Updated October 14, 2021 - 8:04 pm
From hanging out with the Blue Man Group to taking a behind-the-scenes tour of Caesars Palace, top-ranked cowboys Shane Hanchey and Sage Kimzey were reminded Wednesday of why they love having the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Not that they needed to be reminded.
“I think I can speak for most cowboys in the fact that there’s only one home for the NFR, and that’s definitely in Vegas,” Kimzey said. “We’re super excited to be back. You think of the NFR, and the first thing that pops in your mind is the city of Vegas and Thomas & Mack Center.”
The NFR returns to the Thomas & Mack from Dec. 2-11 after a one-year departure to Arlington, Texas. Fans would not have been allowed into the Mack because of COVID-19 restrictions if the NFR had been in Las Vegas last year, but crowds were permitted in Texas.
Now fans are back in Las Vegas and so are the cowboys and cowgirls.
Hanchey and Kimzey will go for championships. Both are ranked No. 1 — Hanchey in tie-down roping and Kimzey in bull riding.
Hanchey, who has won 10 rodeos this year and tied for first in two others, said he is even better now than in 2013 when he won his lone world title. He came close to a second one last year, finishing third with $195,991.
Now he hopes for a double championship, one for him and another for his beloved Houston Astros. He noted the trash-can controversy around the Astros, but said their sustained success speaks even louder. Hanchey is good friends with Alex Bregman, whose Astros are playing the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
“Hopefully, he can take care of business and they can get another World Series ring, and we can see if I can pull my end of the weight in December,” Hanchey said. “That would be pretty cool. Maybe he’ll let me wear his World Series ring and I’ll let him wear my gold buckle.”
Kimzey has been in seven consecutive NFRs, and he won championships those first six years. But he finished fifth last year with $184,764.
Perhaps the disappointing finish — by Kimzey’s standards, anyway — fueled him this year. Kimzey has seven outright victories and two ties for the top.
“The way I handled myself and the way I went about my business this year was probably better than what it ever has been,” Kimzey said. “The older you get obviously the more wisdom you acquire. Just learning more about myself as a person and a competitor. Also, I’m my harshest critic, so at the end of the day if there’s something that needs to be fixed, I’m definitely going to fix it.”
When they return in December, the visit to Las Vegas will focus on the work, which made this week all the more enjoyable.
They are grateful for the opportunity to compete in Texas, but for both cowboys Las Vegas is in a different class.
“I told people last year when it got moved to Texas, I’m a Vegas guy,” Hanchey said. “I’m also a habits guy, and I’ve got my people in Vegas. To be able to come back and experience what we did (Wednesday) was awesome.”