Steve Luhm: Utah's Jake Wright falls $85 short of National Finals Rodeo
All the rodeos.
All the dusty roads and bone-rattling miles.
All the bumps, all the bruises.
Utah saddle bronc rider Jake Wright has thought about it all in the past few weeks, since the official 2011 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings were announced.
You see, the top-15 money-winners in each event qualify for the National Finals Rodeo, and Wright missed reaching his sport's Super Bowl by $85.
That's how much it costs to fill a pickup truck with gas.
That's not enough to buy a top-of-the-line Stetson.
Wright, 21, ended up with $44,056 in season earnings.
Jesse Kruse of Great Falls, Mont., who finished 15th on the money list, earned $44,141.
"It was a shocker when I first saw how close it was," Wright said. "But I've decided it's better to think ahead than look back."
Still, it's human nature to replay the season and think of how easily Wright could have qualified for the first National Finals Rodeo of his career.
In Albuquerque, N.M., for example, Wright dropped from second place to third on the final ride of the rodeo.
He earned $2,600, not $3,500.
You do the math.
Closer to home, Wright tied for first and earned $1,372 at the Cache County Fair in Logan.
If his 83-point ride had been an 84, however, he would have finished alone in first place and earned more than $1,700.
You do the math.
Wright, who recently moved from Milford to Richfield, estimates he competed in 120 rodeos this year and traveled 90,000 miles to do so.
That's a huge effort to come up $85 short of your dream.
On the bright side, he said, "I did way better this year than last year, and I'm completely healthy for the first time in a long time. I can't complain."
Wright, however, won't attend the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December, even though brothers Cody and Jesse Wright qualified and are among the favorites to capture the world championship.
"I went and watched the last couple of years," he said. "But I'm not going back until I'm riding."
Oddly, another Utah saddle bronc rider just missed qualifying for the National Finals.
Rusty Allen of Eagle Mountain finished 17th in the standings with earnings of $43,663 only $478 behind Kruse.
"It was a decent season [but] I'm not real happy with it," said Allen. "I just struggled with consistency. I'd get going a little bit and then make a few mistakes. That kills you at this level."
Allen missed two weeks in July after a horse fell on him in Reno. The time off probably cost him a trip to the sixth National Finals of his career.
"It's a hard deal ... sickening," he said. "It's only 400 bucks. That's the difference between a fifth- and sixth-place check at a small rodeo. But it might as well be 40,000 if you're on the wrong side of the line."