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August 23, 2014

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2013 Wrangler NFR photos: Newcomer Caleb Bennett takes Round 1 at the Thomas & Mack

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Trevor Brazile competes in Round 1 of the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV.

2013 Wrangler NFR: Round 1

Round 1 of the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV. Launch slideshow »

2013 Wrangler NFR Round 1

If confidence was the sole key to victory, surely 18-time champion rodeo rider Trevor Brazile has plenty of it. He entered Thursday night’s Round 1 of the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack at UNLV with a lead of $122,163 over Tuf Cooper in the all-around standings and is poised to break a record.

In bareback riding, Bobby Mote from Oregon, who leads the world standings, is looking for his fifth gold buckle. Despite injuries, sprains and bruises, riders old and new also were all confident and ready for the action, and contributing photographer Tom Donoghue captured it all for today’s gallery.

Caleb Bennett, at only his second Wrangler NFR, became the star of the night when confidence overcame rookie jitters. He was paired with Wise Guy, a bareback horse who already has seven round wins at the WNFR. It was a match made in rodeo heaven, as the 15th-ranked bareback rider and the highly decorated bucking horse combined for the Round 1 victory with 85.5 points. Caleb walked away proudly with a $18,630 winner’s check.

“This year I felt more comfortable driving here and thought I’d be confident and relaxed,” said the 25-year-old cowboy from Ogden, Utah. “Then they throw you on top of a prestigious horse like that, and my nerves and jitters came back. But I was excited to see what we could do together. I knew if I did my part, he’d do his. This was an amazing opportunity and a blessing.”

Caleb and Wise Guy were the first pairing out of the chutes and thrilled the crowd of 17,624 on the opening night of the 10-day WNFR. The horse had been scheduled to retire after the finals but bucked for the final time last night. “I was hoping they’d retire him tonight, and I’d be the last one to get on him,” Caleb said. “He’s been a great horse.” With eight round wins, Wise Guy has helped earn $228,543 for his riders at the WNFR.

Trevor Knowles won the steer wrestling in a lightning-quick 3.1 seconds, just one-tenth off the Thomas & Mack record — the fastest Round 1 time in WNFR history. It positioned him at the top of the world standings with a total of $120,158.

In the saddle bronc riding world standings, the Wright Brothers are 1-2-3 in the world standings, after Jake Wright won the round with 84 points and jumped to third behind older brother Cody, the two-time world champion, and twin brother Jesse, the defending world champion.

Another winning family on opening night was the Minors, as header Riley and heeler Brady won the team roping in 4.6 seconds. Tie-down roper Shane Hanchey edged runners-up Ryan Jarrett and Stetson Vest by one-tenth of a second to claim the top prize of $18,630.

Shane Proctor won the bull riding with 89 points on News Flash, with Chandler Bownds second with 87.5 points. Barrel racer Sherri Cervi was the only world standings leader to win Round 1. Her run of 13.77 seconds edged Sydni Blanchard by three-tenths of a second.

“It gets the momentum going,” said Sherri, who won world championships in 1995, 1999 and 2010. “It feels awesome every time you win a round, but it is a long week, and there are 14 other girls with just as good an opportunity to win.

“It was a fast barrel race tonight. The ground is very important to barrel racers. I was at the bottom of the ground, and it felt fast. We are lucky to have the best in the business here to take care of the ground.”

The opening act for the first night of Wrangler NFR was so appropriate for our town with Elvis — and his welcome to Las Vegas. The national anthem was performed by country singer Clay Walker; be sure to check out our Senior Editor Don Chareunsy’s heartwarming interview with him.

Check back for Round 2’s reports and photos on Saturday, and our thanks to NFR for contributions to this story.

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.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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