Kinsel moves closer to first world title with second round win of 2018 Finals
By NEAL REID
LAS VEGAS – Anyone hoping WPRA World Standings leader Hailey Kinsel would falter at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has to be greatly disappointed.
The 2017 reserve world champion took another big step toward earning her first gold buckle by winning her second go-round of the rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday night. Kinsel, of Cotulla, Texas, and her WPRA/AQHA Barrel Horse of the Year, Sister, stopped the clock in 13.63 seconds to win Round 6 by a tenth-of-a-second ahead of Wrangler NFR average leader Jessica Routier.
Kinsel, who also won the opening round, became the first repeat winner in barrel racing at this year’s $10 million rodeo and has now placed in four of the six rounds. Her $26,231 first-place check boosted Kinsel’s season earnings total to $286,815, and she will enter Round 7 holding a $93,342 lead over Amberleigh Moore, who finished fourth in the sixth round.
Even though her time was the second-slowest mark to win a round at this year’s Finals, Kinsel still had one word to describe how it felt aboard her 7-year-old palomino mare.
“Fast!” said Kinsel, who set the Wrangler NFR barrel racing record of 13.11 seconds a year ago. “It felt pretty good, and the ground’s way better. It can’t be as fast when it’s way deeper like this.
“You’re not going to be nearly as fast clock-wise, but it’s safer, and that’s what we all like. So, I’m good with it. I’d much rather run a tenth or two slower.”
Round 5 winner Ivy Conrado was third in the sixth performance with a 13.75-second run, followed by Moore at 13.77, Taci Bettis at 13.82 and Stevi Hillman at 13.90.
Kinsel has performed at a high level during her two Wrangler NFR appearances this year and last, and she says she continues to grow as a barrel racer every time she unleashes Sister down the alley toward the arena.
“You learn something new every night here,” said Kinsel, 24. “But, (veteran) Lisa (Lockhart) can tell you that this is still a new rodeo each and every day. You apply what you learn, but you still change as it goes.”
That could mean the other 14 barrel racers are battling for second place, as Kinsel seems locked in and focused this year.
“This win is for sure good for my confidence,” Kinsel said. “I still have four more runs to make, so that won’t change anything for the next few days. I’ll just go at it every night and try to do my best.”
Routier’s 13.73-second run on her steady 7-year-old mare, Missy, helped the Wrangler NFR rookie maintain the average lead she grabbed in Round 5, and she leads the way with a six-run time of 82.71 seconds. Reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller is second at 83.74, while Moore is fifth and Kinsel is sixth, respectively.
Routier’s $20,731 runner-up check on Tuesday moved her to third in the WPRA World Standings with $179,358, up from eighth place to start the rodeo.
Moore has placed in five out of six rounds – including a win in Round 3 – but knocked over a barrel in Round 5 to lose the average lead to Routier. Regardless, Moore continues to lead the standings for the Wrangler NFR Top Gun Award, which is given to the top-earning contestant at the rodeo.
Moore’s $6,769 check on Tuesday made her the first six-figure contestant of the rodeo, and she leads all 119 competitors with $104,346. Kinsel moved into second with $93,981 thanks to the round victory, while saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer is third at $92,712.
Tuesday was “Rookie Night” at the 60th annual rodeo, and all of ProRodeo’s top rookies were honored in the arena during the performance. WPRA Rookie of the Year Jimmie Smith of McDade, Texas, will remember the experience for quite some time.
“It was pretty cool,” said Smith, who finished 24th in the world standings with $61,199. “That was the first time that I’ve been on the ground at the Thomas & Mack. It is definitely very motivating for next year to be able to run here instead.”