PUEBLO, Colo. – J.W. Harris is well aware of what to expect from world leader J.B. Mauney during the last month of the 2015 season.
“You know he is going to go out there and pick the rank ones in the short round,” Harris said. “If you want to keep pace, you have to trade punches with him.”
That is exactly what Harris did the past weekend in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The No. 5 bull rider in the world standings went into the Built Ford Tough Championship Round leading the event average, but he was also well aware that Mauney was also qualified for the championship round and needed a big score to potentially win the event after being bucked off by Tattoo in Round 1.
Therefore, Harris’ selection of Redbone with the first pick of the championship round draft turned out to be a highly important one on Saturday night.
Mauney went on to ride Mr. U for 89.5 points, but Harris was able to counter and end the night with an event-winning 89.75-point ride on Redbone.
“You are only as good as your competition, and I always have believed that,” Harris said. “It is good to be in a race with a guy like J.B.”
Harris didn’t select Redbone as a defensive tactic.
He chose Chad Berger’s bovine athlete because he felt it would give him the greatest chance to win the event regardless of what Mauney, Cooper Davis or whomever selected.
“I can’t really worry too much about what they are doing,” he said. “As far as picking them, I will go out there and pick whatever I think I can win on. I am not going for second or third out there. I am going for the kill shot every time and that is what I do at these deals. If you show up, you might as well want to win and not win second.”
Harris’ ride did give him the win, and the man finishing behind him was Mauney, who won Round 2 in Allentown.
Harris finished fourth in Round 1 with an 85.25-point ride on Big Dan and fifth in Round 2 with 86.25 points on Preacher.
It wasn’t a lot, but Harris was able to gain 140 points on Mauney in the world standings after earning a season-best 570 points in Allentown.
The four-time PRCA champion heads into the regular-season finale in Tucson, Arizona, this weekend in major need of another similar performance.
He trails Mauney by 1,605 points and a victory in Tucson and/or at the BlueDEF Velocity Tour Finals in Louisville, Kentucky, in two weeks could potentially help Harris get to within 1,000 points of the North Carolina cowboy before the World Finals.
There is 1,000 points awaiting the event average winner in Las Vegas, as well as 200 points per round.
“I know I have to stay on everything and get every point I possibly can,” Harris said. “I am just worried about what my first bull in Tucson is. I don’t want to get caught looking forward too much.”
Harris and Mauney were the only two riders in the Top 7 of the world standings to compete in the championship round.
Joao Ricardo Vieira (riding wrist), Matt Triplett (knee) and Fabiano Vieira all opted out because of injuries in Allentown, while Kaique Pacheco (0-for-2) failed to qualify.
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride walked away from Allentown believing Harris may be the only rider left with the pedigree to run down Mauney, who now leads No. 2 Joao Ricardo Vieira by 817.5 points.
“To me, he looks like the only guy engaged in this fight,” McBride said. “The rest of them have done left the fight. I get injuries. I did this for a long time and dealt with injuries, but as long as I wasn’t being told I couldn’t do it, I was out there doing it. I think you have to. Especially at this point, we have one event left.”
Harris finished 8-for-11 to win two of the past three events. His 72.73 percent riding average during the past three weeks is much better than his 38.57 percent (27-for-70) season average.
He has gained 675 points on Mauney during that stretch as well.
Harris’ No. 5 ranking in the world standings is the highest the 29-year-old has been ranked since the Ty Murray Invitational in March.
“I feel great,” Harris said. “I am not really hurting anywhere. Everybody is sore this time of year, but as far as physically I am good. Mentally, I am really good. It always helps your mental side when you are winning and staying on. I feel like I am right where I need to be at.”
McBride believes he is only getting better.
“J.W. Harris is getting better, better and better,” McBride said. “He is feeling it. J.W. Harris, for me, is the most dangerous to J.B. because he can ride the rank ones. He understands how to ride them. He is not going to back down from them. He is going to crawl out between their horns. He is going to be 90.”
Both Mauney and Harris approach bull riding like two heavyweight boxers.
Mauney has already thrown multiple haymakers this season, especially since the BFTS resumed last month in Biloxi.
Harris now hopes to continue to throw his own deathly uppercut and try to rally himself into contention.
“This time of year every bull is important,” he said. “That will make you bear down. If it doesn’t, shoot you need to stay home. I have been around forever and I kind of have learned how to be in these positions like this where I have to focus on the now and not worry about what can be.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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