By Doug Hare EBS SPORTS EDITOR
BIG SKY – For the ninth year in a row, the Professional Bull Riders Touring Pro Division stormed into town with thousands of fans from across the country anticipating three nights of world-class bull riding, mutton busting, rowdy concerts, and entertainment provided by the world’s most famous rodeo entertainer Flint Rasmussen—all set against the kaleidoscopic skies behind Lone Mountain.
The extravaganza began quietly enough on July 24 with a charity golf tournament held at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin where cowboys teamed up with foursomes in an 18-hole, five-person team scramble tournament. The preliminary event raised over $39,000 for the Western Sports Foundation, a nonprofit that supports riders injured participating in Western sports.
The next day saw the beginning of bull riding action, with 40 of the world’s best PBR athletes testing their mettle against many of the top bovine contenders supplied by eight-time PBR Contractor of the Year Chad Berger and longtime PBR spokesman Cord McCoy.
“It’s easy to see why this event is the six-time event of the year,” said PBR announcer Brandon Bates. “No matter where we go, whatever the situation is, you never hear fans that loud and you never feel energy like that. It’s incredible.”
Taylor Toves and Eduardo Apericedo put up dual 87-point rides to put themselves into the early lead after night one, with ten other riders managing qualified rides including the world’s No. 1 ranked rider Chase Outlaw. The first night of bull riding was capped off with an Arts Council of Big Sky and Outlaw Partners concert by Hayes Carll on the Town Center stage, one of the most well-attended Music in the Mountains events to date.
Night two of the PBR might have gone to the bucking bulls with only six qualified rides out of the 39 cowboys who rode—a 15 percent ride rate—but still produced highlights that kept the crowd on their feet until the last ride. Notably, 51 Viper, a Cord McCoy-raised bull that is partially owned by Big Sky locals, put up a 46.5 high-point bull ride, solidifying his reputation as one of the rankest young bulls on the PBR circuit.
In a breathtaking display of “the toughest sport on dirt,” Chase Outlaw took a horn to the side of the head from the bull 4 Bears that broke his helmet nearly in half causing a laceration and putting him into concussion protocol. Outlaw refused medical assistance and the next night was helping his fellow competitors on the chute gates—a true display of cowboy grit.
Montana native and crowd favorite Matt Triplett’s 90-point ride on Quick Fire put the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, giving him the win for the second night and putting the 2017 Big Sky PBR champion back in the hunt for another title in his home state.
On Saturday, the final night of bull riding, the electricity in the air never seemed to dissipate even after a lightning storm rolled through town. And even for those producing PBR events across the country for more than two decades, the charged atmosphere was undeniable.
“In 1999, I was in the bull riding arena during the second round of the PBR World Finals for what is known as ‘the greatest night ever’ in bull riding history. I thought the crowd was insanely loud and I would never hear anything better. I was wrong,” said Andy Watson of Freestone Productions. “Last Saturday, the Big Sky PBR fans were unbelievable and the energy was palpable. It was a great event overall and I am so proud to be a part of it. Kudos to Big Sky for bringing it year after year and I can’t wait for 2020.”
“I have a vision in my head each year on how the Big Sky PBR will roll out,” said Jacey Watson, Andy’s wife and business partner also with Freestone Productions. “At times I get a bit wrapped up in the production of the show and fail to lift my head and take it all in. This year the fans of the Big Sky PBR snapped me back to the point in which I could process all of the hard work truly does come full circle for the enjoyment of others.”
Night three of Big Sky PBR belonged to Dalton Kasel who rode Deep Water for 90.5 points in the championship round on Saturday night to beat out world’s No. 4 João Ricardo Vieira and Cody Nance for his second career PBR victory.
At just 20 years old, Kasel bounced back from a 6.88-second buckoff against Element 79 in round 1 on Thursday night, riding his final three bulls and announcing himself as a real contender on the world stage of PBR.
The Muleshoe, Texas, bull rider picked up a season-high 245 world points, catapulting him from No. 79 at the start of the event to No. 41 in the world standings when the dirt had settled. Kasel is on the cusp of breaking into the top 35 PBR riders following his victory in Big Sky, which would qualify him for the World Finals held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas Nov. 6-10. Kasel is now 13 for 37 (35.14 percent) with six top-3 finishes in 11 Touring Pro Division events in 2019.
Kasel, a former Howard College bull rider, also earned a career-high $24,237.45 for his efforts including a $10,000 trip via Boundary Expeditions on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho, a trip to Turks and Caicos from Seven Stars Resorts, and a Gibson guitar—now an annual tradition for the Big Sky event to cement the winner’s rockstar status.
“I am so excited,” Kasel told in-arena announcer Brandon Bates on PBR’s digital streaming channel RidePass. “I have been blessed with great parents that have pushed me and motivated me in this whole thing. I have been able to surround myself with people that know what is going on and helped me through. I want to thank Chad Berger a lot for pushing me this summer to be the best that I can be, and for Riley Sanford for setting me up with this opportunity.”
Vieira took second-place honors while Dener Barbosa, another young up-and-comer, finished in third place as the only other rider with a qualified ride in the championship round, pulling in 87.5 points on Pennywise. Kasel and Barbosa were the only riders placing in the top 10 in Big Sky that are not ranked inside the top 35 of the current world standings. Rounding out the top five were Cody Nance (3-for-4, 255, 25 world points) and Mason Taylor (2-for-4, 175 points, 50 world points).
The white tents have been taken down and the Big Sky Town Center events arena is conspicuously quiet after Big Sky’s Biggest Week has come and gone, but memories of this year’s event will not soon be forgotten—not by the audience that saw PBR history in the making, not by the champion mutton busters and their parents, and not by the bull riders that continue to vote the Big Sky PBR their favorite event year after year.
“For me, working in the background means perfection and I am continuously driven to reach that level of perfection when I hear the roar of the crowd and watch cowboys, contract personnel, volunteers and sponsors all enjoying themselves to the point in which they just completely let themselves go and get lost in the moment,” said Jacey Watson, who together with Andy has been crucial to producing the event since its conception.
“This year was above and beyond expectations in so many facets. I’d have to write a book to express everything in which I could touch on. However, I do know this: 2019 was the best year yet and I can’t wait for more!”