PUEBLO, Colo. – Reese Cates, Shane Proctor and Ben Jones all knew they had major work to do once the 2015 Built Ford Tough Series kicked off in Baltimore in January.
All three riders finished outside of the Top 35 of last year’s world standings and had a limited amount of time to try and earn as many points as possible to make a run at qualifying for the BFTS following the first five events of the season.
With the fifth event officially in the books, Cates, Proctor and Jones can all breathe a sigh of relief after positioning themselves as the top three riders for the BFTS to have a spot in the draw outside of last year’s Top 30. The Top 30 riders from 2014 still are guaranteed three more events before the BFTS draw for each event is based on the current world standings.
“It is a good feeling,” Jones said. “Last year was an up-and-down year. I have really dedicated myself and this year it has really paid off. I am just happy being back and being Ben Jones.”
Jordan Hupp is the first rider to be cut from the BFTS this year, while Josh Faircloth, Robson Palermo, and Douglas Duncan still have injury exemptions remaining before facing a possible trip to the BlueDEF Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division. Nathan Schaper has kept a spot on the BFTS and is ranked 17th in the world.
Unlike Cates and Proctor, Jones did not have any injury exemptions to use this season.
Instead, the Australian native hit the bull riding trail hard in November, attempting to accumulate enough points on the BlueDEF Velocity Tour so that he could make it back to the BFTS more quickly.
Jones, who heads to Anaheim ninth in the world standings, began the 2015 season by winning the L.J. Jenkins Invitational this past November in Clovis, New Mexico, to earn an automatic bid to the BFTS season-opener in Baltimore. Clovis was the first of four BlueDEF Velocity Tour events that Jones competed in before the BFTS began.
He picked up 137.5 points toward the world standings by the time he even nodded his head in Baltimore, and it helped him keep a spot on tour ever since.
The 35-year-old had not even planned on entering the BlueDEF events this fall and was leaning toward saving his body that has the wear and tear of 17 years of bull riding upon it until the start of the New Year. However, his wife, Christy, convinced him to make a push at earning the extra points sooner rather than later.
“It was the biggest decision I could make,” Jones said. “I got my wife, Christy, to thank for that. I got those points and I wouldn’t have been any close without them.”
Cates has been the biggest surprise of the 2015 season. After undergoing right shoulder surgery last year, the 26-year-old leads the BFTS with two event wins, including last week in Sacramento, and is up to third in the world standings.
“It’s been going pretty good,” he said. “I am excited about this whole season, not just the first month. I look for things to continue to get better and better for me.”
Cates had to use three injury exemptions to fight for his spot on tour and said that pressure can creep into your mind sometimes when you are in that scenario.
“It does somewhat,” Cates explained. “Obviously, there is a little pressure in those events with injury exemptions because if you don’t do well, you are not going to get to come back.”
Shane Proctor, who is seventh in the world, was in a similar situation with four injury exemptions at the start of the year after missing all but one BFTS event last year due to surgery on both his left and right shoulder.
Proctor has ridden the second most bulls (12) on the BFTS and has been able to shake off any rust that may have been lingering from being away from the sport for such a long period of time.
“It does help lessen the pressure because I only had four events to come back,” he said. “Oklahoma City, I could have been cut and to get past that stage is a relief.”
The 29-year-old did admit that even though the season is a marathon, he did come out with a sense of urgency because it was the only time he would be starting on a relatively the same page as the other 35 bull riders on tour.
There wasn’t much time to earn points and secure a spot in the draw.
“That was the good thing with starting at equal terms with everyone,” Proctor said. “I was at the same playing level. If I would have come back after my first shoulder surgery, I would have been behind and probably would have put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.
“I’m just lucky the way it turned out.”
It is more than luck, though. It takes a special athlete to work his way back to success, and all three riders had to overcome a variety of injuries in 2014 to earn their respective spots so far this season.
Cates called the performance of Proctor and Jones inspirational.
“There is a lot to be said and a lot of guys are really over-looked in this sport because they always had to deal with injuries, and I think the ability to come back from an injury is underestimated,” Cates said. “For a guy to be able to come back and be successful and possibly be riding even better than before he got hut is definitely inspiring, motivational and it is the stuff they write books about and they make movies about.
“It drives you to be better.”
Regardless of their early success, all three riders agree there is plenty of work to be done before satisfaction sets in.
Proctor summed it up the best.
“Now, you just have to keep setting the next goal and pushing farther,” he concluded. “This is a marathon for a season. It is not a one or two round deal.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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