The annual cowboy and cowgirl invasion is upon us, as the National Finals Rodeo kicks off today at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.
The 10-day event will provide fans with the best in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down and team roping, and barrel racing. Not all the action will be inside the arena, though. The valley's resorts have their usual slate of country music superstars, and the north halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center will be the site of the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show and Cowboy FanFest.
This year's rodeo includes eight defending champions who are chasing glory and the prize money that comes with victory. Here's a rundown of those stars, with a tip of the hat to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women's Professional Rodeo Association websites for supplying biographical information.
1. Trevor Brazile -- The gold standard in his sport, Brazile has earned a record nine all-around world championships, including the last six since 2006. He's also won seven other individual titles at the National Finals and has more than $4.5 million in professional rodeo career earnings.
A resident of Decatur, Texas, the 36-year-old Brazile was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2008 and trains horses as a hobby.
2. Kaycee Feild -- The 25-year-old defending bareback riding champ has pocketed $949,620 in his career. That includes $319,986 last year, the most ever in a single season for a bareback rider. Feild, who resides in Payson, Utah, enjoys snowboarding, hunting, roping and fishing. He's also the son of ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee Lewis Feild.
3. Luke Branquinho -- A resident of Los Alamos, Calif., Branquinho is the defending steer wrestling titlist and has won three National Finals events overall on his way to more than $1.8 million in career earnings. The 32-year-old Branquinho, who also won titles in 2004 and 2008, is able to compete despite being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His hobbies include training horses, fishing, hunting and playing golf.
4. Turtle Powell -- The defending team roping champ, a crown he won with partner Jhett Johnson, has earned slightly more than $1 million. The 39-year-old resident of Stephenville, Texas, also won a rodeo in Reno last year. Powell enjoys hunting and fishing.
5. Taos Muncy -- The 25-year-old Muncy, with $879,270 in earnings, was the sport's youngest ever saddle bronc riding world champion when he captured his first National Finals title in 2007. The resident of Corona, N.M., followed up with another National Finals victory in the same event last year. He and his family were featured in the coffee table book "Making a Hand: Growing Up Cowboy in New Mexico."
6. Tuf Cooper -- The defending tie-down roping titlist from Decatur, Texas, has earned $884,042, including a win earlier this year in Reno. At only 22, he is the youngest of the defending champs. His father, Roy "Super Looper" Cooper, is a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and his sister, Shada, is married to all-around champ Trevor Brazile.
7. Lindsay Sears -- Barrel racing, an event for female competitors, was won last year by Lindsay Sears. That was her second world championship following an initial National Finals victory in 2008. The 31-year-old resident of Nanton, Alberta in Canada has earned more than $1.3 million in her career. She helps run a family-operated cattle feeding operation, travels with a miniature pinscher named Zorro, and her favorite band is Nickleback.
8. Shane Proctor -- The 27-year-old resident of Troutman, N.C., is defending his bull riding title. He was crowned 2008 Toughest Cowboy in a reality television competition and has earned $403,819. Knocked out at a college rodeo, he gained the nickname "Dr. Proctor" after the announcer said: "Someone get a doctor for Proctor."