A new set of competitors rode, roped, wrestled and ran their way into the history books of the Calgary Stampede as they emerged victors on an always exciting Championship Sunday.
While the majority of this year’s Champions were first-timers, one cowboy who always rises to the top in this town is Sage Kimzey.
Well, at least on the odd years.
The Oklahoma bull riding sensation, a five-time World Champion collected his third treasured bronze in Calgary, just as he did in both 2015, and in 2017.
The 2019 edition included a bit of a gamble. In the afternoon Finals, Kimzey’s bull sauntered out of the chute at a relaxed pace, wasting a second or two of the precious eight before he burst into action.
Kimzey got a score, a 78.5, but was offered the option of a reride.
“There was just something in the back of my mind that was saying ‘don’t do it’,” he explained. “Whenever there’s a gut feeling like that, I always follow my gut.”
“There was just a peace that came over me. I don’t know how to explain it. It was all in God’s hands, and this is God’s plan, I guess.”
The gamble paid off because in the end, there were only four qualified bull rides in that round, and 78.5 was enough to get him back to the Showdown.
Then Kimzey plucked an old friend out of the Showdown draw, a Calgary bull called Night Moves. It was the fourth time the two had met, and Kimzey figures this trip was the best.
“He’s getting older — a lot stronger than what he used to be. He bucked really hard right out of there, kind of hopped and skipped. He had me shook loose a little bit, then when he settled into his spin, I could just tell he was really bucking under me. So I gritted my teeth and got through it.”
“Feels good to be 92.5, for sure, not to mention the hundred thousand dollars that goes with it,” grinned the cowboy.
As much of a tradition as winning, and drawing Night Moves, was the fact it began to rain a bit during the bull riding.
“I told everybody that ‘it’s Sunday at Calgary, and before the four-man, it’s definitely going to sprinkle a little bit’. Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint.”
Claiming Calgary’s bull riding honors in odd years is the kind of ritual Kimzey could get used to.
“That’s the pattern we have going. I guess if there’s a rodeo to win every other year, Calgary’s a good one to do it.”
“It’s a rodeo you just dream of coming to compete at, much less having success at, much less winning it three times in a short amount of time. I’ve got a higher winning percentage than not winning percentage here and that’s crazy. The other thing is this format sets up really well for me, for my riding style.”
Maple Creek, SK cowboy Jared Parsonage picked up the $25,000 bonus for his 89 point ride on Grey Tower III, which was second, while Jess Lockwood and Jose Vitor Leme were both bucked off in the Showdown, but still took home $12,500 apiece.
The other repeat winner came in the barrel racing, when Lisa Lockhart managed to steer her horse around the barrel patter in 17.116 seconds, a mere three one-thousandths of a second faster than Hailey Kinsel, who was 17.119.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here,” beamed the busy Mom who lives in Oelrichs, SD. She won her first Calgary Stampede in 2015.
She ran the horse that helped her win the first title, Louis, the first three rounds at Calgary.
“He started out strong, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t happening. It was time to take a chance on Rosa. I felt like it was a chance worth taking,” she explained.
Lockhart had feelings of deja-vu since she’d had the same horse journey last year, when she and Rosa finished fourth in the Showdown.
“It just ended a little bit better than it did last year,” she smiled. “So, thank you Rosa! I just can’t commend her enough for stepping up and taking over and doing what she did today.”
Lockhart is as even-keeled as they come when she’s on board her horses, but the combination of adrenaline and emotions bubbled over when she found out she’d won the bronze and the $100,000 cheque.
“I’ve been crying! My tears have finally stopped running. I think, more than anything, it’s the elation because it means so much. I think the older you get, the more it means. It’s not just about the money, it’s just about what transpired. I didn’t expect this to happen. It’s been a field of amazing competition this week.”
But Lockhart admits the money will go a long way in her world, whether for vet bills or college education for her kids.
“This is so huge, and to have it at one time. I think that’s where the emotion rolls in too. Words can’t express. It’s amazing and it’s going to come in so handy.”
Kinsel rode away with the $25,000 bonus cheque from the Showdown round, while Emily Miller took home $15,000 for third, and Nellie Miller $10,000 for fourth.
There was a mighty good chance the saddle bronc honors at Calgary was going to go the Wright way, when three of the four Showdown contenders were from the famous Utah bronc riding family. Not even three-time Stampede winner Zeke Thurston could crack the seal. Especially not when Rusty Wright climbed aboard the always cagey Northcott-Macza legend Get Smart. They matched moves and the 23-year-old was up to the challenge, notching 92 points and earning his first Stampede title.
“Before the 10-round started today, we were sitting in the locker room talking about ones we wanted if we made the four round,” recalled Wright. “I actually said I wanted Get Smart. I’ve never been on that horse before. I’ve watched (brother) Ryder get on him. I think my Dad’s been on him, Wade Sundell, everybody’s been on that horse. Zeke’s actually won the 100 on him before. That horse, they can see how hard he had to ride. All you’ve got to do is make the best ride you can and that horse will do the rest for you.”
