Moore stays red hot at Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with third-round victory
By NEAL REID
LAS VEGAS – Amberleigh Moore is trying her best to stay out of her horse’s way, and it is paying off in grand fashion.
The 2016 WPRA reserve world champion from Salem, Ore., held on for the ride aboard her talented 9-year-old mare, Paige, in Round 3 of the 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Saturday night to pick up her seventh career go-round victory at the Thomas & Mack Center. Moore, a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier, topped the 15-cowgirl field with a 13.59-second run in front of a crowd of 17,031 and was all smiles after padding her lead in the 10-run average.
“It feels as good (to win) as it did the first time,” said Moore, who finished fourth in the world last year. “It doesn’t matter how many times you come down that alleyway, it’s amazing. Paige feels the best she’s felt in about a year.
“She’s on fire, she’s locked on and she feels great.”
Wrangler NFR rookie Jessica Routier was second in Round 3 with a 13.62-second run on her 7-year-old mare, Missy, while world standings leader Hailey Kinsel and Stevi Hillman split third with 13.67-second runs. Kylie Weast (13.70 seconds) and Ivy Conrado (13.74) finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Moore and Paige have been the hottest tandem in barrel racing this week, finishing second in the first two rounds and leading the average with a three-run time of 40.91 seconds. Moore, who entered this year’s Finals 13th in the WPRA World Standings, has vaulted all the way to third place thanks to $77,692 in earnings through the first three rounds.
“I’m just trying to stay out of the way, let her do her job and see what we can get done,” Moore said. “We’ll have the same mentality (the next seven nights), and there’s still 21 barrels left. My motto has always been, ‘One run at a time,’ and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
Moore said Paige’s stellar run came despite – or perhaps because of – a random occurrence before the barrel racing.
“When the saddle bronc horses came through (the back pens), they shut the gates on us and she literally fell apart and had a meltdown,” Moore said. “She wanted in the (warm-up) tent, and they had to run the horses through first. I said, ‘Thanks boys, she’s going to be running tonight!’ and she did because she was just wired.”
Moore and Paige entered the 10-day rodeo in the third-to-last hole after Moore was forced to give the mare some considerable time off earlier in the season, but now they’re rested, ready and a force to be reckoned with in Las Vegas.
“I was No. 1 in the world for quite a while, and then I was forced to step off her for four-and-a-half months to let some things heal up,” Moore said. “I got her back Aug. 1, and I was slowly slipping in the standings. We headed out (on the road), got it finished and feel extremely blessed to get here in 13th.
“I was just happy to get back here and have the chance to let her show what she can do.”
Kinsel is second in the average at 41.15 seconds, with Weast sitting third at 41.26. Round 2 winner Lisa Lockhart appeared to be headed for another check aboard her mare, Rosa, but they knocked down the third barrel and settled for a time of 18.66 seconds after the five-second penalty.
Kinsel leads reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller by $74,566 in the world standings race heading into Sunday’s Round 4.
Saturday was unofficially “Gold Night” for the barrel racers, with the Top 15 cowgirls wearing flashes of gold in honor of late Wrangler NFR barrel racer Nancy Hunter. Hunter – who qualified for the Finals in 2014 and 2015 – passed away from pancreatic cancer in August of 2016 at the age of 59.
Hunter, a nurse, spent years raising money for cancer charities after her son, Kolton, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a child. Many of the barrel racers’ horses also wore gold stickers as well to pay tribute to Hunter.
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.com and ESPNW.com, just to name a few. Follow him on Twitter at @NealReid21.