Rod Hay left Rexall Place Wednesday night in Edmonton with an extra spring in his step, and some serious jingle in his jeans.
The eight-time Canadian saddle bronc champion turned 40 this year, but he rode like a teenager at the opening night of the Canadian Finals Rodeo. Hay tapped out a snappy spur step to rack up 85.25 points on Calgary Stampede’s Nitro Mountain to take first place for the round, and win $10,847.
“I felt young out there,” said the veteran from Wildwood. “It was a nice match-up. That horse is related to horses I’ve got on here back in the old days, and bucked just like them. It was probably the draw to have here today, and it was just a pleasure to have her. That horse has been around a little bit, and just the last part of this year has come on, and really looks good.”
Hay knows how key it can be to get the CFR off to the right kind of start.
“Right now, I’ve got to catch the leaders. I probably got past three or four guys right there. I’m looking to try and get a couple more tomorrow.”
It’s evident the fire to win still burns in the belly of the most experienced bronc rider of the bunch, who’s competing at his 19th CFR. Hay finished the season in seventh spot, some $16,000 behind season leader Sam Kelts. But he’s narrowed that gap considerably with one ride.
The purse at this year’s CFR has gone up, and now sits at the $1.27 million. That’s considerably more than what Hay rode for at his early years. It means going for broke each night, and that’s exactly the style that fits Hay the best.
Hay is already lodged in the record books for owning the most Canadian saddle bronc titles. But to win another is what his sights are set on now.
“It would mean everything,” he said.
Innisfail’s Kyle Daines was third for the night with an 81.25 to earn $5,423.
Defending Canadian champion Cody Cassidy of Donalda split the opening round in steer wrestling, with first-timer Zane Hankel of Redcliff. Both made 4.3 second runs, and each earned $9,491. Cassidy was the season leader coming in, and adds to that edge over the rest of the field.
Another defending champion, Kyle Bowers of Brooks, kept up his winning ways in Edmonton, taking first in the bareback riding with an 86.75 on Franklin’s Pop A Top. But season leader Dusty LaValley was second, so it’s shaping up as a close race there.
Al Bouchard of Scandia took the first big cheque in tie-down roping with a 7.7 second run, to move up the ranks in his event, with the $10,847 boost. Rana Walter of Lethbridge outpaced the field in barrel racing with her 14.69 second run. In the team roping, Levi Simpson of Claresholm had to partner up with John Robertson of Montana, and they had one night to practice together before competing. But they must have found some instant chemistry, as they came out first and won the round in just 4.3 seconds, collecting $2,341 each.
Brett Thompson of Medicine Hat had the high mark in the bull riding, after taming the nearly unrideable Franklin bull Green Johnson for 88.75 points. However, Canadian champion Tyler Thomson had a run of bad luck, getting fouled and having bulls fall down. He’s up to a fourth re-ride, and they’re giving it to him today.
Boys steer riding went to Jordan Moen of Saskatchewan for an 80.5. Another Saskatchewan cowboy, Rylan Geiger took the novice saddle bronc with a 71.5 point ride. Joseph Fentiman won novice bareback with a 67.5.
Rodeo action continues tonight at 7 p.m.