Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 | 11:36 a.m.
With 50,000 fans pouring into Las Vegas, the annual, 10-day National Finals Rodeo kicks off at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV tonight with top rider Trevor Brazile from Decatur, Texas, going after his 11th all-around, world-championship win.
Last year in Las Vegas, Trevor, who has collected 17 gold buckles to date, captured the Cowboy of the Year title for a record seventh consecutive time. His 2-year-old daughter Style was in the championship saddle to watch her dad’s victory.
Tonight, ahead of Round 1, fans will get the opportunity to meet-and-greet four renowned rodeo riders at the Crown Royal signing on Fremont Street: six-time PBR Finals qualifier Cody Whitney; 2007 PRCA world champion Wesley Silcox; bareback rider and 2007 College World champion Tilden “TUF” Hooper; and seven-time NFR qualifier Steve Woolsey.
The Crown Royal Riders will again be battling the bulls for a good cause. For every qualified ride by Steve, Crown Royal makes a donation to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund that provides assistance to injured cowboys and their families.
Steve, 27, from Payson, Utah, told Vegas Deluxe: “We’re on the road all year with the end goal of making it to Las Vegas. To be here for the seventh time is really special to me, and what makes it even better is to be riding for a good cause. Every time I complete a qualified ride, Crown Royal donates $,1000 to the fund, so that gives me even more incentive to stay on.”
The 18 Wrangler NFR contestants who make up Team Mirage met at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat for their arrival team photo. The cowboys included “Rodeo Vegas” founder and six-time qualifier K.C. Jones, two-time saddle-bronc-riding world champion Taos Muncy and nine-time steer wrestling qualifier Trevor Knowles. Team Mirage barrel racers and steer wrestlers interacted with Osborne, one of S&R’s bottlenose dolphins.
Be sure to check out the preview of this year’s NFR and the stunning statistics of everything that’s involved as the cowboys take over our town posted on LasVegasSun.com on Nov. 29. The 700 rodeo animals include 300 bucking stock, 75 calves, 120 steers, 90 contestant horses and 50 grand entry and flag horses.
While the bucking bulls storm the Thomas & Mack, each night cowboys and cowgirls have two simultaneous events at our Convention Center: Cowboy Fan Fest and the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, a 100,000-square-foot salute to the best of the western lifestyle.
In addition, stars including former UNLV student and cowboy winner Justin McBride, along with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Dierks Bentley, Clay Walker, Montgomery Gentry, Charlie Daniels Band, Easton Corbin and Wynona Judd will provide entertainment. The full rundown is posted at NFRExperience.com.
Additionally, Fox airs the 2013 American Country Awards from Mandalay Bay on Tuesday with Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen, Kellie Pickler, Sara Evans, Matthew Morrison and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons slated to appear. Trace Adkins and Danica Patrick host.
Be sure to check out Senior Editor Don Chareunsy’s fascinating and heart-tugging interview with Clay posted this morning. Tonight’s starting lineup includes Damsel, LoCash Cowboys and Rodney Carrington at MGM Grand and Dustin Lynch at the Mirage.
Contributing photographer Tom Donoghue will be ringside for Round 1 tonight, and we’ll post those action photos Friday with our first NFR report.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.