Showdown Sunday at the Calgary Stampede lived up to every inch of its world class reputation.
In the bareback riding, the calendar says 2018 but there was a distinct deja-vu feeling when Richmond Champion pulled the name Virgil out of the hat for the Final Four horse draw. It was the same matchup that won the talented Texan the 2017 Stampede title.
This time, the results were even better, as the two seem to get better together every time they meet. The 92.5 point result was enough to give Champion his second straight bronze and $100,000 cheque from the Calgary Stampede.
Champion’s uncanny knack of drawing the amazing Virgil baffles even him.
“We’ve all walked out there saying ‘OK, give me the grey!’ To reach in there and grab him, was… ‘thank you, God’. It was just crazy,” said Champion, about his third time on the C5 horse named Bareback Horse of the Year for 2017. They had also won the Ponoka Stampede together just two weeks ago.
“He’s become a staple of my career in a short amount of time. You’re never comfortable with him. Every time you buck him you’re sorry you asked for him, but you’re excited all at the same time. I had to go with the same game plan I go at everything. To be able to win the Stampede twice now – my head’s spinning right now.”
“That’s the third time and I think, the best he’s ever been with me. He’s done something different every time. He was coming with it today. That was one of my favorite bareback rides I think I’ve ever made in my career.
Airdrie’s Jake Vold, who travels with Champion and Caleb Bennett, was just a slim half-point behind in the Showdown, marking 92 for an impressive effort on Calgary’s Trail Dust, giving him $25,000.
“Me and Jake, we love this rival thing,” added Champion. “He made an outstanding ride today, and at that point, it goes to the judges.”
Clint Laye came in third place on Sunday, for a stellar 89.5 points on Special Delivery to win $15,000, while Clayton Biglow rounded out the Final Four with 86.5 on Onion Ring, for $10,000.
There was plenty of drama in the bull riding Showdown, when all four finalists failed to make the whistle on their bulls, and Marcos Gloria left in a world of hurt. But they reloaded the chutes, and tried again. Gloria came back and battled through the pain to become the only one who made a qualified ride on the second attempts, scratching out a 76 on the bull called Rattler to claim the massive $100,000 cheque and Stampede trophy bronze.
The transplanted Brazilian who now lives in Edmonton was disappointed with his buck off on the first bull, Happy Camper.
“I wanted to win the round on that bull because it was a rematch. It’s one of the most rank bulls here, and I really wanted that,” Gloria stated in his native language of Portuguese. “But I’m glad that I had a second chance. I’m happy for everything. I’m very happy with the way everything turned out, for winning.”
Through his translator Andre Portes, Gloria explained the first bull stepped on his leg. But facing the decision when given a shot at another bull, Gloria didn’t hesitate for a second, and with some help he climbed back in the chutes.
“There’s a saying in Brazil, all or nothing!”
Gloria also thanked Portes, his friend and a retired bull rider, who brought him to Canada, and helped launch him in the bull riding sport here.
“I thank him for everything. I thank God for everything. I choose Edmonton (as) my second home.”
But after Sunday, Calgary is ranking as a favorite place as well.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything this big. I love Canadians.”
Perhaps more than for any other 2018 winner, the $100,000 will be life changing, as it helps Gloria pursue his bull riding dreams.
“It changed completely. Not just for the money, but it means everything for me. It’s even hard to talk,” he admitted.
The other three finalists split the remainder of the Showdown pot, So Ty Wallace, Joe Frost and Fabiano Vieira all went home with $16,667 each.
It pays to be fast, and in the case of Tuf Cooper, being fastest on Stampede Showdown Sunday pays very well. For the second time in his career, the Texas tie-down roper got his name on a giant cheque and collected another bronze, for roping his calf in a smooth 6.8 second run.
He was pumped about the victory.
“All glory and honor to God,” stated Cooper. “It’s just a blessing to be here. My name’s Tuf but I get my strength from the Lord. I’m so grateful to be here and Calgary and compete at one of the best rodeos of the year, in front of the best fans, on the biggest stage of rodeo. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Cooper had to rope after watching his fellow statesman Caleb Smidt put down a 7.1 second run.
“I knew I still had to go at it. 7.1 is no day off. I had to go and be as fast as I can. My horse Topaz made my job so easy this week. Being able to rope the rounds before the final day was laying a foundation on getting here for this final run. This is the one that matters.”
