The 50th Annual National Wrangler Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas

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This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the NFR, so the event and the surrounding activities promise to be the best ever. The first year that Las Vegas hosted rodeo's championship event was in 1985 and the prize money was $1.79 million. To say that the city that never sleeps has embraced the event might be an understatement. This year, the NFR will pay a record $5.625 million and as if that wasn't enough, there are events around town that embrace the Western Heritage and boast their own championship records.

While the rodeo runs December 4-13, 2008, the celebration actually starts on Dec. 1 with the very first Gold Buckle Gala to honor the late, great rodeo announcer Clem McSpadden. The South Point Hotel and Casino, rodeo central for a full 14 days, hosts the Gala. It's a great opportunity to mingle with contestants, rodeo contract personnel and be entertained by Grammy Award winners Asleep at the Wheel. All proceeds from the Gala benefit the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

The Miss Rodeo America Pageant also gets underway on Dec. 1st at the South Point Equestrian Center at 9 a.m. Admission is free to see state queens showing their skills in the arena. After the horsemanship segment, the competition moves to The Orleans, which will be the Pageant headquarters through Dec. 6. This year, young women representing 27 states will be competing in horsemanship, personality and appearance in hopes of winning the national title that will let them represent professional rodeo in 2009. A full schedule is at www.missrodeoamerica.com.

The PRCA convention starts on Dec. 2 and runs through the 4th at the South Point. The convention is designed for rodeo committees and includes a trade show that features booths where products and services for rodeo production are showcased. There are seminars and meetings throughout that are all about making rodeo better.

The Contract Awards Banquet on Dec. 3 is a great celebration for any rodeo fan. The top bucking stock, bull fighters, announcers and many other behind the scenes personnel are recognized. It is a celebration of the elements of rodeo.

Since the NFR moved to Las Vegas, the rodeo has kicked off with the Downtown Hoedown on Freemont Street. With the laser light show and a variety of Country Western entertainers, it is a great way to get geared up for the 10 nights of rodeo action. Admission is free and you'll want to be there by 6 p.m. so you don't miss a thing.

Benny Binion's World Famous Wrangler NFR Bucking Horse sale returns to Las Vegas after a one-year absence and has moved from the Thomas and Mack Center to the South Point. It starts at 9 a.m. on Dec. 4 and 5 in the Equestrian Center. Bucking horses, bulls and pick-up horses will be offered for auction with the proceeds benefitting the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Shoppers who want to get an early start need to be at the Las Vegas Convention Center for opening day of Cowboy Christmas on Dec. 4. If you are the consummate shopaholic and traveling with the grab-it-and-go shopper, encourage them to go with you. This is one place that has something for everyone. Gifts and items galore for the shopper abound, while others can sit in on Flint Rasmussen's talk show, Outside the Barrel. Rasmussen has special guests and if you ever saw his antics as a barrel man in the arena, you will love his talk show. It is held at noon daily on the main stage of the gift show and is the perfect place for a little relaxation and entertainment. Cowboy Christmas runs through Dec. 13 and is open from 10 a.m until 5 p.m.

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Also starting on Dec. 4th is Country Christmas at the Sands Expo Hall. In their 15th year, Country Christmas has hundreds of booths, free entertainment and a food court. Doors open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. They also host the World Championship Dummy Roping Dec. 11-13. Children 5 and under will compete on the 11th with preliminaries for 6- to 8-year-olds. The finals for 6- to 8-year-olds are the 12th with 9- to 11-year-old preliminaries. Competition wraps up with finals for the 9- to 11-year-olds on the 13th. This is a great opportunity to see future ropers in action and many of the NFR team ropers will be on hand to offer encouragement and support for these youngsters. The roping competition begins at 11 a.m.

So if you're not too exhausted from buying horses and bulls, shopping for Christmas gifts and attending seminars, you might want to head to the Thomas and Mack Center for the first performance of the rodeo. After all, that is the big draw during these two weeks.

The rodeo performances are all sold out, but don't dismay if you don't have tickets. Mad Dash 30 tickets are available from Las Vegas Events. These tickets don't have a seating assignment, but fans can take any empty seat in the balcony section. If the seat holder arrives, the unassigned fan is asked to move. If a seat can't be found in the first 30 minutes of the rodeo, tickets are fully refundable. Or, you may just want to stay at the Thomas and Mack, enjoy the electricity of being there live and watch the rodeo on one of the many monitors in the building.

