LAS VEGAS – The TV pen at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo features the greatest bucking horses in the game.

Monday night in Las Vegas proved that, and Richmond Champion lived it. He scored 88 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket, a score that would win almost any rodeo, and settled for a three-way tie for second place.

“When you are standing on the back of the bucking chutes and the contractors and everybody back there is just smiling and cheering, that is when you know something special is going on,” said Champion, who pocketed $15,794 for his performance during the fifth go-round. “That might be the rankest round of bareback riding that I’ve ever been a part of, especially here.

“To have that many guys show up and that many horses show up and do their deal, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Utahan Mason Clements won the round with an 88.5, and two Orin Larsen and J.R. Vezain finished in a tie for fifth with 87.5. With the NFR paying out the top six places, just one point separated the bunch.

But Champion knew he had a great opportunity on Dirty Jacket, a powerful 13-year-old bay gelding that was twice named the Bareback Horse of the Year. Champion knows the animal well. He first rode the horse for 91 points to win in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 2014. Five months later, the two matched again for an 88.5-point ride to win the fifth round of that season’s NFR.

He was 90 points to win in Eagle, Colo., in 2015.

“He’s an amazing animal,” he said. “He’s my little ace in the pocket. When he’s done with it, I’ll take care of him if he wants to graze up my graze. He’s paid for my house by now.

“Somebody asked me about that in the locker room. I didn’t say anything; I just crossed my fingers and crossed my toes and just went on with my business. In this pen, there were so many good horses. When 88 splits second, third and fourth, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

With his earnings on Monday, Champion became the richest bareback rider of this year’s NFR. Through five rounds, he has pocketed $72,122. More importantly, he has pushed his season payroll to $173,319 and sits second in the world standings. He trails the leader, Tim O’Connell, but nearly $100,000, but with $26,231 paid to the winner each night, Champion can make up that ground over the final five nights.

He’s also enjoying every bit of the experience he’s had.

“I’ve never been on a big team sport that won a game and was whooping and hollering in the locker room, but we were a team tonight,” he said. “Everybody was just high-fiving and fist-bumping. It was one of the coolest things I’ve been part of.”

He has every reason to celebrate this year’s NFR.