Steer wrestler Casey Martin finished his night at the Justin Boots Championships in a place that's becoming pretty familiar to the bulldogger from Sulphur, La.
Martin, who has never won a world championship, entered the River City Rodeo in first place with earnings of $91,031 and had been in first place every week but one since January.
Martin took his steer down in just 3.4 seconds to claim first place in the first round of the event and pocketed $3,256 in front of a CenturyLink Center crowd of 5,967.
The win helped Martin pad his lead over Trevor Knowles, who began the night in second place in the standings with $90,197.
Knowles limited the damage by finishing second, grounding his steer in 3.6 seconds while Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb., took third with a time of 3.7 seconds.
Martin, 31, didn't reach his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas until he turned 29. Now he'll be going for the third straight year, and he said his confidence is high.
“I don't know how people are seeing me, but my confidence level has gone up a bunch,” Martin said. “The first time I made the finals, it just went up ever since then.
“Last summer I was kind of struggling along there, and it got later in the summer and kind of toward fall, and then I got on a little roll and kept winning.”
Martin finished second last year in the standings to four-time world champion Luke Branquinho, who failed to get into the top 12 in the standings to qualify for Omaha. Branquinho entered the weekend in 13th place.
Martin's neighbor Shane Henchey placed first in the tie-down roping competition, securing his calf in 7.7 seconds, good for $3,256. Caleb Smidt (Yorktown, Texas) finished second with a time of 8.1 seconds.
Henchey, 23, said he lives about two miles from Martin in Sulphur, which has a population of about 22,000. He said he'll be Martin's biggest fan at the NFR.
“We're family friends, you know. We go to the same church. We pull for them, and they pull for us type of a deal,” Henchey said.
“It's gotten to be pretty cool because Casey's rodeoed for a while and, you know, would be 16th in the world or 17th in the world every now and then. And something the last three years, something has just clicked, and he's been in contention for a world title.”
Three-time world champion J.W. Harris topped the bull riding event with a score of 87 points, while reigning champion Cody Teel tied Tyler Smith for fourth place with 83 points.
Harris entered the night in first place in the standings with $113,973 and a lead of $16,319 over second-place Smith.
Harris pocketed another $3,256 with the win after surviving the ride on the bull Tid from C5 Rodeo, which had not been ridden since February after he had bucked off the previous seven riders.
Harris said he didn't ask anybody for strategic help about how to tackle the task of riding Tid.
“I never ask about bulls. I mean if I know them, then I just go by what I've seen,” Harris said.
“And if I've never seen them, I just don't bother asking. It does no good. They've got their own minds. They do what they want.”
Bareback riders Austin Foss and Kaycee Feild tied for the lead in their event, each scoring 86 points.
Steven Dent of Mullen, Neb., who entered the night in 11th place in the bareback world standings, tied for fourth with Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas) with 80 points.
Chad Ferley of Oelrichs, S.D., finished first in saddle bronc riding with a score of 84 points, while Cody Wright and Cole Elshere shared second with 82 points.
Cort Scheer of Elsmere, Neb., finished fifth with 78 points. He entered the River City Rodeo in sixth place in the saddle bronc standings.
Brothers Riley and Brady Minor tied for first in the team roping event with the team of Nick Sartain and Rich Skelton. Each team snared its steers in 4.6 seconds and took home $2,861.68.
Sabrina Ketcham finished first in barrel racing with a time of 13.63 seconds, while Michele McLeod ran second with a time of 13.81.
Bareback riding: First round: 1. (tie) Austin Foss, Terrebonne, Ore., on C5 Rodeo's Good Times, and Kaycee Feild, Payson, Utah, on Sankey Pro Rodeo's 9 Moons, 86 points, $2,862 each; Steer wrestling: First round: 1. Casey Martin, Sulphur, La., 3.4 seconds, $3,256; Team roping: First round: 1. (tie) Nick Sartain, Dover, Okla./Rich Skelton, Llano, Texas, and Riley Minor, Ellensburg, Wash./Brady Minor, Ellensburg, Wash., 4.6 seconds, $2,862 each; Saddle bronc riding: First round: 1. Chad Ferley, Oelrichs, S.D., 84 points on J Bar J's Painted Canyon, $3,256; Tie-down roping: First round: 1. Shane Hanchey, Sulphur, La., 7.7 seconds, $3,256; Barrel racing: First round: 1. Sabrina Ketcham, Yeso, N.M., 13.63 seconds, $2,115; Bull riding: First round: 1. J.W. Harris, Mullin, Texas, 87 points on C5 Rodeo's Tid, $3,256;