PUEBLO, Colo. – South Dakota may not be home to Chad Berger, but the Mandan, North Dakota, native certainly treated this past weekend’s Sioux Falls event like a home game, and the South Dakota fan base cheered for the reigning stock contractor of the year as one of their own.
“You know, us people up north hang together,” Berger said in the moments following a loud ovation when the crowd learned that Boot Jack (45.5 points) was named the high-marked bull of the event. “It is pretty awesome to be in South Dakota and perform in front of a lot of the people that I know personally. We only get a couple of these – like Billings, Montana – that are 400 miles or so from the house. I treat them two events like my own hometown event because that is as good as it gets for me.”
Berger couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Sioux Falls. Along with Boot Jack, Cooper Tires Brown Sugar and Smooth Operator rounded out the Top-3 bull scores of the weekend.
All three are expected to be back in action during Sunday’s Built Ford Tough Championship Round at the Ty Murray Invitational.
Smooth Operator remains one of Berger’s favorite bulls that he acquired in the offseason, and Berger has high expectations for the bovine athlete.
He improved to 6-0 this year on the BFTS by bucking off Nathan Schaper in 3.42 seconds.
“He has the most potential,” Berger said. “I will say Smooth Operator is the rankest bull I own. I think throughout the year Smooth Operator is going to prove to be the best bull I own. He has manhandled every single person that has been on him.”
Riders have lasted an average of 2.53 seconds on Smooth Operator.
Schaper nearly selected Smooth Operator last month during the championship-round draft of the Anaheim, California, BFTS event.
The 24-year-old said that he underestimated Smooth Operator’s strength after finally taking on the bovine athlete in Sioux Falls. Smooth Operator was the last bull remaining when Schaper stepped up on top of the shark cage with the final selection of the draft.
“I finally got the chance to get on him here, but I like him still,” Schaper said. “He is the real deal and definitely bucks. He was a lot stronger than I thought he was.”
Schaper is arguably one of the better riders to attempt Smooth Operator this season. Cody Nance was bucked off in 2.54 seconds by Smooth Operator in Oklahoma City and leading Rookie of the Year candidate Kaique Pacheco was brought down in 2.45 seconds in Kansas City, Missouri.
CBS Sports Network commentator J.W. Hart believed Smooth Operator wasn’t as strong as some of his previous outs this season, but he believes the potential is still there.
“I had seen some trips where he was in contention for the Bucking Bull of the Year, but I thought tonight was one of his weaker trips,” Hart said. “Even with that, he is still championship-round caliber.”
L.J. Jenkins fell victim to another Berger bull in the championship round – Beaver Creek Beau – and believes Smooth Operator is Berger’s best bull going.
“It is still up in the air, but that Smooth Operator can dang sure buck,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins then added that Berger has put himself toward the front of the stock contractor of the year race.
“Right now, there ain’t nobody that can touch him for stock contractor of the year,” Jenkins believes. “He has really worked hard to get himself back to where he wants to be – and that is stock contractor of the year. All of his bulls are proving it.”
Boot Jack earned his 45.5-point marking by slamming Valdiron de Oliviera to the side in 1.67 seconds, and Brown Sugar picked up his first 45-point bull score (45.25 points) by bucking off Cooper Davis in 5.98 seconds.
“I thought Boot Jack was really outstanding,” said CBS Sports Network commentator J.W. Hart. “He hadn’t really stood out on the radar to me until this point. He will now – the way he handled Valdiron. It was a pretty dang good out.”
Berger has been keeping his bulls this winter on a ranch that he is leasing near Stillwater, Oklahoma, to help keep his bovine athletes out of the bone-chilling cold that envelops his Mandan, North Dakota, ranch.
The stock contractor produced a total of 21 outs in Sioux Falls and believes his bulls have been fresher this season because of the decision.
“That has really helped us keep them better with warm weather and soft ground instead of frozen ground,” he explained. “I have done it before and I hadn’t done it in a couple of years. I got a lot of good bulls that I picked up last year and I want to keep it going.”
Berger entered 2015 with the momentum from winning his first Stock Contractor of the Year title since 2009, and he is looking to turn that into another one this year, as well as winning a World Champion Bull title.
“There would be nothing better,” he concluded. “I did it in ‘09 with Code Blue. It was kind of a clean sweep and then we hit a dry spell after ’09.
“I am not saying we got it in the bank, but I know one thing, we are in the running and all we have to do is mind our p’s and q’s and keep working hard. Hard work gets you a long way.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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