Zeke Thurston hopes this year is finally his year.
The 25-year-old Big Valley product has won just about everything there is to win in the rodeo arena– except a Canadian title.
Thurston started that pursuit with a vengeance in the opening round of the Canadian Finals Rodeo 46 at the Centrium Tuesday.
The legendary saddle bronc rider put forth a strong ride in a bid for his first-ever CFR title. He posted an 87-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Yoyo Marbles to lead the way on day 1.
He was the top saddle bronc rider this season, collecting $57,010.68 and added another $10,530 round win Tuesday. Thurston said it was important to put up a strong score on the opening night.
“I was just excited to get things rolling. They started with the eliminator round. It doesn’t really make a difference to me. Been to enough finals now that you gotta get on them at some point. They’re just horses,” he said.
“Big, black horse from Calgary Stampede, Yoyo Marbles. Never been on him, but I’ve seen him lots. Wondered why everyone gets bucked off him because he looks like he rides pretty good. There’s a reason he’s in the eliminator pen, he’s big and strong and droppy. Had me hustling there for a little bit.”
Considering Thurston is just an hour from home in Big Valley, there was another slight hometown advantage for the former world champion.
“It’s kinda fun, only an hour from the house and lots of family can come over. Even just running back home for the day and coming to watch at night. Watch neighbours and people around, it’s a lot of fun,” Thurston said.
Lacombe’s Justine Elliot, in her first-ever CFR, brought the local rodeo faithful to their feet with her performance.
The teenage sensation continued her torrid pace with 14.510-second ride for a win in the barrel racing. The 16-year-old was the top barrel racer heading into the CFR after earning $38,421.17 this season.
“I did not expect to be season leader, I was running with world champions. I would have happily gone second place behind Mary Walker, but my horse had other plans for me,” said the high school senior.
That horse she spoke of is Blondy and was recognized Ladies Barrel Racing Horse with the Most Heart by the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association.
“Means a lot that all the other barrel racers think she’s as exceptional as I think she is,” Elliot added.
Blondi showed up on the big stage in her debut at the CFR, coming out of the gates first and had the fastest time of all 12 barrel racing performances.
Even on such a big stage with plenty of family in the crowd, the nerves weren’t there for Elliot.
“I wasn’t that nervous, I just wanted to make sure I kept her around her barrels,” she said.
I just don’t let it get to me. I knew it was coming up, but I tried to keep my mind off it as much as I could so I didn’t get all the nervous jitters.”
Spur Lacasse also kicked off his first-ever CFR with a night to remember.
On opening night, the young cowboy who now calls Calgary home posted an 87.25 on Vold Rodeo’s Mucho Dinero to win the round.
Considering the linage for the 22-year-old, who’s father Roger was once a Canadian champion and was in the stands to watch his son perform Tuesday, the result wasn’t all that surprising.
“It was an awesome night at the office. Can’t ask for anything better. First time, first round and first win,” said the younger Lacasse.
“It’s a really good horse and I’ve been wanting to draw him for the last four years and never got to. My traveling partner has been on him and I know he takes a little scoot and then he jams up there and lets you do your thing.”
Spur said his Dad had a few words of wisdom for his first CFR.
“He said just to keep doing what I was doing through the year and not think I was at the finals, just keep it simple. Just go ride jump for jump,” Spur said of his dad’s advice.
Lacasse jumped to the top of the pack in the bareback with the round win, as his season earnings are now up to $49,291.87 after collecting just over $10,000 for Tuesday’s performance.
In the final event of the night, Mexico’s Edgar Durazo took top spot in bull riding. He captured the Canadian crowd in his first CFR with an 87-25-point ride on Vold Rodeo’s Baja Midnight.
Haven Meged of Miles City, Montana won tie-down roping in 8.2 seconds. Brendan Laye of Consort won steer wrestling with a time of 3.4-seconds.
Dillion and Dawson Graham had the top performance in team roping in 3.9 seconds.
Jake Plotts won novice bareback with 73-point ride and Weyburn, Sask. rider Kegan Kmita won steer riding with a 76-point ride.