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Behind the Chutes: Air Time Makes Statement

By: Justin Felisko
March 06, 2016

Air Time got the best of Joao Ricardo Vieira in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round. Photo: Andy Watson/BullStockMedia.com

Air Time got the best of Joao Ricardo Vieira in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round. Photo: Andy Watson/BullStockMedia.com

PHOENIX – Here are three things we learned from this weekend’s Ak-Chin Invitational at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Air Time makes statement in World Champion Bull race (3-6-16)

The dust on Jared Allen’s Air Time’s back slowly rose into the air as stock contractor Matt Scharping continued to scratch his bovine athlete’s back on Sunday afternoon.

Air Time had been fired up from the moment he stepped foot inside Talking Stick Resort Arena and once he was loaded into the bucking chutes he only got more ferocious.

Maybe it was because he knew his owner, Jared Allen, was in attendance this weekend. Maybe it was because Air Time knew 2012 World Champion Bull Asteroid had been the talk of the PBR of late, or maybe there is still a lingering disappointment from coming up short of the 2015 World Championship.

Regardless, one thing was for sure. Air Time wanted no business with Joao Ricardo Vieira’s confident smirk as Scharping told the No. 2 bull rider in the world minutes early, “We have a three minute break and then you are up.”

Vieira sighed and put in his mouth piece, a good decision considering what came next.

Air Time, who jacked Vieira back and forth in the bucking chute when he first sat down, launched Vieira off his side, flipped him completely over in the air and onto the ground in 2.24 seconds during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.

The breathtaking out earned Air Time a season-high 47 points, and the High-Marked bull award.

Julio Moreno’s Roy, who placed second behind Air Time with a 46.5-point performance, injured his front legs during his championship round out. He was immediately transported from the arena for further evaluation.

Asteroid’s performance said a lot of things about his chances at the World Champion Bull title.

“He definitely made a statement today to not forget about him,” Scharping said. “When we got here, I watched how he was handling himself in the back and I could tell his motor was running all day. He was just ready to go.”

It has been a rough go of late for Vieira against World Champion Bull contenders. Last month, Vieira was bucked off by Asteroid in 2.9 seconds in St. Louis as Asteroid was marked 45.5 points.

There is no question the favorite for this year’s championship is between Asteroid and Air Time, says Vieira.

“Air Time,” Vieira said before laughing at the question. “He was really good. He was good in the chute. Good at the start. He is the best.”

Asteroid was marked 43 points for a 7.25-second buckoff of Robson Palermo in the championship round. Asteroid was bucking out of a right-hand delivery for the first time in his career.

“Air Time is the best bull going right now and it got all decided right here,” nine-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network commentator Ty Murray said.

Vieira had selected Air Time with the seventh pick of the Built Ford Tough Championship Round draft.

The gutsy pick impressed Scharping.

“That was awesome,” Scharping said. “I was so thrilled. You have no idea how thrilled I was when Joao picked him. He didn’t get left for the last guy. I am not saying Aaron (Roy) would be a bad guy, but just having a guy say, ‘I want him.’ Perfect. You want to get out on him. You want to ride this thing because you feel you can. That is what it is about. That is what I need for that animal.”

Air Time was bucking for only the third time in his career on consecutive BFTS weekends. He had been marked 45.5 points last weekend at Iron Cowboy for a 1.93-second buckoff of 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi.

Scharping had seen something very subtle in Arlington, Texas, last week that has him believing Air Time is developing a World Champion-like swagger.

“When they ran him into the chutes he was licking his lips,” Scharping said. “That doesn’t sound like a big deal to people, but for all of us that handle animals, that is a huge deal. That is a sign of confidence. A sign of calm. Today you can see him mature. This is on a week’s rest. He was 45.5 points last week and to come back with a 47, that is what we want to see. We want him to do that. We know he can do that.”

Jones fights his way back on tour

Ben Jones has spent the past three weeks trying to do all he can to remain on the BFTS after a slow start to the season had him dangling off the cutline and in jeopardy of missing the upcoming 20th annual Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico in two weeks.

The 36-year-old can finally breathe much easier following his 90.75-point ride on Cowboy’s Dance Hall’s Panda Trax.

Jones rode J.D. Nix’s bull for a championship round win and the ride propelled him to a third-place finish this weekend. Most of all, he earned 100 points toward the world standings with the round win and leaves Phoenix ranked 19th in the world after earning 335 total points.

“I can’t thank J.D. Nix enough,” Jones said. “He called me down to his house a couple of weeks ago to go get on some practice bulls because he knew what I wasn’t doing right. He came up to me before the championship round and said 316 is your time tonight. I went along with him and I can’t thank him enough.”

The 335 points was more than the 142.5 points the previously No. 36 ranked bull rider began the weekend with.

Jones earned 180 points for finishing third in the event average, and he also earned 55 points for finishing tied for second-place in Round 1 with his 86.75-point ride on Thunder Bolt.

“It just means everything,” Jones concluded. “I slid up and said it was time to make things hang again and not worry about anything and that is what we did. It worked out good.”

There were only two other qualified rides in the championship round. Event winner Ryan Dirteater rode Cooper Tires Brown Sugar for 87.25 points, while Fabiano Vieira turned down his re-ride option following a 64.25-point ride on Diamond Dave’s Tornado.

Vieira finished second in the event and earned 345 world points with a 3-for-3 performance. The No. 4 bull rider in the world standings trails world leader Shane Proctor, who finished 0-for-2, by 184.67 points heading into next week’s Duluth Invitational.

Dirteater earns first win since 2011

Ryan Dirteater didn’t have much time to enjoy his first victory in four-plus years.

The 26-year-old rode Cooper Tires Brown Sugar for 87.25 points to cap off a perfect 3-for-3 weekend, but instead of celebrating, Dirteater was hustling to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to catch his flight home to Hulbert, Oklahoma, which was set to depart at 6 p.m.

The adrenaline rush of getting to the airport and earning the victory had Dirteater overwhelmed.

“It’s been a long time,” Dirteater said. “It is unbelievable. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I know it is a great feeling. Anything is possible. I have had my ups and downs in my career, but if you work at it and give it 100 percent, and you really want it bad enough, you are going to get it.”

Dirteater last won an event in September 2011 when he went 4-for-4 in Wichita, Kansas.

He jumps 17 spots in the world standings from 29th to 12th thanks to the 517.5 points he earned.

Dirteater won 400 for winning the event average, 60 points in the championship round, and 55 points for tying for second-place in Round 2 with an 86-point ride on Cowboy Up and 2.5 points for tying for seventh-place in Round 1 with an 85.25-point ride on Kooter’s Krazy.

Rubens Barbosa finished fourth in the event with 205 world points and Wallace de Oliveira was fifth.

Barbosa won Round 2 with an 87-point ride on Like a Boss and Oliveira had won Round 1 with an 87.25-point ride on Hy Test.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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