The saddle bronc riding Wright brothers have gone from a nice story to a group looking to make history in a short time. (From left to right) Two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody, Alex, Jake and Wrangler NFR average record-holder Jesse are all hoping to make the Finals this year - something unprecedented in ProRodeo history. Meanwhile, Spencer is hoping to make a run at 2012 Resistol Rookie of the Year honors. — Photo courtesy of ShaRee Wright
By Marvin Olberding, ProRodeo Sports News
As recently as two years ago, the story of World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright and his three bronc-riding little brothers/traveling partners was something of an anomaly, an “Ain’t that cool?” anecdote for PRCA announcers to use on crowds as one of the Utah cowboys made his final preparations in the chute, getting ready to nod his head.
Rodeo fans have quickly learned that those little brothers possessed some big-time talent of their own, particularly in the case of 22-year-old Jesse Wright, the 2009 Resistol Rookie of the Year who has already earned a reputation in the past two years as being a show stealer at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
But the other brothers have been knocking at the door for a Finals qualification in the past couple years, as well. Alex Wright, 24, finished 21st in the world in 2010 before placing 27th last year, and Jake Wright – Jesse’s elder twin brother – ended the 2011 season on the wrong side of the NFR bubble, finishing an agonizing $85 short of the 15th and final spot in the Vegas field.
Had Jake been able to qualify for his first Finals, he, Cody and Jesse would have become the first sibling trio to make it to Vegas in the saddle bronc riding since one of the most popular sets of brothers professional rodeo has ever seen – Robert, Billy and Dan Etbauer.
|It ain’t just getting thereNot only did Robert, Billy and Dan Etbauer make the Finals together eight times in nine years, they made plenty of headlines when they got there.1989: All three win a round and six in all, highlighted by Billy winning the last three.
1990: Robert wins two rounds and the world title, while Dan wins three rounds.
1991: Perhaps the best collective year. Robert won the first four rounds, the average and a second world title. Dan and Billy each win a round, and the brothers finish first, second (Billy) and fifth (Dan) in the world, respectively.
1992: Billy won five rounds, the average and his first world title. Robert won Round 7 and was second in the average and world standings. In Round 9, all three win a check in the same round for the first time.
1994: Billy won three straight rounds (6-8) and Dan won one.
1995: Robert won the average, Billy won two rounds and Dan won one. All three finished in the top five for the second time – Dan a career-best second, Billy fourth and Robert fifth.
1996: Billy won Round 3, the average and the world. Dan won two rounds, and all three earned checks in the same round twice.
1997: Billy and Robert combined for three go-round wins.
World titles: 4
Average titles: 4
Go-round wins: 36
All three earn checks in same round: 5
Although it did not happen last year, the possibility that the Wrights could do it – or even trump the mark and put four brothers in the same NFR field – in 2012 or any number of years to follow is suddenly very real.
When discussing the idea of three of his little brothers being on the road two years ago, big brother Cody may have had reservations knowing the ups and downs a young bronc rider can experience. To ask him about them now, he can hardly contain the excitement in his voice.
“It’s not easy being up and down the road every day, being away from home and doing the things you’ve got to do to be successful,” Cody said. “They’ve done more than just get by. They’re knocking on the door, and Jake just missed it last year. It wasn’t Alex’s greatest year last year, but he didn’t do anything to be ashamed of.
“They try every day to do things to help themselves get better, and I think they are getting better. I think if they draw the right horses at the right time, they’ll do awesome. It seems like if you put them in the right spot, they do really well.”
Jake and Alex are not short on motivation, either. Between Cody’s two gold buckles and the fact that he and Jesse have set the NFR average record in back-to-back years, they have lofty goals to shoot for.
“Watching them ride there, it makes me want it more and more,” Jake said. “I can’t wait to ride at the NFR; that’s one of my life goals. I’d love to win a couple world titles, but I want to make it there and do really well. I want to go out there and stand out like Cody and Jesse have.”
Anyone with an accomplished sibling knows the feeling of wanting to stand out, particularly if they are working in the same field or, in this case, competing in the same event. Jake said he’s happy for his gold-buckle wearing big brother, but he wants his own accomplishments to speak for him.
“I just want to do well and have all of us ride well,” Jake said. “Then we’re not just Cody’s little brothers. I mean, that’s awesome. Cody’s done great things, and I’m proud to be his brother. But I want my own. You want to make a name for yourself.”
Jake said he believes the potential is there for him and Alex to join Cody and Jesse as NFR qualifiers (Alex said he’s “just got a good feeling” regarding his own chances), and that they could all possibly do it this year, which would be a first in PRCA history in any event.
One big reason the brothers have been able to make the progress they have is the fact that they have a built-in set of trusted bronc riding instructors in the truck.
“When you ask them, you know they’re going to tell you the truth,” Alex said. “Not that I don’t trust other people, but they will tell you the truth when no one else will. They’re sure going to drive you to be the best you can be, and they’re going to treat you right.”
A fifth Wright brother, Spencer, has taken the early lead in the 2012 Resistol rookie standings, and he already has a win on his résumé. Spencer, who is currently competing collegiately for the College of Southern Idaho (Twin Falls) – which happens to be the alma mater for Alex, Cody and Jesse – split the two-head average win at the Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, the other co-winner was one of his brothers. Jesse also rode two horses for 160 points at the Cow Palace.
In the Feb. 7 world standings, Cody was second, Jesse fourth, Jake seventh, Spencer 21st and Alex 26th.
Cody can’t help but smile about it. He says that he wishes all five of them could “buddy up” to enter rodeos and jokes that he’s just hoping to beat them at events, a task that is proving to be more and more of a challenge all the time.
When Cody rallied to win his first world title in 2008, he jumped ahead of Billy Etbauer to do so. Cody is well aware of what Billy and his brothers did throughout their careers, and to listen to the Utah cowboy, you get the impression that even if the Wrights someday outdo the Etbauers, the end will not be as important to him as the means.
“The Etbauers, they’ve done a great thing, and we have to do some amazing things to catch them,” Cody said. “I love being able to rodeo with (my brothers). I have a lot of fun, and for everyone to do well, that’s all the better.”
Top NFR earnings 2010-11
Jesse made his star turn at the 2010 Wrangler NFR as an injury replacement for Rod Hay. In the past two years, only Kaycee Feild has made more money at the Finals. Cody has been no slouch in Las Vegas during that stretch, either, adding a second world title in 2010.
Kaycee Feild, BB ……….. $266,369
Jesse Wright, SB ………… $253,889
J.W. Harris, BR ……………. $237,055
Wade Sundell, SB ………. $231,929
Bobby Mote, BB …………. $220,772
Luke Branquinho, SW … $216,686
Cody Wright, SB …………. $214,489
(This column originally appeared in the Feb.17, 2012, issue of the ProRodeo Sports News magazine. To subscribe to the PSN, call 800.763.3648 or click here to sign up on line. Like the magazine on Facebook at facebook.com/prorodeosportsnews.)