Denny aims for No. 1 at NFR
PRCA BAREBACK STANDINGS
1, Tim O’Connell, Zwingle, Iowa, $201,915.81
2, Tanner Aus, Granite Falls, Minn., $136,656.85
3, Clayton Biglow, Clements, Calif., $128,153.22
4, J.R. Vezain, Cowley, Wyo., $113,311.64
5, Wyatt Denny, Minden, $109,353.46
A year ago, Wyatt Denny was eager about his first trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Now, the Minden bareback rider has his sights set much higher coming into the NFR, which is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s version of baseball’s World Series. It all starts on Thursday and continues through Dec. 16 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Denny, 22, currently stands fifth in the PRCA bareback world standings with $109,353.46 in earnings. His ultimate goal is to climb all the way to No. 1.
“I’m pumped up and ready to get down there,” Denny said last week. “I’m sitting No. 5 right now and hoping to change that and be No. 1 when I leave Vegas. That’s been my goal since I was 5 years old. It’s what I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
How important is the NFR?
“Basically, it’s going to be 10 days of the best cowboys in the world against the best horses in the world,” he said a year ago.
Denny had his qualifying spot locked up by the end of summer with the aid of six victories. The highlight came in July when he earned a career-best $50,000 pay check at the inaugural Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, where he finished ahead of Tim O’Connell, the current leader and reigning PRCA bareback champion.
Denny has a gap of about $92,000 to make up on O’Donnell if he wants to bring that world championship back home. Anything can still happen, though.
“There’s a pretty good gap, but the average pays $70,000 right there; to win the average, you’re placing really well each day, so you’re going to be up around $100,000,” Denny said. “There’s a lot of space to be made up and there are a lot of guys who could still catch us from seventh or eighth place.”
If that isn’t enough incentive, the 5-foot-6 Minden cowboy is less than $20,000 in the standings behind his traveling partner, Clayton Biglow, who lives on the west end of Highway 88 in Clements, Calif.
“That’s my traveling partner,” Denny said, flashing a smile. “Our goal is to leave every rodeo 1 and 2. And if we’re not 1 and 2, our goal is to be in the money. When you have that kind of attitude to support each other going back and forth, that makes it a lot easier to win.”
By comparison, Denny came into last year’s NFR as the 15th and final bareback qualifier. In fact, he only punched his ticket to the NFR on the last day of the season with a second-place finish in Mona, Utah on Sept. 30, 2016. In Las Vegas, he moved up to finish 10th in the final 2016 PRCA world standings with $148,862 in winnings.
Denny’s goal for 2017 was to be able to wrap up his travel schedule by the end of August. “I’ve been home since the beginning of September and I’ve worked out every day since then so I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he said.
That wasn’t necessarily the case earlier this spring and summer when he fought to stay healthy through the grind of traveling to ride broncs every weekend, sometimes at two events in a single day.
For example, he worked through painful hips with help from Dr. Brett Lemire at Universal Chiropractic Spine & Sport in Elk Grove, Calif.
“When I felt walked in there, I couldn’t even walk in there. It felt like my leg was swollen all the way to my knee … I thought I was going to need surgery,” Denny said. “The first time I rode after he worked on me, I felt the difference. Everything felt so solid up into my hips. The first jump out, I felt, ‘Holy cow, I’m so much more in control.’ It was a night and day difference as far as my positioning and the way I felt.”
Denny said he has been going through double-day workouts in the gym and watching his nutritional intake to put him in peak condition for the NFR.
If all goes well, it’s entirely possible Wyatt will have an opportunity to compete again at NFR next year, along with his older brother, Grant, who came back from an early season injury and finished 36th in the 2017 standings. Looking at the 2018 PRCA bareback standings, Grant Denny is currently No. 8.
Hopefully, all the preparation will pay off during these next 10 days of competition at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“At the end of the day, I don’t do it to become famous or anything like that,” Denny said. “I do it for a paycheck. I’d rather do this than dig ditches all day. And you only get as much out of it as you put into it.”