- Bob Welch
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TULSA, Okla. A new arena, a new event, the best bull riders and the best bulls. Since the Tulsa, Okla., stop on the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour is part of the Jim Shoulders Great Western Weekend, all the best PRCA bulls will be on hand for the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out (May 13-14), so the standard number of contractors has doubled and so will the bull power.
There are 10 different stock contractors bringing over 50 bulls. In the final round, David Bailey's Super Cool and Lucky Strike, the fifth- and sixth-ranked bulls, respectively, according to probullstats.com, will buck. Joe Simon Rodeo's ninth-ranked Deuces Wild and 15th-ranked Cooter will also make appearances.
Southwick, Robertson and Wilson's Spiderman, a bull that has produced electrifying rides from Mike Moore and Matt Austin and Smokin Gun of David Bailey's the bull Austin won the Xtreme Bulls San Antonio event (Feb. 13) on are also awaiting the best bull riders from the semifinal round in Tulsa.
Which brings us to guys who'll have to ride them.
Sonny Murphy, Cooper Kanngiesser, Jason McClain, Clayton Foltyn, B.J. Schumacher, Jesse Bail and Austin are ranked among Probullstats.com's hottest 20 bull riders in the past 75 days.
So then it's just a matter of match-ups in the long-go.
While the draw has not been released, there are a few cowboys to watch.
Topping the list is Schumacher. Of the top 10 bull riders in the ProRodeo Cowboy World Standings, he's been to the fewest rodeos (17 to standings-leader Austin's 31). He's the 2004 Xtreme Bulls champion and rises to the occasion at the big events. If he can match up with his long-round bull favorably, don't expect him to fall short in the final round. Incidentally, he's one of only two bull riders (Steve Woolsey is the other) to cover Super Cool in the past 10 months. Schumacher rode the bull for 92 points at the 2005 Oklahoma City Xtreme Bulls last August.
Dustin Elliott is still due for a major Ride Hard Tour win this year. He had surgery on his free hand and wears a cast, but it doesn't seem to affect his riding. Again, he's the kind of bull rider who loves the big stage.
You just can't count Austin out.
He shines when matched up with the bulls from Texas. In the past five months, he's been on three of the bulls slated for the final round in Tulsa. He rode Southwick, Robertson and Wilson's Vertical Limit for 88.5 points in Fort Worth, he was 91 on Smokin Gun, and was bucked off Super Cool during the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February. Knowing Austin, he would love to have a second chance at that fifth-ranked bull. Somehow, he seems to rise to the occasion against Bailey's bulls in particular.
Kanngiesser is another bull rider who might just make his first big splash in Tulsa. He's quiet and young, but he's been making appearances in quite a few rodeo short-rounds. He's 32nd in the world, so he could be pressing to make a move. Plus, he seems adept at stepping up in the clutch.
Fred Boettcher might have something up his sleeve. In Guymon, Okla., last weekend, he rode Powder River's Black Smoke for 88 points in the short-go. Anytime a bull rider is hot, you can't bet against them. Boettcher hasn't given observers much reason to bet on him this year, but Tulsa could be his turning point.
Whether it's one of the above-mentioned cowboys or not, a win on the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour will be huge for someone just like it has for Jarrod Ford, Austin and Woolsey thus far this season. For one cowboy, Tulsa will be his time to shine.
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.
1hMichael C. Wright