Another ticket option is found at Cowboy Christmas. Ticketholders who for one reason or another can't use their tickets drop them off at the gift show for other fans to buy at face value. If you are willing to take a chance on tickets, people buying and selling are out in front of the Thomas and Mack Center with every variety, but beware, these are often scalpers and you may be asked to pay an exorbitant price.

Last year, Las Vegas Events started a free shuttle service from many of the hotels to the Thomas and Mack Center and it is definitely the most convenient way to get to and from the rodeo. With limited parking and traffic, driving is a challenge. Cabs are an option but expect a line after the rodeo. Even if you have to wait on a shuttle, the system sends buses along a specific route and works very efficiently.

The next best thing to watching the rodeo live is getting together with a group of friends and watching it at one of the many casinos showing it live. If you're feeling lucky, go to the Rodeo Vegas party at the Mirage. Along with showing the rodeo nightly, they are giving away prizes, will have contestants showing up after the rodeo for autograph signing and will have nightly entertainment-including the Jack Daniel's girls. A complete line-up of Rodeo Vegas activities is at www.rodeovegas.com.

The nightly round winners in each event will be celebrating their victories at the South Point with Randy Corley and Flint Rasmussen at the buckle presentations. With interviews with contestants and stock contractors, this event gives fans the opportunity to hear personal view points about the competition. It will be held in the Dance Hall and starts at 11 p.m.

"We had so much fun at the buckle presentations last year," said Corley who also will be commentating at the rodeo performances. "Flint is great and I'm really looking forward to all of it."

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Another opportunity to get to know more about the contestants and competition will be nightly at the Gold Coast. Don Gay and Dan Miller will be hosting a talk show, National Finals Tonight, beginning at 10:30. This is the second year for this broadcast and the guests will be a surprise. The hour-long show will be in the Gold Coast Showroom and will tell the stories of more than just the first place winners.

The third gift show, Cowboy Marketplace begins its eight-day run at Mandalay Bay on Dec. 5th. Friday is also the beginning of the Big Round-Up at The Orleans, a huge celebration of the 50th anniversary of the NFR. Organizers have invited all of the past world champions and NFR qualifiers, and this gathering promises to be a huge reunion. It runs through Dec. 7 and will have many photo displays and opportunities. They are also having a women's luncheon and giving Western Academy Awards. All of the proceeds from the Big Round-Up will benefit the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and the National Circuit System.

Another new event this year is the Wrangler NFR Celebrity Bowling Tournament. It will be Dec. 6 at the Gold Coast, with proceeds benefitting the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and Speedway Children's Charities. The event will pair NFR contestants, well-known celebrities and fans from around the country to compete for prizes and-more importantly-bragging rights. Boyd Polhamus will serve as master of ceremonies for the event that also includes a raffle and silent auction.

"We're thrilled about this new event," said Cindy Schonholtz, program manager for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. "It's going to be exciting for the fans, fun for the contestants and benefit two very worthy causes."

Sunday will see rodeo contestants, their family and friends and fans getting a little motivation and spiritual energy at Elevation Sunday at the South Point. The service starts at 10:45, but organizers encourage people to get there early to enjoy more fellowship. There will be testimonies from contestants and Chad Hennings, three-time

Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys, will be a special guest speaker. They also have video presentations and energetic and uplifting music. It's definitely worth the trip.

Wednesday night is Tough Enough To Wear Pink night at the rodeo. The campaign started in rodeo to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer originated at the NFR and has raised over $1 million. So pack something pink to wear on Wednesday and show your support, or go shopping at the trade show for items that add to the fund.

Michael and Paula Gaughan will again be hosting the ProRodeo League of Women Luncheon at the South Point on Thursday, Dec. 11 to raise funds for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. It features a style show with fashions from Cruel Girl and Wrangler modeled by contestant's wives and barrel racing contestants, with guest appearances by Wrangler and Cinch endorsees. This is a don't miss event for the ladies. And, it's a lot of fun for any men who are willing to let loose and attend. There are raffles with prizes galore from vendors at the gift shows and it all goes to a good cause. To date, $902,000 has been raised and they have high hopes of making it to $1 million with this year's activities.

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The final performance of the rodeo will be the Dec. 13 with a ceremony afterward to recognize the 2008 world champions in each event. While there won't be a presentation for go-round buckles, National Finals Tonight will be center stage at the Gold Coast. If you really want to celebrate the NFR and world champions, you won't want to miss the World Champions Brunch at the South Point at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, Dec. 14. The champs receive their saddles and awards and are personally interviewed. It's a great chance to get their take on the past 10 grueling days of competition.

