The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge made its return to Las Vegas, Nevada’s Thomas & Mack Center with action getting underway Thurs., Dec. 2, and running through Sat., Dec. 11.
After five NFR trips and 50 runs, tonight was Cheyenne Wimberley’s night to shine as she shared the go-round victory with first-time NFR qualifier Amanda Welsh. Both ladies stopped the clock in identical times of 13.77 to earn $24,167 each. Wimberley, of Stephenville, Texas, rode Robin Weaver’s VQ Rock Crusher (“Rocco”), a 10-year-old gelding sired by Dash Ta Fame and out of Honor This Nonstop.
“It’s almost like a relief because I would put pressure on myself, and almost every year that I’ve been here I would be winning the last round until the last barrel racer,” said Wimberley, who is happy to have the go-round win monkey off her back. “Tonight, to start it off like this, and my horse, he was amazing. It was just a relief.”
Wimberley, who ran sixth on the ground, added special thanks to Robin Weaver for her role as a supportive owner of such a world-class equine athlete as Rocco.
“VQ Sucker Punch is owned by Robin Weaver. I got him in March of 2019, and he helped me make it to the NFR. I rode him here in 2019,” said Wimberley, adding that Rocco was out for most of 2020 with some soundness issues. “I brought him back out at Salinas and I feel like maybe that was supposed to be the plan because giving him a break and getting him out of the trailer and on some green pasture—at Salinas he was awesome and improved every run. And now he’s loving it, he’s got his groove back.”
Wimberley had high praise for her sponsors and her entire support team, particularly her mother who has “driven every mile” with her.
With all the poise of an NFR veteran, rookie qualifier Amanda Welsh, of Gillette, Wyo., rode her 2010 gelding Frenchman Fire Fly (“Firefly”) to a 13.77 from seventh in the run order. Sired by Frosty Frenchman and out of Princes Bar Dash, Firefly was bred by Welsh’s parents Bob and Peggy Welsh’s B-P Quarter Horses.
“There’s a lot of emotions,” said Welsh of splitting the round win in her debut qualification to the NFR. “Firefly is my best friend and he’s an amazing athlete, so I just owe a lot to him.
“We owned both his sire and his dam, I actually rodeoed on his sire and made circuit finals in the Mountain States on him,” said Welsh. “My dad trained Firefly and handed the reins to me at the end of his 5-year-old year.”
Welsh and Firefly experienced immediate success and went on to win three Badlands Circuit Finals championships before qualifying for their first NFR together.
“I was surprised how not nervous I was,” she said of her maiden voyage down the alley at the Thomas & Mack. “I just wanted to go make a run and try to do what we had done all year,” said Welsh. “In practice I kind of had him too far to the left coming in, so tonight I moved him over more to the center of the alleyway and he inhaled the first. He just turned a classic Firefly second. Once he turned the third, I knew it was nice, but I couldn’t really hear the other times. Once we got up to the tent at the top, Dad came up and said, ‘You’re splitting the round!’ I had no idea.”
The only cause for Welsh’s nerves to be a little frayed was when a few days in advance of round one Firefly was not feeling quite like himself. Welsh’s concerns were remedied when her veterinarian, Dr. Cardon with Powder River Vet from Sheridan, Wyo., was able to run fluids, which helped Firefly adjust to the Las Vegas heat and return to winning form.
In addition to her vet, Welsh praised her family, her boyfriend Craig Wisehart, and her stable of sponsors and supporters all of whom have helped her pursue her passion.
WPRA World Standings leader Hailey Kinsel finished third riding the great mare DM Sissy Hayday to a time of 13.78 running first out on the ground. There were eight runs under the 14-second mark in round one and three teams that battled down barrels.
Follow Barrel Racing Magazine for daily coverage from the 2021 Wrangler NFR. You can catch lengthier interviews with both Wimberley and Welsh on “The Money Barrel” podcast as they walk us through their runs.
National Finals Rodeo – Go Round 1 Results
1/2. Cheyenne Wimberley, VQ Sucker Punch, 13.77, $24,166.64; 1/2. Amanda Welsh, Frenchman Fire Fly, 13.77, $24,166.64; 3. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 13.78, $16,111.10; 4. Emily Miller-Beisel, Namgis D 33, 13.81, $11,321.31; 5. Jordon Briggs, Famous Lil Jet, 13.89, $6,966.96; 6.Stevi Hillman, Famous Lemon Drop, 13.95 $4,354.35.
2021 WPRA World Standings
- Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, TX $139,639.69
- Jordon Briggs, Tolar, TX $119,585.16
- Cheyenne Wimberley (G), Stephenville, TX $111,298.94
- Amanda Welsh, Gillette, WY $111,086.12
- Shelley Morgan, Eustace, TX $104,229.33
- Dona Kay Rule, Minco, OK $94,989.96
- Emily Miller-Beisel, Weatherford, OK $94,794.45
- Jessica Routier, Buffalo, SD $88,847.28
- Stevi Hillman, Weatherford, TX $85,532.84
- Nellie Miller, Cottonwood, CA $85,519.15
- Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Lampasas, TX $83,785.70
- Ivy Saebens, Nowata, OK $80,806.08
- Wenda Johnson, Pawhuska, OK $77,384.56
- Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, SD $75,043.71
- Molly Otto, Grand Forks, ND $74,172.51