LEXINGTON, Ky. Nine miles from Jarrod Ford's house, one of the biggest regular season rodeos is happening: the Greeley (Colo.) Independence Stampede.
Instead, the winner of the first 2006 Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour presented by B & W Trailer Hitches in San Antonio in February had to travel 1,239 miles to Lexington, Ky., to get on a roll.
In the first round of the sixth stop on the Ride Hard Tour, he started the weekend off right by riding Silverado Rodeo's black-and-white-spotted bull Mamma Told Me for 90 points. Mamma Told Me was the first bull Ford had ridden in three weeks an unimaginable drought for a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier and top-15 standard.
"He tried to get me in the well and a couple times I felt his horn come up under my armpit," Ford said. "But I just got loose and kept shuffling and it worked out."
It was a spectacular ride in which Ford didn't always seem in control, but fought back into position with country toughness a trademark of the famous Ford rodeo clan.
Everything was spectacular, that is, but the dismount. Ford was laid back on the bull and immediately after the whistle blew his hand blew out of his rope and the back of his head was the first thing to hit.
"I was kind of woozy for a while right after it happened," he said. "But I'm already feeling better my vision's still a little blurry."
Might be, but he can still see the opportunity in front of him. While he's skipping his hometown rodeo, on Saturday night, there'll be another full round of 40 bull rides followed by a 12-man final round in Lexington. For the past two years Ford has counted on the Xtreme Bulls Tour to jump-start his seasons. Last year in September he won the Ellensburg, Wash., edition of the event to assure his first Wrangler NFR berth. Then in February of 2006, winning the Xtreme Bulls stop carried him through a lukewarm spring.
As rank as the Robertson and Wilson, Frontier, Silverado and Classic ProRodeo bulls are, Ford's 90 gives him a great chance to advance to the final round regardless of what happens in the second round. With 14 riders covering in the first round, however, chances are it will require three qualified rides to take home the championship.
Other bull riders who got off to solid start in the Bluegrass State and put themselves in position to win the nearly $20,000 that awaits the champion included Matt Austin, the reigning world champion, who is just returning from a wrist injury. He covered his bull for 86.5 points, yet seemed at once tentative and in control. Still, the first round ride aboard Classic ProRodeo's Flee might be just what the doctored ordered for him to feel comfortable and confident going into the second round.
Second to Ford's 90 was Cooper Kanngiesser's 89, which came immediately after Ford's ride proving that good bull riding is as contagious as a cold at a daycare. Then came an 86.5 from Clint Craig followed by an 84 from Clayton Williams.
Earlier in the round, Kanin Asay spurred his bull for 86.5.
The 14 bull riders will probably be conservative in the second round and try to get to the finals on two, but for the other 26 who didn't, look for them to let it all hang out for the chance to squeak into the finals with one awesome ride.
Opening Round Money
Place Contestant Score Money
1 Jarrod Ford 90.5 $3,384.00
2 Cooper Kanngiesser 89 $2,594.40
3 Kanin Asay 86.5 $1,316.00
3 Clint Craig 86.5 $1,316.00
3 Matt Austin 86.5 $1,316.00
4 Thoms Bert 85 $564.00
5 Kyle Joslin 84 $263.20
D J Domangue
5 Clayton Williams 84 $263.20
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.