LAS VEGAS – Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness is riding a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo momentum straight to the pay window.
Struxness manhandled his steer to the ground in 3.8 seconds to win the fourth go-round Sunday night, just 24 hours after sharing the third-round win with Louisiana cowboy Tyler Waguespack. For the feat, Struxness earned $26,231 and pushed his NFR earnings to $65,212 in just four nights of work.
With $149,464 earned this season, he sits third in the world standings with six nights left on the ProRodeo season, and he’s got the kind of roll needed for success in Las Vegas.
“Just like last night, we got a good start, and the horse gave me a good go in there,” said Struxness, 22, of Appleton, Minn. “This pen (of steers) tries a little harder (than the other two), and that’s where the horsepower really starts to show. Having a horse that can catch up and give me a go like that makes a big difference in these pens.”
That horse is Peso, a 13-year-old sorrel gelding that he just purchased this fall from Jon Ragatz and Stockton Graves, the latter of whom is Struxness’ rodeo coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
“I rodeoed on him two years ago, so I knew he would probably work pretty good out here,” he said. “He’s done outstanding so far.”
Bulldogging is definitely a team effort. In addition to having a solid horse, Struxness also leans heavily on his hazer, Jacob Shofner, who helps keep the steer lined out for the wrestler to make the perfectly timed jump. Both men had a solid game plan for the animal based on what they saw out of the steer the first time he went during the opening go-round Thursday night.
“Ty Erickson ended up missing him, so we came back this round and had an idea of what we needed to do,” Struxness said. “We both needed to get a good start so we could slick him up right there. We got him down the middle and made a good run on him.”
With the win, the Minnesota cowboy will return to the South Point Casino and Spa for the nightly Montana Silversmiths Go-Round Buckle Presentation.
“Anytime you can go to the South Point, it’s great because it means you’re getting paid,” he said. “I hope I have the momentum rolling in the right way now and can just keep doing it all week.”
1. Brennon Eldred, 86.5 points on the 4L & Diamond S bull House of Pain, $26,231; 2. Joe Frost, 85.5, $20,731; 3. Jordan Spears, 83.5, $15,654; 4. Shane Proctor, 75.5, $11,000; no other qualified rides.
1.Michele McLeod, 13.49 seconds, $23,231; 2. Sarah Rose McDonald, 13.56, $20,731; 3. Lisa Lockhart, 13.58, $15,653; 4. (tie) Jana Bean and Amberleigh Moore, 13.66, $8,885 each; 6. Mary Burger, 13.74, $4,231.
1. Marty Yates, 6.8 seconds, $26,231; 2. (tie) Tyson Durfey and Blaine Cox, 7.7, $18,192 each; 4. (tie) Marcos Costa and Hunter Herrin, 8.0, $8,885; 6. Cade Swor , 8.4, $4,231.
1. Ryder Wright, 85.5 points on Flying 5 Rodeo’s Sundance, $26,231; 2. Jake Wright, 84.5, $20,731; 3. (tie) Jake Watson and Allen Boore, 84, $13,327 each; 5. (tie) Zeke Thurston and Cody DeMoss, 83.5, $5,500 each.
1. Riley Minor/Brady Minor, 4.4 seconds, $26,231; 2. Erich Rogers/Cory Petska, 4.7, $20,731; 3. Luke Brown/Jake Long, $15,654; 4. Clay Smith/Paul Eaves, 5.1, $11,000; 5. Dustin Bird/Russell Cardoza, 9.3, $6,769; 6. (tie) Colby Lovell/Travis Graves and Levi Simpson/Jeremy Buhler, 9.4, $2,115 each.
1. J.D. Struxness, 3.8 seconds, $26,231; 2. (tie) Jason Thomas and Tyler Waguespack, 3.9. $18,192 each; 4. Ty Erickson, 4.0, $11,000; 5. Cody Cabral, 4.4, $6,769; 6. (tie) Nick Guy, Matt Reeves and Riley Duvall, 4.5, $1,410 each.
1. Jake Vold, 89.5 points on Flying U Rodeo’s Lil Red Hawk, $26,231; 2. (tie) Tim O’Connell and Wyatt Denny, 87, $18, 192 each; 4. (tie) Caleb Bennett and R.C. Landingham, 84.5, $8,885 eac; 6. (tie) Richmond Champion and Winn Ratliff, 83.5, $2,115 each.
Two more bullfighters qualify for next week’s BFO Las Vegas Championship
LAS VEGAS – An unprecedented calm came over Daryl Thiessen on Saturday afternoon as he entered the bullfight arena.
