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NFR cowboys don neckties to honor renowned bucking horse

It isn’t often that a cowboy will be spotted wearing a necktie. So when 15 of them showed up sporting one at last week’s National Finals Rodeo Welcome Reception at South Point, you knew there had to be a special reason for it.

The special reason was a special horse.

Each of the 15 NFR bareback riders arrived wearing stylish leather ties hand-tooled by Ty Skiver of Skiver Bootmakers. The neckwear is a tribute to Powder River Rodeo’s Craig at Midnight, the 2016 Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback horse of the year and top bareback horse of the 2017 NFR who died unexpectedly June 5 at the Riverton, Wyoming, ranch where he was raised.

Hank Franzen, Craig at Midnight’s owner, said the powerful gray gelding weighed 1,700 pounds and probably died of a heart-related problem.

“He was just a big, strong animal. He just laid down and went to sleep,” Franzen said. “The one thing about Craig at Midnight is that people followed him. He went to the national finals nine years in a row, and this would have been his 10th trip. Just a horse that touched a lot of hearts. Everybody loved to watch him.”

Franzen said Craig at Midnight’s size and bucking prowess reminded rodeo enthusiasts of Bodacious, the legendary bucking bull. After Friday’s NFR performance at the Thomas & Mack Center, some of the cowboys who rode him — and a bunch that didn’t — met at New York-New York to reminisce and share stories about the big horse with the big heart.

“He was a challenge, but every cowboy loved the challenge — kind of like Bodacious,” Franzen said of the revered horse who is buried near the Franzen home under a cottonwood tree next to Khadafy Skoal, the rodeo company’s ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee.

Craig at Midnight was named for Craig Roe, a Powder River hired hand described as a bigger version of Rip Wheeler, the character played by actor Cole Hauser on the hit TV series “Yellowstone.”

“Craig’s a really large guy, and he was drinking some beer one night, and we got to talkin’ about how we need a good name for this big horse because he was going to be something someday,” John Franzen, Hank’s son, recalled with a telling chuckle.

“About the time we were talking about that, Craig got up and started to stumble around trying to catch himself. Somebody said let’s call him Craig. It was about midnight, and he was full of beer, and somebody said let’s call (the horse) Craig at Midnight. And that’s what stuck.”

Around the horn

— Las Vegas resident Pat Fitzsimons, who finished tied for 22nd at the 1975 Masters during which Lee Elder became the first Black to play in the prestigious tournament, recalls there being “quite a buzz” when Elder made history at staid Augusta National Golf Course.

“I didn’t have a lot of personal experience with Lee, but I did play with him in the first two rounds in Milwaukee (in 1978), and he ended up the winning tournament,” Fitzsimons said of Elder, who died Monday at age 87. “Mr. Elder had quite an unorthodox method — lots of movement of the body and not real graceful — and I had a pretty smooth, graceful swing.

“And I missed the cut, and he won the tournament (in a playoff against Lee Trevino). He got the job done, and he was a nice man and was aware of the world.”

— Congratulations to Jamie Little, the NASCAR pit road reporter and Green Valley High graduate, on being named one of three finalists for NASCAR’s Community Champion award. Each finalist received $30,000 to donate to their charity of choice, with Little making hers to Las Vegas-based Animal Help Alliance that rescues and treats injured pit bulls and other dog breeds.

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— Bleary-eyed Lee Elder, after leaving a corporate golf obligation in Florida and driving at a high rate of speed to catch up with Tiger Woods on the putting green before the final round of Woods’ history-making victory at the 1997 Masters:

“Go take care of business.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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