Caleb Bennett has been waiting and working towards his turn in the spotlight at this year’s Calgary Stampede, and it came Sunday, fittingly, on a flashy horse named Fabio.

The perma-grin cowboy from Tremonton, UT was the first bareback rider out, and he set the bar high with an 88 point ride. So high, that no one else could match it, and he got to do his trademark guns a-blazin’ victory lap.

“I’m glad to be here – I like coming and visiting with you guys,” Bennett joked with reporters. “I had that horse last year at the short go of Ponoka, so I knew I had a good chance to win a good cheque. So I just had to do my job. He was awesome, better today than he was at Ponoka by far, and I feel like I was better too.”

Fabio is a showy horse, with a long, flowing mane. Bennett and some bareback buddies at one time had also sported long locks, in honor of one of their mother’s battle with cancer.

“I’ve got shorter hair now, but me and Clint Laye decided we’re going to try and grow it back out again. That’s what I was thinking when I had Fabio drawn was ‘golly, it’d be nice if I had my ol’ flow back’. Me and Fabio would really fit then. He’s a cool horse, his name really fits his personality, and he’s one a guy always wants to draw and have a chance to get on.”

Bennett has been riding well this week, but it takes being exceptional to finish first among this talented crew of cowboys.

“Everyone’s come with their riding britches and their game face on. It makes it fun. It puts a little pressure on. It put a little pressure on me the last couple of days. I’ve been here a bunch, but it feels like this year it’s just a little different environment. We’ve got some younger guys in there that are a little hungry, and wanting to win, so it dang sure makes you step up to the plate.”

“It’s the feeling like you can’t describe to anybody else in any other world – when you got buddies that are there pushing you and you’re pushing them, and you just feed off each other. I think that’s what’s helped me out getting here today. I struggled the first two days, I felt like. Instead of letting it get me down, I just kept feeding off everybody else in the locker room. Here I stand.”

Bennett’s $5500 payday bumped his Stampede account up to $8000, which sits third behind Jake Vold ($9000) and Pool A leader Richmond Champion ($13,500), who placed for the third straight day.

Clay Elliott is a clean cut, soft-spoken, polite kind of ranch guy. He even confessed he wasn’t interested in being one of the cowboys to come flying in from the grandstand. But he found his own way to get that top of the world kind of feeling by rolling in from home in Nanton on his old friend, a big, blue Harley Davidson. Elliott has had the classic motorcyle since he was a kid – in fact it was his mode of transportation before he was old enough to get his driver’s license. He debated selling it at one time, but decided to hang on to it for sentimental reasons. On Sunday, he woke up and told his Dad, ‘I’m going to ride that bike into town’, traded his hat for a helmet, and hit the open road. That special biker feeling must have been exactly what he needed, because Elliott came out a few hours later and stuck an 86.5 point Spur Ride Outlaw Buckers’ horse Quittin’ Time, to get his first ever Stampede trophy bronze in the bronc riding. 

“I knew I did have a chance to win first on that horse. He’s a good son-of-a-gun,” insisted Elliott. “I got on him at the Canadian Finals last year, and I placed on him. But I felt like I made a better ride on him today.”

This is Elliott’s first time in the open bronc riding at Calgary, although he won the novice title, and participated as a steer rider too. He’d been so excited to receive an invitation last year to the Stampede, but disappointed when wasn’t able to ride.

“Last year I pulled my groin right before Calgary, so I ended up having to turn out. I am sure glad to be here, and I’ve gotten on some great horses so far, and have more to come.”

“Shoot, I think the coolest part about it is running out in the arena off the bat when they sing the anthem. I think that’s pretty darn cool. It’s a good feeling.”

Elliott’s $5500 goes well with his other two cheques, and he’s sitting second in Pool A with $12,000, just behind the $13,000 Layton Green has on top of the standings.

Defending Stampede tie-down roping champion Shane Hanchey was feeling a little blue. He’d posted two no-times before Sunday, and really needed to turn things around. The Louisiana roper managed to do just that, when he showed his true form and tied a calf in the fastest time so far at the Stampede, 6.7 seconds.

“I knew the pen of calves, and I told (rodeo announcer) Bob Tallman I’d have to rope in six seconds to win anything,” noted Hanchey.

“I was pretty devastated after (Saturday). I missed the barrier, normally I don’t do that here. I’m glad I talked to my brother (Jason) about 15 minutes before the rodeo today, and he told me exactly what I felt. It’s funny how he knows my tendencies even though he’s about 2000 miles from here, in south Florida.”

The brotherly pep talk helped, and the straightforward advice was just what Hanchey needed to hear.

“He said don’t miss the barrier today, and I said ‘easy enough’.”

The $5500 for first was Hanchey’s first cheque of this Stampede, which puts him just outside the top four in Pool A, led by Ryan Jarrett with $12,000.

“My game plan backing in there today was to win first, and my game plan tomorrow is to win first, so it’s not going to change,” added Hanchey.

If it was a hockey game, there would have been plenty of cowboy hats on the ground Sunday after Tanner Milan’s run. The Cochrane steer wrestler accomplished a real hat trick, winning his third straight go-round, with a 4.3 second run.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” said Milan. “That steer I had today, it felt like I got a really good start and caught up quick. I didn’t quite make the run on the ground that I wanted to. I got rocked up there a little bit, but that steer was good enough, as soon as I got the nose, he laid over.”

“In 2015, I won two in a row and split one, but I’ve never won three rounds right out by myself.”

Milan is the Pool A dominator, with $16,500 won, but Jason Thomas is staying within range, placing second for the third straight day, and bumping his earnings to $13,500.

The first cowgirl to take her turn around the barrels this time was California’s Nellie Miller, who posted the fastest time of 17.30 seconds on her horse Sister, for $5500. But it’s Emily Miller (no relation), who was second three days in a row, who is out in front with $13,500. Nellie Miller has $10,500 now.

Garrett Smith is on top of the world race in bull riding, and he hasn’t lost his touch at Calgary. The Idaho cowboy has ridden all three of his bulls, but Sunday’s was the best. He claimed the top prize of $5500 for an outstanding 89 point ride on Heavens Basement.

“I’ve been wanting to get on him for a while. Everybody just kept telling me how good he is, and how he’d fit me, and I guess they were right,” Smith grinned. “The bull felt awesome. He did everything they said, so I guess I did my job, so it worked out.”

With the $5500 injection, Smith now has $10,000 in the Pool A race; while Oklahoma’s Ryan Dirteater, the only other cowboy to ride three bulls, is ahead of him ($10,500). But Montana’s Jess Lockwood has the number one spot ($11,000) yet.

Monday is the final day for Pool A competitors to lock up a spot in the top four standings, to advance directly to Showdown Sunday. The others return for Wildcard Saturday.

By Dianne Finstad Photos by Mike Copeman