“My Dad won this rodeo two or three times, and it’s awesome to continue with his footsteps.”
Also in the Showdown, Smidt cashed in for $25,000 for second, with another Texan, Timber Moore, getting $15,000 for his 8.5 second run. Kyle Lucas of Carstairs made it to the Final Four, and even though he missed his calf, he still goes home $10,000 richer.
The saddle bronc riding Showdown had some familiar faces and horses. In another repeat rematch, three-time Champion Zeke Thurston got to nod his head for Get Smart for the second year in a row. The Big Valley cowboy gave it everything and came up with 90 points, in his drive for a four-peat. But the kid from Milford, UT had been blowing out the 90 barrier all week long, and Sunday was no exception. Ryder Wright racked up 93 points on the Calgary horse Stampede Warrior to make the dash to the stage to get his first $100,000 bonus cheque at Calgary.
“It’s been an awesome week and I’ve been drawing really good, and I’m really fortunate to be here,” acknowledged the soft-spoken cowboy.
“This is an awesome rodeo.”
It was Wright’s first time on the horse.
“He turned out of there and went to bucking, and I was just happy to have him. That horse is really strong, he’ll really jump and kick and crack. You’ve just got to stay back and keep your feet rolling, or you’ll get your head popped off.”
“The past few weeks I’ve been feeling like I’m riding really good, and I’m just trying to keep it rolling, to keep my name on the top of my list.”
Thurston’s consolation prize for second is $25,000, while Cort Scheer picks up $15,000 for an 89.5 point ride on Wild Cherry, and Clay Elliott gets $10,000 after marking 84 on Timely Delivery.
It’s hard to outrun Hailey Kinsel and her horse Sister on any track, and the Calgary Stampede proved no exception. She and the phenomenal palomino kept getting faster all week long, and sped around the pattern in 17.078 seconds in the Showdown to earn the $100,000 payday, all in her first trip to Canada.
“Oh, it’s been awesome. We’ve had a lot of fun up here and my horse has loved it,” she smiled. “Canada’s been fun and the weather’s been good.”
“You can’t ever tell when they’re going to like an arena or not, so I’m just glad she did.”
Kinsel would study video of her run after each day, looking for little things she could do to help shave further tenths from their time around the barrels.
“We just try to be kind of a perfectionist when you can and then when you make your run you can’t think about those things.”
Because the Calgary rodeo earnings do count towards the WPRA standings, the win here sets Kinsel up well for the rest of the season.
“It’s huge for me. I’m very grateful because it allows me to take a little more off my schedule for her and have some more off time. So that makes a big difference.”
Plus there’s all the things you can do with $100,000…
“Cash pays for a lot of things. I want to buy a new pair of tennis shoes, and I might do that now. I don’t like spending a lot of money, but like $100, I guess I could take that out of this,” she laughed.
Finishing second in the barrel racing Showdown was Kelly Bruner, also of Texas, who gets $25,000 for her 17.106 second run. In third was Jessica Routier, with 17.256 for $15,000; and Lisa Lockhart, with a 17.272 for $10,000.
His wife Savannah already had a Calgary Stampede bronze from barrel racing in the living room at home in Cross Plains, TX, and that weighed a bit on Matt Reeves’ mind. So on Sunday, he did something about it. Reeves got his steer to the ground in 4.7 seconds, which turned out to be the fastest of the Final Four in the Showdown round, giving him the $100,000.
“I guess it was my turn,” chuckled Reeves. “Because that wasn’t the best run I made all week. But it was sure the best paying run. It’s awesome. I really want to thank Dakota (Eldridge) for letting me ride Rusty, and J.D. Struxness is rodeoing with me, and he did a great job hazing for me. It’s been a great rodeo.”
“Having the kids and everybody here is even better. We don’t get to do this very often. We don’t all get to go as a family, so it’s good to be here for six days and do stuff and see things and have some fun.”
Reeves is tickled he now has a bronze to put next to his wife’s.
“It’s awful good we’ve both won it,” he grinned.
Finishing second was the 2017 winner Tyler Waguespack, but his 6.7 second run netted him $25,000; followed by Canadians Scott Guenthner, who broke a barrier to win, but still got $15,000; and Cody Cassidy, who collects $10,000.