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Tim O'Connell might have taken another step toward his first-ever trip to the National Finals Rodeo on Tuesday night.
O'Connell posted a score of 84 aboard a horse named Cougar Mountain and took the bareback lead after the first round of the Days of '47 Rodeo at EnergySolutions Arena.
O'Connell, a 22-year-old Iowan, ranks fifth in the world standings with earnings of $55,444. The top 15 on the regular-season money list qualify for the NFR in December.
"I try not to think too much about it," O'Connell said. "But I hear people talking about it. My mom is getting kind of excited. She called me the other day and told me I had moved up to No. 5 in the world."
Asked about his improving chance of reaching the National Finals, O'Connell smiled.
"That's been a dream of mine my whole life," he said. "I've always gone to the rodeo with my dad and I've always wanted to nod my head in the bucking chutes at the NFR. ... For a cowboy, I can't imagine anything better than that not with all the money that's out there."
O'Connell credited Cougar Mountain with helping position him to cash a hefty check at the 'Days of 47. He did it in a round where no other competitor in the bareback scored better than 78.
"I've never seen that old stud horse before," O'Connell said. "But I'd heard a lot of good things about him and everybody was right. He is big, scary and muscular. He let me have a chance to show off a little bit. He was fun. ... I'm really happy I drew that horse."
Like the rest of his peers, O'Connell is chasing three-time world champion Kaycee Feild in the world bareback standings.
Feild, who is scheduled to compete at the Days of '47 on Saturday night, ranks No. 1 with earnings of $118,425.
"Kaycee is a machine," O'Connell said. "It takes something really big, scary and dirty to put him on the ground. ... He's just been so dominant. He can make big, strong horses look like nothing. He's blowing the doors off right now."
O'Connell doesn't seem to mind, either.
"Kaycee is an inspiration to guys like me," O'Connell said. "... He's a great guy. If you ask him, he'll help you. He's not a stuck-up world champion."
So far this season, O'Connell has won high-profile rodeos at Greeley, Colo., Oakdale, Calif., and Guymon, Okla.
After his 84 at the Days of '47 and an 80 at the Fiesta Days Rodeo on Spanish Fork on Monday, he headed out to Frontiers Days in Cheyenne.
Another step toward the National Finals?
"I hope so," O'Connell said.
Results from the opening round of the Days of '47 Rodeo:
1. Tim O'Connell (Zwingle, Iowa), 84 points; 2. Tyler Waltz (Martin, Tenn.), 78; 3. Kyle Brennecke (Grain Valley, Mo.), 75.
1. Beau Clark (Belgrade, Mont.), 3.7 seconds; 2. (Tie) Casey Martin (Sulphur, La.) and Jake Rinehart (Highmore, S.D.), 5.7.
1. Dustin Bird (Cut Bank, Mont.) and Paul Eaves (Lonedell, Mo.), 4.3 seconds; 2. Bryce Palmer Milton (Freewater, Ore.) and Jake Minor (Ellensburg, Was.), 4.4; 3. Adam Rose (Willard, Mo.) and Billie Saebens (Nowata, Okla.), 4.7.
1. Cody DeMoss (Heflin, La.), 84; 2. Joe Harper (Paradise Valley, Nev.), 68; 3. (Tie) Jeff Willert (Belvidere, S.D.) and Casey Maddox (Wichita Falls, Texas), 67.
1. Cade Swor (Winnie, Texas), 7.3 seconds; 2. Marcos Costa (Childress, Texas), 8.2; 3. Colby Walkoviak (Anderson, Texas), 8.3.
1. Ann Scott (Canyon Country, Calif.), 13.48 seconds; 2. Brittany Pozzi (Victoria, Texas), 13.57; 3. Sierra Dawn Thomas (Roy, Utah), 13.59.
1. Caleb Sanderson (Stephenville, Texas), 85; 2. Ty Wallace (Weatherford, Okla.), 77; 3. Zeb Lanham (Sweet, Idaho), 75.
Days of '47 Rodeo
When • Tuesday through Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m.
Where • EnergySolutions Arena, 301 West South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • EnergySolutions Arena website and box office, or call 801-355-7328
Prices • $12.50 to $39.50