The first flight of finalists for Championship Sunday at the Calgary Stampede has been set. Pool A wrapped up Monday afternoon with plenty of dramatic action.

When you have a name like Chase Outlaw, somehow, it’s not surprising that bull riding is your game. The Arkansas competitor already was in good shape to qualify for the day they hand out the big cheques at Calgary, after gathering up $8000 in the first three rounds.

But these days, Outlaw isn’t about to let any opportunity slip by. So he nodded his head for Rhythm & Blues, and the two made powerful music together, to the tune of 90 points for the go-round win.

“Everybody was telling me how I had the pick of the pen today, and I did my job and it worked out,” Outlaw downplayed in his southern drawl.

But there’s no minimizing the feat that it is every time the cowboy climbs back into the chute, less than a year after a horrifying bull riding wreck. In Cheyenne a bull hit him in the face, and shattered it.

“They had to put 68 screws and 12 plates in my face, in thirteen hours of surgery that night,” he shares, matter-of-factly. “I sat out two and a half months, came back, made the World Finals, had another surgery in November and then was back at the first of the year in January.”

“I feel better than I have in my entire career. After the accident, I’ve come back stronger. It’s like a switch has flipped. I just can’t describe it. I’m not going to question it, because I feel great. Having faith in God to have confidence in myself after such a terrific accident is really … you’ve just got to let Him do it, and do your job.”

“That could’ve been the last bull I ever got on, and you never know what you have until you almost lose it. I’m just glad I didn’t lose it. The Good Lord, he wasn’t done with me.”

Outlaw heads home to Arkansas for a few days before returning for Sunday’s next challenge. His mark stands as the highest score of any event so far at this year’s Stampede.

“I guarantee it won’t be the only 90,” he grinned. “Come Sunday, there’s gonna be some more 90-point bull rides, and I plan on being a couple of them.”

Advancing from Pool A for the bull riding is Jess Lockwood, with $14,000; Chase Outlaw, $13,500; Jared Parsonage $10,750; and Zane Lambert with $8500.

What a day of barrel racing! In fact, the fastest time of the week previously was only good enough for fifth place Monday. Ivy Conrado blew the doors off the place when she rounded the turns in just 17.01 seconds, which is only two one-hundredths of a second off the arena record of 16.99, set in 2017.

Conrado was emotional about the run, her fastest ever at the Calgary Stampede.

“I can’t believe it, I’m like flabbergasted, to be honest,” she bubbled, moments after the speedy run, which looked effortless for her horse. “J-Lo never looks that fast. She just tries really hard. She’s not the most physical horse, she’s not the “fastest” horse, or anything like that, but she tries really hard and she does the same thing every time.”

One of the last racers to go, it almost seemed like her horse knew what kind of times had been laid down and wanted to beat them.

The Colorado cowgirl laughs, “She’s a smart mare. I think my favorite thing about her is that you can walk in one-handed, flat-footed on her and then just go, and she can do something like that. It’s amazing.”

For the third time, Conrado will be part of Championship Sunday at the Stampede, after finishing as the highest money winner among Pool A barrel racers at $17,500. Nellie Miller was close behind ($17,000). Then Brittney Barnett, Jessica Routier and Jessie Telford all had $8000 each, but Routier and Barnett go straight through to Sunday because they had faster times Monday than Telford.

Bareback rider Seth Hardwick needed some cash to avoid the stress of Wildcard Saturday, and when the dust settled, the 88 points he racked up on board Dirty Looks proved to be enough to do the trick, netting him the first place bonus of $5500.

“I’d rather skip that one,” he sighed with relief. “I’ve ridden in that one a few times. It’s a tough one to get through. There’s twelve guys and twelve tough buckers in the Wild Card. I’d rather just go straight to the Finals.”

“I’ve actually never made it out of the Wild Card. This’ll be my first run at the Finals, to try and bring home the big statue!”

Hardwick, a Wyoming resident, managed to also emerge relatively unscathed from a Monday pen of rank ponies that left their mark on several riders, who are likely keeping the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team working hard.

Also getting a break from Saturday’s action from Pool A are Jake Vold ($11,000); Taylor Broussard ($10,500); Hardwick ($10,000) and Richmond Champion ($9500).

The saddle bronc riders were flying high or flying off. At the high end, the separation between first and third was a mere point and a half on the marks. The man who got to make the victory lap, his second this week, was Zeke Thurston. He got the half point edge, with an 88.5 on Rock Star, making his weekly income $18,500, highest of all events in Pool A.

Thurston describes the horse’s bucking style as ‘unique’ but he was familiar with it, since it was the third time the two had met in the last month.

“He really pumps his head lots and moves forward, but kicks hard every time. This is probably the hardest he’s bucked (of the three trips). He had a good day. He had me scrambling a few times,” said the three-time Stampede champion.

“I love this rodeo,” added Thurston. “It treats me well. But even if a guy didn’t do good, it’s hard not to have fun here.”

Joining Thurston Sunday from Pool A are Jake Watson ($12,500); CoBurn Bradshaw ($12,000) and Chase Brooks ($10,500).

Legendary looper Trevor Brazile added to his collection of small Stampede bronzes with his first tie-down roping money of the week. He showed the style that’s won him 24 world titles with a 7.3 second run.

“I tell my wife, better late than never,” he chuckled. “You know, you think when you’ve been here this many times, you would kind of have settled in a little earlier than I did, but I’ve been home, on a way reduced (rodeo) schedule and a little bit out of rodeo mode.”

“But no excuses other than I was just trying too hard, trying to be too fast. This is known for a fast pace, but you still have to go do your job and when you focus on doing your job rather than the end result, it usually works out better.”

“I’m just glad for every opportunity, going to a few or not, when one of them’s Calgary, I’m going to come. I love the rodeo. I’ve never won it, but it’s still one of my favorites. That says a lot about the Calgary Stampede.”

The $5500 will spend well, but Brazile will need to be back Saturday to try for a Sunday berth. Those who avoid that extra round are a pair of Albertans and a pair of Texans: Caleb Smidt ($16,000); Logan Bird ($13,500); Jake Pratt($11,500) and Riley Warren ($7500).

The fast man in the steer wrestling in the fourth performance was Nick Guy of Wisconsin, with a 3.7 second run. But even with the $5500 deposit, he still wound up $500 shy of the top four in Pool A, so he’ll be back on Saturday. Those making it straight through are Craig Weisgerber ($10,500); Bridger Chambers ($10,000); Cody Cassidy ($9000) and Stephen Culling ($8500).

Pool B contestants begin their Calgary Stampede journey on Tuesday.