By NEAL REID
LAS VEGAS – WPRA World Standings leader Hailey Kinsel couldn’t ask for a better start to the 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The 24-year-old from Cotulla, Texas, guided her 7-year-old palomino mare, DM Sissy Hayday “Sister,” through the cloverleaf pattern at the Thomas & Mack Center in 13.51 seconds to win the opening round on Thursday night. Kinsel, the 2017 reserve world champion, added $26,231 to her 2018 tally and leads reigning World Champion Nellie Miller by $61,239 heading into the second performance.
“It’s definitely a good way to start,” said Kinsel, who was the first barrel racer to run down the alley in front of a crowd of 16,864 on opening night. “Being first out of the whole rodeo, you’re really testing the ground, so I’m not sure if it’s an advantage or not. You’re the first one who’s going to say what it’s going to be.
“It was fun to go first and fun to end up first.”
Kinsel and Sister set the arena record of 13.11 while winning the third round at last year’s Finals and have claimed five of the last 11 performances at the “Super Bowl of Rodeo.” Their 13.51-second time on Thursday night was the quickest by 14-hundredths of a second, with Amberleigh Moore of Salem, Ore., stopping the clock in 13.65 seconds on her 9-year-old mare, Paige, to take the $20,731 second-place check.
Photo by James Phifer
Ivy Conrado, riding her 9-year-old palomino mare JLo, was third at 13.78, while Miller earned fourth-place money at 13.79. Wrangler NFR rookies Tracy Nowlin (13.83 seconds) and Kylie Weast (13.86) were fifth and sixth, respectively.
Kinsel and her talented steed, the 2018 PRCA/WPRA AQHA Horse of the Year and Horse With the Most Heart, even survived a mid-run hiccup that slowed them down a touch.
“I had a big slip in there and it was a little bit slick right off the bat, but she handles it great and is real gritty,” Kinsel said. “It made her a little tight through the rest of the run.”
Kinsel arrived in Las Vegas with a bull’s-eye on her back and a $46,008 cushion over Miller, so winning Round 1 was a big deal for the two-time Wrangler NFR qualifier.
“It’s definitely a great way to start coming in No. 1,” Kinsel said. “I normally have more of an underdog mindset, and I try to keep that in my head and picture myself a little farther down the (money) list. I’m going to have to be aggressive the rest of the week as we get tighter and tighter in here.”
Kinsel said she feels more comfortable handling all the ancillary obligations that go along with being a Wrangler NFR qualifier since this is her second time in Las Vegas, and her experience from 2017 will help her in a multitude of ways during this year’s event.
“Just about everything I learned from last year is helping me this year,” she said. “Knowing where to go, what to do and not fretting about anything lets me just handle it all as it comes. I know my horse likes it here too, so that gives me a little extra confidence.”
That could be bad news for the other 14 barrel racers over the course of the next nine days.
The 2017 PRCA Media Award winner for print journalism, Neal Reid is covering his 15th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year. He has written for USA Today, the WPRA News, Western Horseman, American Cowboy, ESPN.comand ESPNW.com, just to name a few. Follow him on Twitter at @NealReid21. For More WPRA information visit www.wpra.com for all of this years NFR Coverage.