By Neal Reid
Wrangler NFR Rookie Overtakes World Standings Lead
After Round 4 Victory
LAS VEGAS – The barrel racing world has a new leader.
Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie Emily Miller continued her dreamlike run in Las Vegas by winning the fourth round in front of 16,813 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Sunday night, vaulting to the top of the WPRA World Standings in the process. Riding from the top of the ground as the first barrel racer down the alleyway, Miller and her 9-year-old gray gelding, Chongo, laid down a 13.64-second run that held up for the win and added another $26,231 to her bottom line.
Miller and Chongo also won the opening round on Thursday night, and she has pocketed a rodeo-best $98,846 to lead the RAM Top Gun Award standings through four rounds. Sunday night’s triumph pushed her season earnings to $196,991, and she now leads reigning World Champion Hailey Kinsel by $13,163 with six rounds remaining in the $10 million rodeo.
Miller, who joined the WPRA in 2013, found out about her ascension to the top of the standings during a post-round television interview.
“They told me when I was on camera, and I started crying,” said Miller, a 27-year-old dental hygienist from Weatherford, Okla. “That one hit home. I try not to look at the standings and think about that, because we still have six more runs to make.
“How awesome it is to be at this point, and I feel like it’s such an accomplishment. But it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
Round 3 winner Amberleigh Moore was second in 13.75 seconds, with Jessica Routier (13.77), Ivy Conrado-Saebens (13.79) and Ericka Nelson (13.81) rounding out the top five. Kinsel earned a $4,231 sixth-place check to move to second in the standings, with 13-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Lisa Lockhart in third place at $181,313 and 2017 World Champion Nellie Miller fourth with $175,611 in a tight group at the top.
Emily Miller was highly complimentary of her horse after becoming the first barrel racer to double down in Las Vegas with a second go-round buckle.
“I can’t thank Chongo enough,” she said. “That horse, he deserves this. He’s working outstanding, and I couldn’t be happier with him. I’m just lucky to be his jockey.”
The first-year Finals contestant leads the average with a 54.64-second total, nearly a full second ahead of Routier. She said being at the top of the ground on Sunday night didn’t automatically mean she’d ramp up Chongo’s aggressiveness as he barreled into the arena.
“Not necessarily. I think you have to ride a little bit smarter the farther down on the ground you get,” Emily Miller said. “I’ve been more worried about the second and the third barrels, but he’s staying super honest for me. He’s doing great, and I’m absolutely thrilled with how he’s working.”
Despite her early success, Miller stopped short of saying she and her horse are in the proverbial “zone.”
“You know, I think every run you just go out there and try to focus on what you’ve worked on all year, and that’s one (barrel) to the right, two to the left and leave them up,” she said. “As a rider, I feel like I failed him a bit on the first barrel tonight, but that’s something I can fix. Luckily, he’s doing his job, so that’s huge.”
The red-headed Oklahoma cowgirl with the quick smile is having a blast at her first Wrangler NFR.
“Joe (Beaver) made the comment the other day at the WPRA luncheon that, ‘It’s fun in Vegas, but it’s a lot more fun when you’re winning,’” she said. “I have to agree with him. It’s been a great four days, and we’ve really enjoyed it.”