ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The fact that he had been cut from the Built Ford Tough Series hadn’t truly set in for Gage Gay until he was sitting at home in Staley, North Carolina, on Feb. 28.
It had been a week since Gay had failed to earn enough points to remain within the Top 35 of the world standings following an 0-for-2 performance in Kansas City, Missouri.
It was almost a year to the day since Gay made the biggest splash of his 2014 rookie campaign when he eliminated three World Champions (Mike Lee, J.B. Mauney and Guilherme Marchi) on the way to a runner-up finish at the 2014 Iron Cowboy event.
A year later and Gay wasn’t even one of the Top-40 riders in the world invited back to Iron Cowboy last month.
This was easily a self-inflicted, punch-in-the-gut moment for the 20-year-old bull rider.
“Oh yeah, that really sucked,” Gay said. “It didn’t really set in that I couldn’t go to it until the night of. It really sucked thinking about it and how I was there last year and won $47,000, and this year I didn’t even go to it. That is what made me realize I really wanted to be back up on tour.”
At the time of being cut, Gay was far from the rider that nearly won the 2014 PBR Rookie of the Year title.
He had gone 3-for-22 in eight BFTS events – including 12 straight buckoffs and 1 disqualification – and admittedly could not pinpoint what was going on with his riding.
A week after Iron Cowboy, Gay was getting ready to nod his head at the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Hampton, Virginia, when his buddies on the BFTS were warming their ropes inside the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.
“It just kind of lit a fire under me that needed to be lit,” he admitted. “It kind of made me appreciate those Built Ford Toughs a lot more.”
Gay’s riding showed that he was motivated and fired up about losing a spot on tour.
He only needed the one event to earn another crack at the BFTS.
Gay rode Hou Hou for 87 points in the first round and followed that up with an event-winning 85.5 points on Circle City to win the event and guarantee himself a spot in the draw for this weekend’s Ty Murray Invitational.
He earned 80 points toward the world standings for the victory and earned an additional 10 points as he posted an 82-point ride in the first round with a second entry into the event.
“It just clicked that I needed to get my stuff together,” Gay said. “I guess I realized I didn’t want to be down there. All of my buddies are down there from home and stuff, and it was cool going with them (Michael Lane, Jay Miller and Brenton Chaffin) for a week or two, but it is not for me. I like the Built Ford Toughs.”
The 90 points he earned in Hampton were more than the 65 he had accumulated in eight BFTS events.
Gay is currently 42nd in the world standings and heads into Albuquerque on Friday night only 90 points back of Bryan Titman (30th in the world standings) for the last guaranteed spot on tour.
However, he is even just 35 points back of the No. 35 spot (Lachlan Richardson/Cody Tyler White), which is prime real estate for a potential alternate spot in future draws based on injuries within the Top 30 to Mauney, Chase Outlaw and Cody Nance.
It won’t be easy for Gay on Friday night in Round 1 as he has a tough matchup against David’s Dream (40-4, BFTS).
If you don’t include the Built Ford Tough World Finals, Iron Cowboy, Last Cowboy Standing or 15/15 Bucking Battles, Friday night will be David Dream’s first non-championship-round out on the BFTS since bucking during the first round of the February 2012 BFTS event in Houston.
David’s Dream has bucked off eight straight BFTS opponents since Guytin Tsosie rode the bovine athlete for 88.75 points last year at the Ty Murray Invitational.
Gay, who is waiting for a Brazilian-style bull rope to arrive in the mail, is also the first BFTS rider that was cut this season from last year’s Top 35 to make it back on tour through the BlueDEF Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division.
The second-year BFTS pro says one thing he tried working on since being relegated was making sure he was moving his feet while riding.
It was a flaw that Mike White pointed out when the 2012 Ring of Honor inductee offered some help to Gay in St. Louis, Missouri. They also watched some video footage of Gay’s 87.75-point ride on Pound The Alarm last year in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“He told me to nod my head and to keep moving my feet the whole time and stay aggressive,” Gay said. “It helped. We watched some videos of when I was riding good, moving my feet and having fun. (He) just reminded me I have to do that every time.”
Coincidentally, St. Louis was Gay’s best performance of the season. He went 2-for-4 and earned a season-high 55 points with a fourth-place finish in Round 2 and an 11th-place finish overall.
Gay competed at a local jackpot bull riding in Virginia on Tuesday night and competed last weekend at the Touring Pro Division event in West Plains, Missouri. He picked up rides at each event, but didn’t score high enough at either event to win.
His focus is now set on taking advantage of competing in at least three BFTS rounds this weekend at the Ty Murray Invitational – and potentially four if he were to qualify for the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
As much he wants to treat this event like any other, Gay knows he will be thinking some about what is at stake.
“It is always going to be in the back of my head this weekend that if I don’t do good here, I won’t be back next weekend,” Gay said. “Every weekend I show up, I am there to win. If I do that, then everything will work itself out and I will dang sure be able to go next weekend.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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