LAS VEGAS – Winning the average at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is a big deal.
To accomplish the feat for the second time in three seasons in remarkable.
Elko steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge slammed down his second aggregate win against the top-15 bulldoggers in the world on Saturday during the 10th and final round of the WNFR at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The location of the rodeo may have been in Sin City, but Eldridge has personally turned Las Vegas into Win City.
He not only earned rare bragging rights for a remarkable accomplishment for the second time in a short window, Eldridge was also awarded a saddle, buckle and a check worth $67,269.23.
Eldridge also won the average crown in the 2015 WNFR, throwing 10 steers in 45.6 seconds – climbing all the way to second place in the world standings of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
In the 2017 WNFR, he even shaved his time slightly – finishing with a 10-head total of 45.4 seconds.
He moved into first place in the average on Friday, taking second in Round 9 with a 3.5-second run and holding onto to first until almost the very end of the event.
Eldridge finished his WNFR with a 5.2-second run on Saturday, clamping down the average title on a difficult steer that ran hard and angled to the bottom-left corner – pushing against Eldridge’s attempt to throw him.
“That was the steer that took Tyler (Waguespack) out,” Eldridge said. “He was alright but not the steer I needed to win second in the round on.”
Qualifying for five straight WNFRs, Eldridge entered in 10th place in the world standings and climbed seven spots.
In the year-end standings, he finished third with a total of $245,333.13 in earnings, finishing $20,123.89 from winning his first world championship.
He also wound up third in the year-end standings for the all-around race, winning $268,552.63 in total – the rest of his money coming primarily in the tie-down roping.
Second place in a go-round at the WNFR pays $20,730.77, which was paid on a 3.6-second run by Scott Guenther in the 10th round.
Tyler Pearson overtook Ty Erickson’s seemingly-insurmountable lead and won the world title, Erickson finishing second.
When asked to compare his two average wins at the WNFR, Eldridge offered his insight.
“The first one was special because it was my first. I was young and really didn’t know anything other to try to go as fast as I could,” he said. “I feel like I’m a better bulldogger now than I was then. I’m stronger, a lot more technical and more experienced. I think spending time with Tom Carney in Louisiana and breaking everything down step-by-step into a process really helped me out.”
Eldridge placed in five of the 10 rounds at the WNFR – winning Round 7 with a time of 3.3 – earning four-consecutive checks from Round 6 through Round 9.
In total, with his average check and money won in the go-rounds, Eldridge’s 10-day haul was worth more than $164,000.
Money is great, but a price tag cannot be placed on some things.
During the final weekend of the WNFR, Eldridge also became an uncle for the first time, as his sister Natacia gave birth to a baby girl.
“My parents came home early because my sister went into labor,” he said. “I’m excited. I hadn’t seen her yet because I just got home and I have been sick, so I didn’t want to give that to the baby – but they named her Mesa Ridge Morrison.”
Eldridge will have a few weeks off before diving back into the 2018 season – which has already started – competing next at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, which runs from Jan. 11 through Jan. 21 in Denver.
“I’m going to travel with Clayton (Hass) this season. He’s going to ride Rusty since Cadillac got hurt. He pulled a tendon and has a bone chip in his stifle,” Eldridge said. “We’ll have my backup horse, Cruiser, too. He’s getting really solid and he can run.”
Hass, a three-time WNFR qualifier (2014-2016), hazed for Eldridge this year at the WNFR.
Cadillac is expected to be ready to perform by the summer stretch of rodeos for Hass, Waguespack and Erickson.
Fallon’s Jade Corkill, the three-time world champion heeler, had ups and downs with partner Clay Tryan in the WNFR.
The duo combined to split first place in two go-rounds, stopping the clock in 3.9 seconds in Round 4 and sharing the top spot again in Round 8 with a time of 4.1 seconds.
Tryan and Corkill placed in three rounds of the WNFR – splitting first in two – taking home $72,615 apiece and finishing the season in 10th place in the world standings with a total of $153.998.73 a man.
After the roughest of his 10 trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa made his third horse change of the week in Round 9 – the move paying off.
He climbed back on the horse he started the week aboard, his gelding Gray Pony.
Shiozawa made his fastest run of the rodeo and placed second in the round – nearly cracking into the six-second range – stopping the clock in 7.0 seconds.
He won $20,730.77 on the run, earning another $11,000 on a 7.4-second run back in the third round.
Shiozawa earned approximately $41,000 at the WNFR, winding up 13th in the world standings with $135,093.96 in total money.
He will look for his 11th qualification in 2018.
Minden bareback rider Wyatt Denny entered the WNFR in fifth place in the world standings, but he fell to 14th by the conclusion of the rodeo.
Denny placed on just one horse, but the score was a big one – winning second in Round 4 with a mark of 87 points.
He finished the year with $140,084.23 in winnings, taking home a little more than $30,000 from Las Vegas.
Congratulations to Dakota Eldridge on his second WNFR average victory in three seasons, the Eldridge family for the addition of a baby girl, and to Jade Corkill, Matt Shiozawa and Wyatt Denny for successful rodeo seasons and best wishes to each for making return trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2018.