postheadericon MGM Grand contestants cash in at NFR

LAS VEGAS – It was a strong opening night of the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for Team MGM Grand.

In all, contestants who are part of the “Home of the Champions” collected nearly $176,000 in earnings at Thursday’s first go-round, highlighted by the top three finishers in tie-down roping: World champion Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Texas, won the round, followed by Shane Hanchey of Sulphur, La.; and Houston Hutto of Tomball, Texas.

“It gives me more confidence to know that I can do it,” Cooper said winning the 2011 title. “Last year’s gold buckle is going to help me get this one.”

Cooper was one of three MGM Grand contestants to win the go-round and the paychecks worth $18,257; he was joined by bareback rider Wes Stevenson of Lubbock, Texas, and three-time world champion bull rider J.W. Harris of Mullin, Texas. Stevenson matched moves with J-Bar-J Inc.’s Freckled Doll for 87 points, while Harris posted a 90.5 on Four Star Rodeo’s Stink Eye.

“Any time you can ride for 90, it’s special,” Harris said. “Usually if you’re 90 out here, you’re going to win the round.”

Thursday’s ride marked the first time Stevenson had been on Freckled Doll, but he knew the animal’s legacy.

“I’ve ridden his mom five or six times, and she threw me off a few runs on her,” Stevenson said. “I was pretty pumped to have a shot at her son.”

In all, 15 MGM Grand contestants earned money on opening night:

Bareback riding: 1. Wes Stevenson, 87 points, $18,257; 3. Casey Colletti, 85, $10,895; 6. Bobby Mote, 83.5, $2,945.

Team roping heading: 3. Trevor Brazile, 4.8 seconds, $10,895.

Team roping heeling: 3. Patrick Smith, 4.8 seconds 10,895; 5. Cesar de la Cruz, 5.8, $4,712.

Saddle bronc riding: 2. (tie) Jake Wright and Jesse Wright, 84.5 points, $12,662; 4. Cody Wright, 83.5, $7,656; 5. Jacobs Crawley, 82, $4,712; 6. Tyrell Smith, 82.5, $2,945.

Tie-down roping: 1. Tuf Cooper, 7.4 seconds, $18,257; 2. Shane Hanchey, 7.6, $14,429; 3. Houston Hutto, 8.1, $10,895.

Barrel racing: 3. Brittany Pozzi, 13.86, $10,895.

Bull riding: 1. J.W. Harris, Mullin, Texas, 90.5 points, $18,257; 2. Cody Whitney, Sayre, Okla., 86.5, $14,429.

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