Wild Card Saturday at the Calgary Stampede is a high stakes race where only two of the dozen contenders in each event ride, wrestle, rope or race their way to a last-minute booking for the richest day in rodeo – Showdown Sunday. Canadian fans in the grandstand were extra excited to see three Alberta competitors among those moving on.
Saddle bronc rider Layton Green made it all the way to the Final Four last year at the Stampede, but his odds of repeating that looked long. That is, until he nodded his head for Calgary’s Nutty Champagne Saturday. The man from Meeting Creek sat in the middle and spurred to a mark of 86.5.
“When you’re one of the first two guys out, you’re in there, but you know you’re probably not in it for long, as good as all these guys ride,” said Green, about the tension he felt until it was all over, and he’d claimed one of the coveted two spots.
“I had a great horse. I’d never been on her before. I was happy to have her. I knew it was going to dang sure take some points to get back. Everybody rides so good, it’s usually stacked in there pretty close, so I was just happy to sneak in there.”
Green would love nothing more than to be right back in the chutes Sunday when the Final Four ride for the $100,000.
“Last year was one of the funnest days of rodeo ever, making the four round with all your buddies. It’s great bronc riding, and what a better place to have a great bronc riding than at the Calgary Stampede. I can’t wait,” said Green.
Sterling Crawley of Texas secured the other Wild Card spot, when he turned in an 87.5 point ride on another Calgary horse, Zorta Proud.
“I didn’t expect all the moves to continue. He stayed hooked and I was just glad to try and do my job the best I could,” said Crawley. “He kept changing it up, and it makes it a lot more fun when you get to tie on to one like that.
In addition to the Sunday qualification, Crawly picks up $6,000, while Green gets $5,000.
Scott Guenthner breathed a sigh of relief. After making a tidy 4.4 second steer wrestling run early in the go, he had to leave his fate in the hands of the others.
“I went fourth out and having to wait for the rest of those six or eight behind you, is a long day. And you’re on a spotlight, so you can’t make horrible faces,” he laughed.
“It makes it a little nerve wracking, especially because I knew who was behind me. We had the top guys in the world right now. I know how they bulldog. I had to do my job and just hope from there and wait it out.”
But the wait was worth it, when his time was only bumped back once, giving him a berth for Sunday’s action. And it was a very different outcome than his Wild Card Saturday two years ago.
“I ended up being a 3.9, and they took 3.8 as last hole. So I missed out by a tenth of a second. Standing there today, I was like ‘not this again’!”
Guenthner joins his cousins fellow bulldogger Brendan Laye, and bareback rider Clint Laye, who both qualified through their pools. Plus he has the potential to be a ‘next gen’ winner, since in 1982 his father Ken Guenthner won the big Stampede prize then of $50,000, before Scott was even born.
“We’re similar,” Guenthner commented on he and his Dad. “We’re just like ‘it’s another run, go have fun, enjoy yourself, don’t get nervous’. I don’t really seem to get nervous, which everyone seems to be bothered that I can do that! But I just think of it as another run in the practice pen, and it’s back to the basics every time I run a steer.”
Guenthner earned another $5,000 for second place on the day, but Louisiana’s Rowdy Parrot got the $6,000 for being in a tenth faster at 4.3.
“I knew I had to go fast,” said Parrot. “I wasn’t sure if I got out of the barrier, but I heard my good buddy Tyler Waguespack hollering ‘yes’ so I figured I’d better get off and try him on.”
“I’m excited. This is awesome. It’s my first time up to Canada and my first time to Calgary. It’s such a huge rodeo. It’s awesome to make the short round.
Jordan Hansen had a last chance and a second chance in the bull riding. The Ponoka cowboy had one more shot at qualifying for Sunday, and he entered into a rematch with the bull who’d thrown him off on Monday, called Big Red.
“That bull, he’s a smart bull, and he never really has the exact same trip,” acknowledged Hansen, who grew up in Okotoks. “He’s a great bull every time.”
This time the cowboy got the upper hand and stayed firmly seated until the whistle blew, causing the judges to hand out the biggest score of the day at 88 points, worth $6000 for first.
So maybe the earlier buck-off paid off?
“It definitely fueled the first a little bit more. There was no way I was letting that bull buck me off twice.”
Considering Hansen’s first bull at Calgary was the first one he’d climbed on in nearly three months after being on the injury list, and now he’s making his first trip to Showdown Sunday at the Stampede, it’s been quite a week.
“I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet, to be honest. I’m still kind of speechless, I guess. I just kind of took it one bull at a time, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow now. I’m pretty excited and there’s a lot of money to win.”
Coming in just one point behind Hansen was Stormy Wing of Texas, who marked his 87 on Muddy Water, making his first cheque of the Stampede a $5000 one.
“It took me a little while to get started but I guess not a better day than Wild Card Saturday to do it,” said Wing. “I finally did my job and I’m just happy and pleased and couldn’t ask for a better day.”
“It’s my first time to Calgary and I’m just tickled pink.”
Nellie Miller and her horse Sister made a smooth run around the barrels in 17.30 seconds, for the first place $6000 Wild Card Saturday bonus.
“It was the run we’ve been waiting for all week. It just came together today which was perfect, because it was our last chance. My horse seems to do better the more runs you make in one place and so today she finally felt at the top of her game,” said the California barrel racer.
Just a tenth behind her was Kellie Collier of Texas, who was over the moon about making it back on her mare Lolo.
“She makes me who I am. I couldn’t do it without her. She’s incredible,” said Collier.
“It’s very emotional – just to go out there and make a clean run and be able to compete with these amazing horse athletes and girl athletes, it’s unreal, it’s an unreal feeling,” she bubbled.
“Just this day being able to compete with the top of the top at this big of a rodeo, I can’t even explain. It’s my first one ever, so it’s extra emotional.”
Bareback Caleb Bennett had called it when he split the last round of his Pool A action.
“Yea, I guess I told you the other day that I wanted to win this round and be back here talking with you again today. Thoughts become things and it worked out.”
The Utah cowboy got to meet up with Witless Margie again, the same horse he’d had as a reride last Sunday at Calgary.
“I didn’t finish her or ride her near as good as I could have, and that was my main goal today. I knew she was going to fire and I just had to do my job and finish her strong and I pulled it off, I guess.”
Bennett marked 87.5 points for best in the round and $6,000, while Clayton Biglow got the nod to advance for his 87 on Mayhem. Cole Goodine also recorded an 87 mark, but Biglow had more money collected heading into Saturday, which served as the tiebreaker, making the California cowboy a happy man.
“I was in the same position last year, except I didn’t make it past the Wild Card. Man, I’m tickled to death,” he said.
A pair of past Stampede champions made it back to Sunday in the tie-down roping, with Matt Shiozawa topping the round in 7.1 seconds for a $6000 payday, while Timber Moore was the next fastest at 7.5, for $5,000.
The Calgary Stampede novice championships wrapped up Saturday. Garrett Uptain of Colorado came through to win novice saddle bronc riding, while Cooper Bennett, younger brother of Caleb Bennett, became the novice bareback champion of the 2018 Calgary Stampede.
It was a special Stampede moment when fellow bull riders and the rodeo family got a chance to salute and say so long to veteran bull rider, Scott Schiffner, who won the Stampede in 2001. Earlier this week the Strathmore cowboy announced his retirement, making this his last Stampede as a contestant.