It’s a race to the 2013 finish – Contestants hope to win big at American Royal to clinch their NFR qualifications

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – By Ted Harbin – It’s been a year since one of the most emotional days in Bray Armes’ steer wrestling career.

The Ponder, Texas, cowboy had just completed his 2012 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season with a statement-making victory at the American Royal Rodeo. He earned $2,326 for the feat and, more importantly, slipped Armes into the top 15 in the world standings and earned the right to compete in ProRodeo’s grand championship, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“I was plumb full of emotion when I found out I was going to the NFR,” said Armes, who finished last season just $55 ahead of the No. 16 man, 2007 world champion Jason Miller. “My wife and I sat in the front yard just hugging and in tears. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. It was something I’d dreamed about for a long time, and it was finally coming true.”

Armes hopes to return to the NFR for the second straight year, but he again seems to find himself on the bubble for finishing high enough in the standings – only the top 15 contestants on the money list in each event earn the right to compete at the finale, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. Heading into this week’s rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Hale Arena at the American Royal complex, Armes is 14th in the standings.

He knows better than anyone just how important it is to do well in Kansas City, which is one of the most lucrative rodeos in the country on the final weekend of the 2013 season.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as important as last year, because I have an $8,000 lead over the 16th guy,” Armes said, referring to British Columbia bulldogger Clayton Moore. But it’s still important to go out and try to win first like I did last year. I hope I can extend my lead over him a little more.

“My goal this year was the same as last year: To make it to the NFR. Now I’m going to try to catch Casey Martin for first place.”

Martin, of Sulphur, La., is atop the world standings with a little more than $91,000. He’s got a $36,355 lead over Armes, but the NFR offers the largest purse of any event all season long. Two go-round wins will erase that lead during the 10-round affair in Las Vegas. That’s why just qualifying for the NFR is so important to contestants who make their livings on the rodeo trail.

Last year alone, Armes pocketed $85,397 in the City of Lights and moved from 15th to sixth in the final world standings.

In Kansas City, he will be joined by several others who are hoping to clinch their rides to Vegas. He’ll be joined by:

Bareback riders: Caleb Bennett (15th), R.C. Landingham (16th) and Clint Laye (18th)

Steer wrestlers: Luke Branquinho (13th), Dakota Eldridge (15th), Moore (16th) and Jake Rinehart (17th)

Team roping headers: Trevor Brazile (12th), Charly Crawford (13th), Travis Tryan (15th), Colby Lovell (16th), Aaron Tsinigine (17th), Chad Masters (18th), Coleman Proctor (19th) and Arky Rogers, (20th)

Team roping heelers: Cesar de la Cruz (12th), Dugan Kelly (13th), Clay O’Brien Cooper (14th), Jake Long (15th) and Martin Lucero (16th)

Saddle bronc riders: Sterling Crawley (14th), Heith DeMoss (15th) and Tyrel Larsen (16th)

Tie-down ropers: Stetson Vest (14th), Randall Carlisle (15th), Cory Solomon (16th), Blair Burk (17th), Cade Swor (18th) and Adam Gray (19th).

Barrel racers: Sydni Blanchard (14th), Trula Churchill (15th), Brenda Mays (16th) and Kim Schulze (17th)

Bull riders: Elliot Jacoby (14th), Steve Woolsey (15th), Clayton Foltyn (16th) and Bobby Welsh (17th)


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