“Today before I nodded my head, that’s the calmest I’ve ever been before a bullfight,” said Thiessen of Elm Creek, Manitoba. “That’s the first bullfight I’ve done in a long time where I can tell you everything that happened in it; it’s usually a blur for me, but I can remember all the details.”
He should. He matched moves with WAR Fighting Bulls’ Captain Hook for 80 points to win the first of two Bullfighters Only qualifiers. He was joined by Travis Gidley of Grandview, Texas, who scored 86.5 points while matching moves with WAR’s Punisher to win the second qualifier.
“I busted him down really good to start with, and he kind of ran off,” Gidley said. “I got his attention again, and then I just stayed with him.
“I felt really good about my bullfight. It just all clicked there.”
Now both Thiessen and Gidley hope it clicks next week when they will be matched with the best freestyle bullfighters in the business during the BFO Las Vegas Championship, the richest freestyle bullfight in the sport’s history.
“Making it to next week means so much to me,” Thiessen said. “Just being a Canadian in this deal, I want to show these kids that they can come compete with anyone in the world. I want nothing more than to finish the job this year.”
Both men were in Las Vegas last December during the inaugural BFO event. Neither had the success they had hoped for 12 months ago, but they put in the work necessary to come out on top this weekend.
“I wasn’t prepared last year, so this year I came back both mentally and physically prepared for it,” Gidley said. “It’s a great feeling to advance. I don’t really have a game plan for my fights; I just want to beat my bull. I just go with the flow and deal with what I’ve got in front of me. Yes, these are the best bullfighters in the world, but I’m competing against my bull.”
That approach is the best tactic when an athlete is in the middle with a ferocious, aggressive animal that is bred for this type of fight. It takes a man who has a ton of self-confidence to come within an inch or two of flying hooves and pointed horns.
“Everything just feels so good right now,” Thiessen said. “It just feels right this time. Before when I was here, my mind was blown. I was a guy from a small town in Canada, and I let the bright lights of Las Vegas get to me. It was overwhelming.
“This year I’ve stayed focused on what I need to do and have continued to work out every day.”
Now it’s time to transition it into the final four days at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
“My confidence was pretty good, but winning today helps my confidence going into next week,” Gidley said. “It felt really awesome to make those step-throughs and get around that bull. I came in prepared and put on a good bullfight.”
LAS VEGAS – The City of Lights has been good to Tanner Aus.
Just a year removed from earning nearly $84,000 in Las Vegas, the Minnesota bronc buster is back to his winning ways at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. On Saturday night, Aus matched moves with C5 Rodeo’s Virgil for 88 points to share the third-round bareback riding victory with Clayton Biglow of Clements, Calif.
“That horse has a reputation,” said Aus, 26, of Granite Falls, Minn. “All the horses out tonight have a reputation, because it’s the E Pen.”
The “eliminator pen” features the hardest-to-ride bareback horses in the game, and Virgil was every bit of a handful as imagined. The Canadian horse was just recognized as the No. 2 bareback horse in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. For every jump and powerful kick the gray gelding gave, Aus remained in perfect rhythm.
“The atmosphere in the locker room was amazing,” he said, noting that oftentimes the group of bareback riders remains stoic and concerned as they prepare to battle the best of the beasts. “We were cranking tunes, and everyone was just feeling the electricity. To be among a group of guys like that just feeds the fire.
“I was ready; I was focused. Virgil, of course, put on an amazing performance. I was happy to stick with him.”
Virgil was voted as the runner-up Bareback Horse of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and he lived up to everything anyone expected. For every jump and powerful kick, Aus was able to remain in rhythm with the talented gray gelding.
But he’s been pretty sticky all season, and he has already surpassed his 2015 earnings with seven of the richest nights remaining in the ProRodeo season. A year ago, the Minnesota cowboy earned more than $169,000. Thanks to the $59,712 he’s earned over three nights at the NFR, Aus has pushed his rising salary to $172,396.
“It’s a confidence-booster, and hopefully it’ll carry me through the week,” he said. “We just rest up and look forward to the next one.”
As he prepares for Sunday’s fourth round, Aus knows he must remain focused if he hopes to continue his success. But he wasn’t the only man from Minnesota to have success Saturday: J.D. Struxness of Appleton was 3.9 seconds to share the steer wrestling round title. Both men have known each other for a number of years, and together they pocketed nearly $47,000 in Round 3 alone.
“We grew up only 45 minutes from each other,” Struxness said. “We started out wrestling and playing football. He was a little older, but we saw each other out there a lot, and we just got closer. Now we’re great friends, and our families are good friends. It’s great that we can have this kind of night together.”
It must be something in the water, so it’s a good thing they’ve been drinking it.