ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Smooth Operator was good Friday night in the 15/15 Bucking Battle, but he wasn’t great, and reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger knows it.
Smooth Operator was challenged by Shane Proctor and had to battle his way to the 6.25-second mark before finally dislodging 17th-ranked bull rider in the world.
The World Champion Bull contender was marked only 45 points in his final out before the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
“He was the best bull here this weekend, but I don’t think it was his best out,” Berger said Saturday night after Smooth Operator was officially crowned the high-marked bull of the Allentown Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires. “I think he is a little sore in the front end, but he is a great, great bull and he will be ready for the Finals. We got three weeks to get him ready.”
Friday was the eighth time Smooth Operator was marked 45 points or better this season, but Berger believes the golden number at the World Finals is going to be somewhere between 91-92.5 points.
Once the 2015 World Champion Bull contenders are officially announced, they will get two outs at the World Finals and the bull with the highest-combined bull score will be the champion.
Therefore, based on Berger’s assessment, the champion will likely have to average somewhere between 45.5 to 46.5 points per out in Las Vegas.
Smooth Operator has been marked within that range in four of his 15 outs this season.
He concludes the regular season with a 14-1 record and an average bull score of 44.72 points per out.
“I don’t think two 45s will do it,” Berger said. “There is going to be some great bulls there – Long John, Roy. Roy is the sleeper in this whole thing. He is just about guaranteed to have two great outs. I am not sure if he will be more than 45, but he sure can be.”
Last year, World Champion Bull Bushwacker won the title with 91.5 points and Roy finished second with 91.25 points.
Proctor nearly became the second rider to cover Smooth Operator in the bull’s two-year BFTS career Friday night.
The 6.25 seconds he lasted is the longest any rider has remained on the bovine athlete’s back outside of Guilherme Marchi, who rode Smooth Operator for 83.5 points in Billings, Montana, on an off-night for the bull.
The Grand Coulee, Washington, bull rider would love another shot at Smooth Operator at the Finals.
“He felt awesome,” Proctor said. “It felt so good. I knew after that second jump. He ran me down to the fingertips into my handle and all I could think was keep pumping over there. He had me just a hair outside. He felt so good. I want to get on him again.”
Smooth Operator was the second World Champion Bull Proctor attempted this year. He was bucked off by the late Mick E Mouse (1.6 seconds in Nampa, Idaho) earlier this season.
“Mick E Mouse handled me a lot easier, but that bull (Smooth Operator) sure bucks.”
Berger added, “Shane is a great bull rider and he started one heck of a bull ride, but that bull just got stronger and stronger as he went. Smooth Operator out-grinded Shane, but hats off to Shane Proctor. He was fixing to be a bunch of points.”
Fellow World Champion Bull contender Little Red Jacket struggled in his second consecutive out and was only marked 43.25 points after Cody Nance rode him for 86.25 points in the 15/15 Bucking Battle. Little Red Jacket earned a bull score of only 43.5 points three weeks ago in Springfield, Missouri, when he bucked off Gage Gay in 2.62 seconds.
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network commentator Justin McBride had Smooth Operator as one of the top World Champion Bull contenders heading into the weekend, but Smooth Operator’s performance had him a little hesitant if the bull could compete with the likes of Jared Allen’s Air Time in Las Vegas.
Air Time (8-0, BFTS) is averaging 45.13 points per out.
“He has me a little nervous because I was thinking he was really special,” McBride said, “and I still think he is a great bull, but I am almost scared what we saw out of him here is what he’s turned into – a really, really good bull.”
The positive for Smooth Operator, as well as the other bulls contending for a world title, is Air Time is one of the most unpredictable bulls in the race alongside Stone Sober.
McBride believes Air Time is the most athletically gifted out of the World Champion Bull contenders, but there are so many wild cards that can result in Air Time hurting his own chances.
“Now, you want to talk about volatile,” McBride said. “Air Time is so unstable between the ears that he is going to leave the door open.
“Smooth Operator is going to have to find a different gear if he is going to win it.”
Berger says the plan is to bring Smooth Operator home to Mandan, North Dakota, and get his bull some acupuncture treatment and rest.
The four-time Stock Contractor of the Year believes some time off and therapy can get Smooth Operator back to prime shape before he attempts the biggest two outs of his career.
“I would say he was a point to a point-and-a-half off here the past couple of trips,” Berger said. “I don’t think he is as strong as he was in the beginning, but I just think we will have him ready for the Finals and he will be like he was in the beginning of the year. I want to try a few things with a chiropractor and do some other things to try and loosen him up.
“Smooth Operator has it in him. He just has to do it there at Finals.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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