Brett Hoffman
LAS VEGAS — Most of the time, a 16th-place finish in the world standings in a single event at the end of the regular season on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit means a cowboy has missed qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas by one slot.
But that’s not the case this year for three-time world bareback riding champion Will Lowe of Canyon who finished No. 16 when the 2018 regular season concluded on Sept. 30. Lowe is competing at the 2018 National Finals because veteran J.R. Vezain, who qualified for the NFR by finishing in 14th place, is not able to ride because he is nursing a broken back injury.
“I hate the circumstances that I’m here under,” Lowe said of competing at the 2018 NFR. “But we all know the risk that we take when we nod our head [in the chute for the bronc to turned out in the arena].”
When Lowe learned that Vezain had been injured and probably would be sideline throughout the 2018 NFR, he became very aggressive and placed at multiple rodeos throughout the final week of the season to secure a the last slot in the Las Vegas championships. 
“I knew I had to go on a rampage,” Lowe said of competing during the last week of the 2018 regular season. “I was fortunate to draw the horses that I did. It all worked out and I’m glad to be here again.”
Vezain was injured during a late regular season rodeo in Pasadena. When word got out about his injury, Lowe pretty well knew that qualifying for the NFR would be less of a challenge for those cowboys who were on the bubble and just outside of the elite top 15 in the world standings. 
“All of us who were on the bubble knew that 16th place was probably going to be up” to qualify for the 2018 NFR in bareback riding, Lowe said. “We all were hoping for the best for J.R. But when you have an injury were it involves breaking bones and surgery, that’s usually a couple of months process at the minimum. We all prayed for J.R. and we wish J.R. was here riding. But we all knew that 16th was the last hole.”
The 60th annual NFR began Thursday, Dec. 6, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. 
Lowe qualified for the NFR for 14 consecutive years (2002-15) and he clinched world titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Lowe did not compete in the NFR the past two years. But when he earned his 15th berth to the NFR this year, Lowe made his presence known immediately. He finished fourth in Round 1 on Thursday with a score of 85 and earned an $11,000 check.
“It’s an honor to be back,” Lowe said. “I’m very fortunate, I’m very blessed and very grateful for the opportunity to be back.”
One talented rider
Tatum Rice of Weatherford has won the National Cutting Horse Association’s two most prestigious titles eight days apart.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, he was crowned as the sport’s open division champion rider at the NCHA World Finals at Fort Worth’s W.R. Watt Arena. He clinched the coveted title on a stallion named Hashtags. The World Finals is the sport’s equivalent of the World Series for weekend warriors.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, Rice and a filly named Crey Zee clinched NCHA World Championship Futurity open division title with a final round score of 222 at Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. Crey Zee’s owners, Kevin and Sydney Knight of Weatherford, earned the coveted $183,074 prize.
The Nov. 15-Dec. 9 Futurity was the sport’s most prominent annual show that featured the cutting horse industry’s most promising debuting 3-year-old horses. The Futurity, which is classified as an aged event, traditionally is the first jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown Series.
When the 2018 Futurity title was at stake, Rice and Crey Zee, who were the first duo to compete during Sunday’s 21-horse finals, turned in the attention grabbing 222. The score held up for the rest of the performance.
Adan Banuelos, 30, of Granbury, and a stallion named Badboonarising, which were the third duo to compete in the second bunch during the final, finished as the Futurity’s reserve champion with a 221. Badboonarising’s owners, Plantation Farms of Denham Springs, La., earned $161,539.
After clinching the Futurity title, Rice, 33, said Crey Zee is a very fast athletic horse with lots of determination.
“She’s named appropriately--she is crazy,” Rice said. “She’s wild. But she wants to be good. She’s incredibly fast and she tries.”
Brett Hoffman, a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame member, has reported on rodeos and horse shows for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than three decades. Email him at bchoffman777@earthlink.net.