CALGARY — For someone who just turned 22, Zeke Thurston has loads of confidence.
Thurston, of Big Valley, defended his title in the saddle-bronc finals at the Calgary Stampede rodeo on Sunday.
“I expect to win every time I get on,” said Thurston, who celebrated his birthday on Friday. “That’s kind of the mentality I have. Whether it goes that way or not is just kind of depending. I try hard and put it all on the table.”
Thurston was the lone Canadian to win the top prize of $100,000 on what’s known as Showdown Sunday on the last afternoon of the 10-day competition.
“Shoot, it’s awesome,” said Thurston of competing in Calgary so close to his hometown. “I love being here in my home country.”
Thurston, who won his first Stampede title in July of 2015, had an impressive 89.5-point ride aboard Spring Planting in rainy and muddy conditions to finish ahead of 2007 Stampede champion Cody DeMoss, of Heflin, La., who scored 88 points atop Timely Delivery.
“This is my third time I’ve been on her and it’s all been in Calgary,” said Thurston, who also had an 84.5-point ride on Spring Planting to finish first on the first day of Pool B action to win $5,500. “She’s awesome. You can’t ask for a better horse. She was bucking and if felt good.”
Shane Hanchey, of Sulphur, La., started off the championship finals by winning the tie-down roping title with a time of 7.9 seconds, while three-time Stampede champion Fred Whitfield, of Hockley, Texas, had to settle for second place after stopping the clock at 8.8.
“It means a lot,” said Hanchey of winning his first Stampede title. “This has been on my bucket list since 2010.”
Steven Peebles, of Redmond, Ore., and Caleb Bennett, of Tremonton, Utah, both had scores of 87.5 points in the bareback championship. In the ride-off, Peebles scored 83 points aboard Wild Wood Flower and then accepted his cheque for $100,000 after Bennett — the 2013 Stampede champion — scored 78 points atop Up Ur Alley.
“To be standing here on top right now, this is awesome — I’ve always wanted to win this rodeo,” said Peebles, who has battled through several significant injuries over the past year and a half including a life-threatening rib puncture that hit a major artery one year earlier.
“I was sitting in a hospital bed a year ago and I just about lost my life.”
Seth Brockman, of Wheatland, Wyo, won his first steer-wrestling title in Calgary by posting the top time of 4.7 seconds to edge out Tyler Waguespack, of Gonzales, La., by 1/10th of a second for the top prize.
“I got a good start and was able to sneak by Waguespack,” said Brockman.
Cody Cassidy, of Donalda, Alta., the only other Canadian other than Thurston to reach the finals, finished third behind Brockman and Waguespack in a time of 13.9 seconds to win $15,000.
Mary Burger, of Pauls Valley, Okla., won the ladies barrel racing event in a time of 17.99 seconds to edge out Mary Walker, of Ennis, Texas, by just 1/100ths of a second for top spot.
“Everybody would love to win this — it’s just amazing,” said Burger, who credited her horse Mo for having a solid run in muddy conditions. “I just always thought this horse was special. Here, up in these conditions and with this crowd and all the money, he’s just amazing.”
In the final event of the afternoon, Cody Teel, of Kountze, Texas was the only one of the four finalists to have a successful ride.
While Ryan Dirteater, of Hulbert, Okla, Nathan Schaper of Grassy Butte, N.D., and Fabiano Vieira, of Perola, Brazil, were all bucked off their bulls, Teel posted a score of 91.5 points atop Liquid Fire to win his first Stampede title and the $100,000 that goes with it.
“Everyone here is top-calibre bull riders, so you don’t expect them to get bucked off,” said Teel.
“When that happens, it’s almost surprising. Just to be able to pull one through and get the win, it means a lot.”