tested, Roy, Fire & Smoke, I’m a Gangster Too and Mik E Mouse.
Round Two is a draft and, not surprisingly, the top guys in the chase for the World Championship steered clear of the World Champ bull contenders. In fact, only two of the top bulls were picked by riders who made the eight second whistle, and therefore chose first in the draft.
World Finals rookie Brady Sims goes up against Bushwacker in his second to last career out. The great bull is seeking his third championship, a feat only the great Little Yellow Jacket has achieved within the PBR.
Chase Outlaw will try Asteroid, Claudio Chrisostomo gets I’m a Gangster Too, Ty Pozzobon goes against Fire & Smoke, Eduardo Aparecido gets Mik E Mouse and Marco Eguchi has Roy. Outlaw tried Asteroid in the bull’s last out back in Biloxi (MS) when Asteroid put up a huge bull score of 47 points. He has bucked off in three previous attempts on the bull but did last over seven seconds in Nashville in 2012.
Probably the most interesting match-ups are the re-match of Kasey Hayes and Shepherd Hills Tested and Renato Nunes and Jared Allen’s Air Time. Nunes earned the highest scored ride of the season aboard Air Time back in Phoenix, a 92.5 point effort. Meanwhile, Hayes is only the second rider to cover Tested, earning the fourth best score of the season at 91.5 for his ride in Colorado Springs.
In the cowboys’ title race, leader Ricardo Vieira faces Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. The other riders may have made a critical mistake leaving this one in the draw for the world leader; he earned 91 points on this bull in this round a year ago. Alves chose Mr. Clark, a bull that has only been ridden twice but both were in the last six months. Third ranked Vieira will face Born Sinner. Marchi earned 87 points in the Championship Round of the 2013 PBR World Finals aboard this bull but he has also bucked off the likes of Emilio Resende, Valdiron de Olivieira and World Champs Marchi and Renato Nunes.
Marchi also picked for a big score when he took Percolator. Rookie Gage Gay put up 91.5 on the bull in Billings (MT) and Nunes was better than 90 on him last season. However, Percolator has also had some impressive buck-offs including Resende, World Champ Kody Lohstroh, L.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Vieira and de Olivieira.
Lee goes with Circle T’s Crossfire, a bull unridden in his career but who has not faced a lot of riders of Lee’s ability. Triplett will face off with Walk Off, the bull that bucked off Fabiano Vieira in Huntington Beach last weekend. Walk Off is a handful and has only been ridden once in 26 outs.
The PBR World Finals continues Thursday night. Action is carried live on CBS Sports Network as well as Pro Rodeo Live and Sirius/XM Rural Radio.