The past two Decembers have brought much promise to Jesse Bail. However, by the middle of the month, the all-around cowboy from Camp Crook, S.D., has left the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in disgust, wondering how something so right went so suddenly wrong.
While Bail hasn't had much luck at the Wrangler NFR, don't feel sorry for him. Don't count him out, either. If there's anything Bail knows how to do, it's get off the mat.
His latest round of battle-hardened resolve came Jan. 20 at the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Division II qualifying event, also called "Bulls Night Out," at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. Bail turned in a pair of 89-point rides to win the aggregate title and $5,616.
It was a nice start to a career of mostly slow starts for Bail.
"This helps a lot coming off the Finals, where I didn't ride very good," said Bail, who covered just three of 10 bulls in the Thomas & Mack Center. "It's great to make two good bull rides right off the bat to get your confidence back."
Some think it's just a matter of time before Bail, still just 24, will win his share of gold buckles. He was tantalizingly close in 2002, when he and Trevor Brazile fought to a near stalemate until the final day, when Brazile ultimately took the coveted all-around crown.
To do so, Bail knows he must ride well not only during the regular season, but also on the world's rankest bucking stock in Las Vegas. Once he does that, watch out.
"There's something I haven't figured out yet," Bail said. "I've done good there, but I have to figure it out and go and win. I have to just keep going at it."
That's something Bail has no trouble with. Now that bull riders can count 125 rodeos toward the world standings up from 75 in 2003 he'll have plenty of chances to prove he can ride like a world champion all year.
The official rodeo limits for each event were voted on by cowboys last year. It came on the heels of the PRCA Board of Director's decision in June 2002 to reduce the count to 75 for roughstock cowboys and 50 in the timed events. Formerly, cowboys could count 125 roughstock events and 100 timed events.
"I've been to 125 before [in both bull riding and saddle bronc riding], but I'm not planning on going to that many again," Bail said. "The cowboys voted on it, and I don't think the new count was given much of a chance. Guys that ride good are going to make the Finals. It doesn't matter if it's 50, 75 or unlimited."
Bail is keeping it simple on his 2004 plans. He'll ride bulls and bronc and wrestle an occasional steer. And odds are, Bail will be back in the Thomas & Mack Center on Dec. 3 to continue his quest to stand on the champions' podium at the conclusion of the rodeo.
Then all the feelings of disgust would be worth it.