November 19, 2010--Canadian saddle bronc rider Rod Hay, a 20-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, has vacated his spot in the $5.875 million Wrangler NFR due to a leg injury, and will be replaced by Utah's Jesse Wright, who was not quite six months old when Hay made his NFR debut in 1989.
Hay, who finished the regular season in ninth place, shattered his right leg June 20 while competing at a rodeo in Innisfail, Alberta. Hay informed PRCA administration today that the injury has not healed sufficiently to allow him to compete at the Finals, Dec. 2-11, in Las Vegas.
"I needed to get more mobility in my leg and feel comfortable that I could be competitive," Hay said. "If I'm going to go there, I want to be a threat and believe I have a chance. People pay a lot of money to go to Las Vegas, and they want to see that guys are competing to win. I didn't feel I would be at that level."
Hay saw his doctor in Calgary, Alberta, Nov. 16, and they discussed a procedure to break up scar tissue to give him more mobility, but determined that it was not a viable option.
"The doctor told me there were risks involved, and his advice was not to get it done," Hay said. "It could cause swelling and pain, and could do more damage than good. I wouldn't be able to get back enough strength in time to ride at Las Vegas, anyway. I didn't want to go in there, ride for two rounds and then turn out."
This will be the first Wrangler NFR appearance for Wright, the 2009 Resistol Rookie of the Year and younger brother of 2008 World Champion Cody Wright.
He had finished just $428 behind Sam Spreadborough for the 15th - and last - spot in the Wrangler NFR field, the slimmest margin in any event.
"I bet it was very hard for Rod (to withdraw)," said Wright, 21. "I have never been in that type of situation, but I bet he thought about it a long time."
Hay is an eight-time Canadian saddle bronc riding champion and well-liked among his fellow saddle bronc riders and rodeo fans. He was expected to be among the leaders in the field this year with his extensive experience and knowledge.
"Rod Hay is not only a tremendously talented bronc rider, but also a first-class human being," said PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman. "We will all miss seeing him compete at the Finals this year, but we expect Jesse to make the most of the opportunity and we look forward to Rod getting healthy and back to full speed in 2011."
He will also be missed by many of his fellow competitors, according to Cody Wright, who has competed alongside Hay for many years.
"You feed off those great bronc riders," Cody Wright said. "They give it their best every time and you think, 'I want to do that.' He is a good person and a good role model. He will be truly missed.
"He knows best if he can ride or not, but I do feel really bad for him. I felt bad when he got hurt. If anyone deserves to win a world championship, it's Rod. I felt he was in the position to run away with it if he had not gotten hurt."
Jesse Wright last competed at the Oct. 28-30 Dodge Wilderness Circuit Finals in Ogden, Utah, where he won the three-head average over his brother Cody. He has stayed in shape by running, lifting weights and working out with a high school wrestling team
"It feels like the opportunity of a lifetime for me," Jesse Wright said. "I've wanted to make the Finals for as long as I can remember, but I feel bad about Rod not going."
It had been five years since an injury caused a competitor to give up his spot in the Wrangler NFR. Jason McClain filled in for B.J. Schumacher in the 2005 bull riding field when Schumacher suffered a broken collarbone two weeks before the NFR.