ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Kasey Hayes and Neil Holmes will be taking different paths at the conclusion of this weekend’s Cooper Tires Take The Money and Ride Built Ford Tough Series event at the PPL Center.
Hayes is ranked 16th in the world and is on pace to qualify for the Built Ford Tough World Finals for the first time since 2007, while Holmes is using his last Built Ford Tough Series event exemption in the season’s final regular-season event and will be heading back to Houston.
Both riders could easily have decided to take things off this weekend following their respective injuries during the second half of the season.
Hayes returned to the BFTS last week after missing four events because of a fractured jaw, and Holmes competed in Biloxi, Mississippi, with his partially amputated right small finger wrapped up and stitches still in his left ear after being thrown from Ranga in the second round of the Kawasaki Strong Battle at the Bay two weeks ago.
Hayes already had clinched a spot for the Built Ford Tough World Finals and Holmes is mathematically eliminated from qualifying, so why bother attempting to ride and risk further injury?
“I am back just because I want to be getting on bulls before the Finals and want to be on top of my game,” Hayes said. “I just know I will be going to the Finals getting on the rankest bulls in the world and haven’t been on anything.”
Holmes said, “That is really all I have. Most of these guys are either trying to make the Finals or win a world title. I am just here to ride bulls and no matter what I do it is not going to affect much.”
Upper Deck awaits Hayes in Round 1 on Friday night at the PPL Center and Holmes will take on Get Western.
Hayes decided to nod his head in Biloxi even though he had been given makeshift braces consisting of eight anchors and rubber bands to wear two weeks ago in hopes of helping his fractured jaw heal – which he received compliments of Margy Time in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
The anchors make it hard for Hayes to talk, but he has adjusted to wearing them.
“When I first got them in my gums were really sore, but then after several days of brushing my teeth and hydrogen peroxide and mouthwash I think they are finally calloused out and feeling good now,” he said. “It wasn’t healing quite as quick as they thought it would. My fault for probably not eating soft enough food, or moving it or jumping on a trampoline with my kid.”
Holmes’ left ear still showed the remnants of the damage he received in Oakland. More visible was the massive hand wrap Holmes had protecting his finger on his free arm.
The 28-year-old explained that it doesn’t bother him to much minus when he is leaving the chute with his hand holding the out gate.
“I am kind of squeezing that gate so it is just for a split second,” he said. “I am not spending too much time in there. Once I even put my rope on it I don’t even think about it too much.”
The injuries Holmes sustained in Oakland did not slow the first-time BFTS rider one bit last weekend. He posted two rides for the second time in three events by covering Easy Money for 85.25 points and Floyd the Barber for 80.25 points.
In three BFTS events, Holmes has gone 5-of-8 for an average ride score of 83.55 points.
Hayes said his jaw felt fine last week despite being bucked off by Wagon Wheel and Snapshot. The 29-year-old’s attempt on Snapshot in the second round went to the 6.1-second mark.
He will just have to deal with the injury until after the season.
“It is just one of those deals where it’s going to keep hurting and I just have to bear down,” Hayes said.
Depending on what happens this weekend, Hayes could potentially be competing in next weekend’s Monster Energy Bulls on the Beach 15/15 Bucking Battle in Huntington Beach, California.
However, between now and the Finals, his main priority is just to get his timing down, covering bulls so that when he arrives in Las Vegas he will be ready to make a push for the World Finals event title.
“That is all I want to do is just ride my bulls,” Hayes said. “Just to cover as many bulls as I can.”
The 2014 Finals may not be in the cards for him, but Holmes is focused on the same immediate goal as Hayes.
“I just want to have fun and ride every bull I can,” Holmes said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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