Hughes, Cooper Split Round 9 Win of 2023 NFR with 7.1
Four-time world champion Tuf Cooper and three-time NFR qualifier Westyn Hughes each ran their fastest times of the 2023 NFR, splitting Round 9 with a 7.1.
Tuf Cooper and Westyn Hughes smile at each other before starting their joint victory lap in Round 9.
Tuf Cooper and Westyn Hughes smile at each other before starting their joint victory lap in Round 9. Photo by Jamie Arviso

Tuf Cooper and Westyn Hughes split Round 9 of the 2023 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the tie-down on Friday, Dec. 15, with a 7.1-second run that yielded $27,487 each.

“It feels amazing to get a round win,” Cooper, 33, said. “All glory and honor to God. It’s so much fun splitting the round with Westyn; he’s such an inspiration to me with his hard work and effort in the arena.”

Cooper has had a steady week of winning checks at his 15th NFR, moving from No. 15 in the world to No. 4 with $127,130 earned at the event. On the flip side, Hughes has battled missed loops, a broken barrier and small bobbles that have held him to $60,516 in total winnings.

Grinding to a round win

“Getting a round win is a huge weight off my shoulders,” Hughes, 26, said. “Coming into tonight I had $33,000 won, which isn’t much out here. To get this is a relief. I can go back to eating at night and sleeping better. There have been four or five times this summer that I backed in the box with only $1,200 to my name.”

Hughes has endured numerous injuries throughout his ProRodeo career including a back surgery in 2019 and hip surgery in 2022. This year marks his third NFR qualification, but he’s always painfully aware that his time tie-down roping is likely shorter than most.

Westyn Hughes throws his piggin string into the crowd.
Westyn Hughes throws his piggin string into the crowd. Photo by Jamie Arviso

“When people ask why I try so hard, it’s because I don’t know when a run is my last,” Hughes explained.

In Round 9, Hughes switched from mare Zannas Frost to “Cowboy.” It was the gelding’s first run in the Thomas & Mack, and Hughes joked the horse now has an excellent winning percentage.

“I really needed to change something,” Hughes said. “Zanna has been great, she did nothing wrong. That’s why you have two sometimes. It’s a mental thing.”

Hughes said his calf broke sharp and headed right. He roped him and tied him with two wraps and a hooey.

“I plan to do the same thing tomorrow night,” Hughes said.

Cooper’s 148th run was a winner

Tuf Cooper dismounts from "Relapse" in Round 9, ties in 7.1 seconds.
Tuf Cooper dismounts from “Relapse” in Round 9, and ties in 7.1 seconds. Photo by Jamie Arviso.

NFR veteran Cooper was last out in Round 9 and knew with his calf that he had a chance at some money.

“I missed the barrier just a hair, but that’s OK because I knew how good my calf was on the ground,” Cooper said. “It felt amazing; I flanked and tied great. I wasn’t really focused on what the time was, just finishing the run.”

According to Cooper, it’s been years since his last go-round win. He’s run 148 calves on his 15 trips to the NFR, and Round 9 marks his sixth-ever go-round win.

“That’s not the greatest stat,” he said wryly.

He did it on Annies Royal Boon, a gelding called “Relapse” owned by Jeff Jordan. Headed into the final night of the NFR, Cooper plans to keep having fun and treating it like a “vacation.”