BILLINGS -- Fireworks are set to explode Thursday night when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo kicks off in Las Vegas with 10 straight performances in a city where anything seems possible.
Miles City cowboy Haven Meged has a shot to win his first world title in his first trip to the National Finals Rodeo. And he's doing it in an event rarely represented by Montana at the NFR: tie-down roping. Cashing in for almost $120,000 dollars, Meged sits second in the world. He trails Texas cowboy Caleb Schmidt by $12,000, which, at this rodeo, is the equivalent of pennies. First place every night pays more than $26,000.
World champions are determined by who wins the most money in a season. Only the top 15 in each event are invited to the NFR, which doubles down as the richest event in rodeo.
Montana is on top of the steer wrestling leaderboard. Helena's Ty Erickson is No. 1 and has been here before. He just hasn't been able pull off enough magic at the NFR to win a world title. At this moment, Erickson's pockets are filled with more than $146,000 and a lead of $42,000.
MTN Sports will also be watching Stevensville cowboy Bridger Chambers in the big man's event. He's 11th after introducing himself to the NFR just a year ago. What kind of impression did he make? Chambers was on fire. He finished second at the rodeo and second in the world behind Tyler Waguespack.
Billings cowboy Clay Tryan knows a thing or two about stealing the show in the show capital. The header is a three-time world team roping champion. He's quietly in fourth place, less than $50,000 off the lead. Helena heeler Chase Tryan is 11th, a position many times too far down the list to win it all. But this year every heeler inside the top 15 is within reach of a gold buckle.
Casper, Wyoming's Ty Blasingame is right behind Clay Tryan in fifth. He and partner Kyle Locket won Rodeo Houston this year to springboard up the standings. Blasingame's only other appearance at the NFR was nine years ago, but with a nickname like 'The Blaster,' bet against him at your own risk.
Montana showcases only one cowboy in this year's saddle bronc. Chase Brooks of Deer Lodge is tucked into sixth place.
Same story in bareback with a lone Montana cowboy. Caleb Bennett of Corvallis is seventh with more than $110,000.
How about the run for Circle native Lisa Lockhart? She has earned a ticket every year since 2007 and has won more than $2.5 million. Multiple times she's been close to a world title but unable to capture it. Lockhart, who now lives in Oelrichs, South Dakota, won six events this season, including the Calgary Stampede and the RAM National Circuit Finals. She is third in barrel racing and only about $8,000 off the lead. Lockhart would love for this to be the year she cashes in the finish a lifetime.
MTN Sports will be in Las Vegas for local coverage of the NFR's final four rounds. Each performance will be televised live on CBS Sports Network nightly starting at 8 p.m. MST.
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