Saturday, Dec. 6 is also the beginning of an eight-day celebration of the Western lifestyle, Thunder Equigames, at the South Point. This multi-faceted celebration includes a variety of equestrian events beginning on Saturday. The Double Dollar Horse Sale will feature performance horses from Greg Kesler's Double Dollar Ranch out of Utah along with a variety of guest consigners. Versatility, barrel and roping horses will be offered.

A preview of versatility and barrel horses will start at 8 a.m. on Saturday. The versatility horses will be judged and barrel horses will be timed. Sunday morning, a final round will be held for both disciplines. All of the horses previewed will be offered for sale beginning a 1 p.m. Monday. At 8 a.m., see all of the rope horses in action. These horses will sell on Tuesday beginning at 10 a.m.

Thunder Equigames continues on Dec. 11-13 with the World Series of Team Roping (WSTR) and concludes on Dec. 14 with the Speed Williams Invitational Match Roping. The WSTR is in its third year and is definitely one of the fastest growing ropings in the country. In 2006, the event paid over $1 million and they have more than doubled that prize money for 2008. There will be three divisions competing for nearly $3 million.

Preliminary competition starts at 8 a.m. on Dec. 11 and 12. The top teams will advance to the Grand Finale on Dec. 13, which will also feature a freestyle bullfight, mounted shooting, and the Charmayne James Invitational Barrel Race. Bob Tallman, eight-time PRCA Announcer of the Year, will be calling the action at the Finale where the lion's share of the prize money will be paid in less than two hours.

"I'm excited about the Equigames format, and looking forward to this championship event," Tallman said. "People are going to get to watch four events, mounted shooting, team roping, barrel racing and a freestyle bullfight. It's the end of a week-long competition for a lot of money, thanks to people like Denny Gentry and his associates. I think this event is innovative and has huge potential in the future."

Admission to the Double Dollar events and preliminary team roping competition is free. Tickets for the Grand Finale will be available at the South Point box office.

"This is the beginning of an ongoing project to take the best of recreational competition and spread it across nine days," said Denny Gentry, founder and promoter. "It's the best of hats and boots and horses. Cowboys and cowgirls and fans will see a snapshot of each of these events all at one time. We couldn't do any of it without the support of Michael Gaughan, the South Point and our sponsors. It is a celebration of the Western lifestyle and we're excited about it."

The final segment of the Equigames will be the Speed Williams Invitational Match Roping on Dec. 14. The match will feature 64 of the top teams in the country in a double elimination roping tournament. In each match, teams will rope three head against each other. A team has to lose two matches to be eliminated from the tournament. Winning teams advance to the next bracket, until there are two teams left that will match on four head for at least $50,000.

For the roping fan, this is an event that shouldn't be missed and will be worth an extra day in Las Vegas. It's a new concept in roping that is more about consistency than speed, and you'll see the, top ropers in the world all roping on one day. Tallman will be announcing at this event as well.

"I'm real excited about the match roping," said Speed Williams, who along with some friends has taken a concept into a full-blown production. "It's something to look forward to. All the top ropers in the world are there for 10 days at the NFR. They'll come over to the South Point where fans can see them in head-to-head matches. It will be a great way to cap off the Equigames. We couldn't pick a more ideal time or place."

If you are one of the lucky ones to be in Las Vegas for the 10th round of the NFR, you might consider flying out on Monday. Sunday is generally the busiest day at the Las Vegas Airport and with the World Champions Brunch and the Speed Williams Invitational Match Roping it will be worth another day.

Whether you're staying downtown, on the strip or at one of the many hotels on the outskirts of town, entertainment is not far away. If you find yourself wanting to do something that is family friendly, check out the lion habitat in the MGM Grand, then walk down the strip to M&M's World. The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at the Bellagio are a beautiful and elaborate display created specially for the Holiday Season and located just beyond the lobby. Go there, see the amazing chocolate fountain, and catch the outside fountains, which are a magnificent combination of water, music and light.

There's no excuse for boredom in Las Vegas in December. We at Spin To Win Rodeo hope that if you are there you will be able to take in a portion of the activities that celebrate the western way of life. The NFR is the showcase and it is all about the contestants who have gotten the bumps and bruises and put in the miles to qualify. The rodeo truly is the most exciting on earth and showcases the best of the PRCA and WPRA. It is fitting that the surrounding activities also are worthy of the fans that make the NFR so special.