By: Justin Felisko
July 31, 2016
BIG SKY, Mont. – In the hours leading up to the final night of the Big Sky, Montana, BlueDEF Tour event the Big Sky Country skies opened up and a torrential downpour ensued.
If 2012 World Champion Bull Asteroid wasn’t already riled up, then having his bullpen transformed into a murky, mud pit was the last straw. For the rest of the evening, Asteroid paced back and forth and wanted nothing to do with reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger.
Berger took no offense to Asteroid refusing to let his recently new owner pet him, and instead thought to himself, “Asteroid is ready.”
On the opposite end of the backpens, Smooth Operator was in no jolly mood either.
Smooth Operator hunched down in his pen as rain drop after rain drop pelted him in the face and he began to dig in the ensuing mud pit with his back legs.
The two bucking bulls pissed off attitudes were a preview of things to come later on Saturday night.
Smooth Operator whipped and kicked to the right to slam 11-year Built Ford Tough Series veteran Kasey Hayes in 2.66 seconds for an event-high 47 points, while Asteroid made two jumps to the left before turning back and disposing 2009 Rookie of the Year Cody Nance in 3.55 seconds and a 46.5-point bull score.
“I was real proud of both of them, but Asteroid more so,” Berger said. “Smooth Operator is only 6 and Asteroid is 9. I just thought he was tremendous tonight. He was as good or better than he was in Bismarck.
“It sure looks like he has his mojo back.”
It was the second consecutive summer BlueDEF Tour event in which Asteroid was marked 46.5 points. Asteroid previously earned that score with an emphatic 1.78-second buckoff of talented rookie Jess Lockwood at the 16th annual Dakota Community Bank and Trust BlueDEF Tour event in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Saturday night in Big Sky was different, though.
Nance tested Asteroid in the chutes and at one-point Asteroid even began to lay down, which led to Nance re-pulling his bull rope. Once the gate opened, Nance handled Asteroid’s initial two jumps to the left before the former World Champion Bull reared up his back end and reared to the right to dismantle Nance off to the side.
“Breaking it down, Cody made a hell of a ride in the long go (91.5 points on Hammer Down),” Berger said. “He had a deep hold of Asteroid and he made Cody look like he didn’t have a chance. I was really concerned because Cody is big and strong. That little bull was in that chute squatting a little bit too.”
Nance said, “He felt good. I just got my hips out. When you try to hang on to him and you put out all of your effort your head hits the ground a little harder usually.”
When asked how Asteroid compared to the time Asteroid bucked him off for a 46.5-point bull score at the 2013 Ty Murray Invitational Nance replied, “He still bucks really strong.”
Meanwhile, Smooth Operator left Hayes shaking his head.
Hayes knew what he had to do in his head as Smooth Operator began to pick up steam spinning away from Hayes’ riding hand. To his dismay, he was unable to react quickly enough.
“He bucked,” Hayes said. “I just felt myself a little out of position and thought about it. Thinking about where you at and moving your body to where it needs to be, a split second is what will cost you from riding a bull.”
Berger said, “I thought he kicked over his head, and when he was spinning he was kicking straight out and whipping. I think he is feeling a little more comfortable with himself. I don’t think we have seen the best of him yet.”
Saturday was Smooth Operator’s second out of the year since returning from seven-month layoff because of a lower back injury.
Smooth Operator bucked off Nevada Newman in 1.49 seconds for a 44-point bull score
“He was really stronger than he was in Bismarck,” Berger said. “He had more whip. If he is feeling comfortable, he will only get stronger.”
Hayes has been on 2016 World Champion Bull contenders Jared Allen’s Air Time, SweetPro’s Long John, Magic Train and many other rank bulls in his career.
He said that Smooth Operator indeed can be in that conversation when he gives it his all.
“When he has his day, he bucks as hard as any bull that I have been on and I have been on all of those bulls.
They all buck hard and they all have a little different trip to them,” Hayes said. “Tonight he hopped, skipped around to the right and I felt like I was good and that next move around there I was out of position. Then it was bam rather than dropping my elbow and going with second nature.”
Berger is hoping to bring Smooth Operator to the Frontier Communications Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires, in Nashville on Aug. 19-20.
“I would like to see somebody like the two times J.W. Harris tried him last year in Idaho,” Berger said. “I would like to see a guy stick it on him, grit his teeth and see what it comes after that. He seems OK. Things are holding together and hopefully we can get it together.”
Asteroid has only averaged 43.67 points per BFTS out this season, and Berger knows Asteroid may only be able to qualify as a 2016 World Champion contender courtesy of a Wild Card berth from the PBR’s Executive Competition Committee.
Berger is confident Asteroid’s last two outs will be a precursor of how his second half will turn out.
“Hopefully we can get him to Nashville and see if we can’t make a run at the end and get him in that competition,” Berger concluded. “I think we can buck him four times between Nashville and the end of the year.
“Hopefully, him and Smooth Operator can get in.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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