LAS VEGAS -- A steer slipped away from Luke Branquinho and so did the world title.
Calgary's Lee Graves is the beneficiary at the Nationals Finals Rodeo.
Two-time World Champion Luke Branquinho lost his grip on his final-round steer while throwing it to the ground, the steer got back up and scurried away with his hopes of a third gold buckle.
Branquinho, of Los Alamos, Calif., tried his best, but could not post a time on the steer, opening the door for 2005 World Champion Graves.
Graves had a 3.5-second run that left him in third place in the round and atop the Wrangler NFR average race.
Graves finished with a steer wrestling single-season earnings record of $251,031 after the dust had cleared, while Branquinho was second with $200,186 after falling to eighth in the average with a no-time.
"I feel bad about Luke today," said Graves, who earned an event-best $130,458 in Las Vegas.
"He had some bad luck, but he opened the door for me and I capitalized on it. It actually put more pressure on me to go catch my steer and throw him down than actually do something.
"I hazed here last year, and I was hurt. I was really motivated to get back here. It's been a long road, but I rodeoed really hard this year and got to the top."
Branquinho finished with $87,632 in Wrangler NFR earnings and the thought of what might have been.
"I was proud for Lee," Branquinho said. "He did a good job all week and made good runs. I felt like I was doing the same thing.
"Unfortunately, it came down to the last steer, and I kind of threw him out of my arms. The judge didn't think I got a hand on him. That's just part of the game. You get calls that go your way and calls that don't.
"Unfortunately, this one didn't, in my opinion. But I can't take anything away from Lee Graves. He did well all week."
Barrel racing came down to the end as well, with 2007 World Champion Brittany Pozzi and 2008 World Champion Lindsay Sears of Nanton, neck and neck for the gold buckle.
Sears finished fifth in the round in 13.94 seconds and dropped to a second-place finish in the Wrangler NFR average, and that wasn't enough to propel her past Pozzi in the final standings.