“In the middle of the ride, he ducked to the left. It kind of ran me out the back of my saddle. I had a hundred thousand on my mind so I just told myself, ‘keep throwing your feet’, and it worked out.”
In 2018, it was younger brother Ryder Wright who earned the big cheque, while Rusty’s father, Cody, got a couple himself, in 2006 and 2008.
“It’s awesome. It’s always nice to have family win it back-to-back. I’ve been coming to this rodeo since I was little. I rode in the novice and I’ve been coming here since then, so it’s really awesome to be able to hold the $100,000 cheque over my head.”
You can bet Rusty’s first six-figure rodeo cheque will fit the program just right.
“We’ve got two kids, and a third on the way, and my house ain’t quite big enough for five of us, so I need to get a bit bigger place, so I might go home and build my wife a new house,” he grinned.
Thurston and Ryder Wright each netted $20,000, for their matching 87 point marks, while Spencer Wright got $10,000 for his 86.5 in the Showdown.
The rodeo announcers claimed his nickname was the Alabama Slammer, but the good-natured southern bulldogger didn’t mind. Kyle Irwin lived up to his reputation when he stuck to his game plan and came out of the Showdown with his first oversized cheque for $100,000, after wrestling his steer in 3.8 seconds, fastest of the bunch.
“This crowd, there’s so much energy here. I promise you the animals can feel it, we can feel it, or I sure can anyways. To get here and compete at Calgary for this kind of money, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Irwin had been riding the wave his whole time at Calgary, earning $17,000 before he even got to Sunday. And he had a feeling about his chances on the big day too.
“You know, I kind of did,” he admitted. “I like to get on a roll. The fourth of July was good for me. To come up here and do good those first two rounds takes a little pressure off your back. Once you got past (Sunday’s) ten into the Final Four, everybody gets paid, so it’s let your hair down and have some fun.”
“Like I said, I don’t have much hair, so I let it all down all week.”
Irwin is quick to give credit to Scooter, the two-time world steer wrestling horse of the year that he and Tyler Pearson own.
“He’s done so much for us this week,” said Irwin. “That horse gives us a chance every time. It’s almost like he knows our families are relying on winning, because that’s how we make our living.”
Irwin was happy to be in the Showdown with three fellows from his ‘hood, two Louisiana and one Mississippi cowboy.
“It didn’t click until we were getting ready to come in and we looked around and said hey, this is all guys we grew up with and competed against in high school rodeo, so that added a little icing on the cake.
The ‘boys’ all did well, with Jacob Talley winning $25,000 for second place, with Will Lummus getting $15,000 and Tyler Waguespack catching the $10,000 bonus.
There were some tremendous rides in the bareback Showdown, but none better than the spur magic Tanner Aus made for eight seconds onboard Calgary’s Yipee Kibitz, to the tune of 92.5 points, for his first Stampede victory.
“I knew I drew two good horses today,” Aus said. “My ride felt great, and when I heard the score, I was excited. But I didn’t want to get too excited, because I’ve seen some monster rides here and some monster scores.”
“Everybody rode great today and to come out on top means the world to me. It’s life-changing.”
“I’ve just got to thank this city. This is an incredible place to be. This committee works hard to make this rodeo special.”
Fellow bareback rider Caleb Bennett was only a point behind Aus, recording a 91.5 on Zulu Warrior, for $25,000; while Clayton Biglow was 89.5 on Stevie Knicks for $15,000 and Seth Hardwick picked up a tidy $10,000 for an 88.5 on Xplosive Skies in the Showdown round.
In the field of the four tie-down ropers to advance, Caleb Smidt was the only one who hadn’t had a chance to hoist the big cheque but it proved to be his turn in 2019. Matt Shiozawa put down a 7.6 second run, but Smidt shaved off a critical few tenths come his turn, and the 7.3 gave the Texas cowboy his first Calgary win.
“Just to be here on Sunday to rope for a hundred thousand, there’s no better feeling,” said Smidt, who was runner-up last year. “I got to go last, and I knew what I had to be and it all worked out.”
It was extra special for Smidt, because he did it on Chico, a horse his Dad had left to him, when he passed away just over a year ago.
“He left him there for me, and I’ve done everything on him. I’ve worked cows on him, head, heel, and roped calves on him. This is probably only his second or third rodeo in the calf roping. So I’m glad I brought him up here. He worked great, and thanks to my Dad. I know he was up there, helping us along.”
The $25,000 second place cheque went to Shiozawa, while Cory Solomon got $15,000 for third place, followed by $10,000 for Timber Moore.
The Guy Weadick award was presented to Dustin Flundra, a saddle bronc riding veteran who’s competed at Calgary every year but two since his debut in 1999.
“It’s pretty special. This is one of the awards that when you’re rodeoing, you never really think of anything like this,” said the Pincher Creek cowboy, with emotion in his voice. “But these are the awards that are special because somebody else has selected you on your merits. You never expect things like this but to get it, and I’m still surprised. I’m definitely appreciative of this moment. It’s pretty awesome.”