postheadericon Smith closing in on Kimzey

Garrett Smith rides Frontier Rodeo's After All for 85.5 points Thursday night to finish in a tie for third place in the fist go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (COVY MOORE PHOTO)

Garrett Smith rides Frontier Rodeo’s After All for 85.5 points Thursday night to finish in a tie for third place in the fist go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (COVY MOORE PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Garrett Smith knew when he arrived in Las Vegas that he had a little ground to make up if he has any chance to win the bull riding world championship.

He started Thursday night by placing in a tie for third place in the opening round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He rode Frontier Rodeo’s After All for 85.5 points to share that spot with Tim Bingham of Honeyville, Utah; each cowboy pocketed $13,327.

Most importantly, Smith moved to within $20,000 of the world-standings leader, three-time reigning world champion Sage Kimzey.

“Yeah, this makes up a little bit of ground,” said Smith, the No. 2 man in the standings from Rexburg, Idaho. “I’m excited to get the night out of the way now and just have fun.”

He’s been doing that all season. He has pushed his 2017 earnings to $227,566. What’s even better is that he has nine more nights to add to that total. That’s vital, because the world championship is given to the contestants who earn the most money through the season, including the 10 days of the NFR.

“It’s good to have one down and just get on rolling and hopefully stay that way,” he said. “I’m excited, and I have a really good one (Friday).”

Smith will test his mettle on Rafter G Rodeo’s J Lazy during Friday’s second round. He knows it’s important to have a good dance partner, since half the score comes from the bull. But he also realizes that he will need to take care of his end of the bargain if he’s going to find success.

“Bull riding is basically 100 percent mental,” Smith said. “If anyone looks at it it is all in your head. Getting on a roll and getting that confidence, and then you can just go do what you know how to do. As long as your mind doesn’t get in the way, you should be able to ride most of them. Just don’t think too much.”

It has worked well for Smith, who learned a great deal from a bull riding veteran.

“Last year I traveled with Tag Elliott from Utah, and he taught me a lot about the mental side of rodeo,” Smith said. “He’s really good with that. He never looks like he cares about anything. He’s just calm, cool and collected all the time.

“I just said, ‘That’s how I want to be.’ I based what I do off what he did.”

It could be the perfect approach to that elusive gold buckle.

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