By: Justin Felisko June 26, 2014@ 05:00:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― Julio Moreno won an endless amount of team roping competitions in the late 1970s and 1980s as one of the top headers in Western sports. He qualified for 11 consecutive National Finals Rodeos (1975-85) and came oh-so close to winning a World Championship in 1978 with his best friend and fellow Bakersfield, California, native Dennis Watkins.
However, there is a special gold buckle that remains missing from Moreno’s collection: The current PBR stock contractor and Golden State product never finished in first place at the California Salinas Rodeo.
“That was one of my favorite rodeos to compete in,” Moreno said. “They give one of the prettiest buckles that is made in the world. It is a beautiful gold buckle. I always wanted it. In team roping, I was the high-man coming back into Sunday afternoon at least four times and never did win one.”
Things just never seemed to go right for Moreno and his teammates at the historic four-day rodeo. According to Moreno, one example came in 1980 when he was caught in a big wreck with him and Jerold Camarillo holding a slight lead. Moreno made a wonderful catch of the steer, but his horse fell into a hole in the arena caused by barrel races earlier in the day.
Moreno continued to compete at Salinas until 2011, but he could never finally win that esteemed buckle.
He may not be competing as a roper in the 104th edition of the annual rodeo this year, but he will get a chance at a symbolic victory when his prized possession and two-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker bucks during the Touring Pro Division event on July 16. Fans can watch the PBR bull riding event exclusively on PBR LIVE.
“Now I have a chance to take Bushwacker there as the top bull coming into this bull riding,” Moreno said. “That seems like that is my buckle right there. It’s going to be an awesome feeling to have Bushwacker there to buck.”
Currently, Bushwacker is scheduled to be the final out of the short round.
Moreno will also have some special company with him as he is loading Bushwacker into the chutes at the Salinas Sports Complex. Watkins, Moreno’s partner in 1978-79 at the Salinas rodeo, has already made plans to make the 200-mile drive north from Bakersfield to watch the PBR’s top bovine athlete.
Watkins, who is three years younger than Moreno, has known him since he was 13 years old and spent four years competing with his longtime friend professionally. Even after they split up as teammates, the two remained close and still talk on a frequent basis to this day.
Plenty of their conversations are about Bushwacker.
“I just love it. I love watching it and watching his bulls go,” Watkins said. “I just love Bushwacker’s demeanor. He is like a true athlete. He just stands there and mentally gets ready. He knows physically what he can do and can’t do. He has a gameplan.”
Watkins, who refers to Moreno as Big J, finally got to see Bushwacker buck in person during the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Fresno, California, this past March. He wasn’t disappointed either as the talented bovine made quick work of L.J. Jenkins in 1.45 seconds.
Just as he had seen so many times on TV, Watkins looked on as Bushwacker slipped Jenkins off his back and quickly headed back towards the chutes. Watkins saw it all. He saw Bushwacker’s demeanor. His poise. His calmness.
Watkins even believes that Bushwacker simply knows it is time to get to work when he arrives at the arena. It is similar to how he and Moreno’s horses knew they were getting ready to compete in the late ‘70s.
“Just like roping horses – the really good ones – they know,” Watkins said. “Those horses know when we are fixing to compete at a high level and they know when you are just detoxing them. They feel that hype and what is fixing to come.”
When the two competed at Salinas, according to Watkins, many people would recognize it was the two Bakersfield boys by their horses, Six Pack and Banner. Moreno’s Six Pack was a chocolate brown horse and Watkin’s Banner had a big gray face.
Watkins sees a similar genuine care that Moreno displays toward Bushwacker that he always showed his horses.
“Julio loves that bull just like he loved his horses,” Watkins said. “Those (bulls) are his babies. He will do anything for them. He is proud of them and wants nothing but the best for them.”
Neither of the two ropers ever rode bulls, but Moreno says they both draw off their experiences with horses in many of their conversations about Bushwacker.
Watkins predicted to Moreno in 2012 that Bushwacker may get ridden in his first out back at the Iron Cowboy following a procedure to remove bone fragments from the fetlock joint in both his back right and left legs. His theory was that just as their roping horses needed time to get their timing back in the arena after an extended period of time off, so too did Bushwacker.
He knew the bull would buck, but would his timing be strong enough?
However, following that out, Bushwacker’s timing returned and no rider would reach the seven-second mark until Mauney broke Bushwacker’s PBR record buckoff streak in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last August with a 95.25-point ride.
Bushwacker has since recorded 16 consecutive buckoffs after Mauney did the unthinkable. One rider will get the opportunity to replicate history in a little less than three weeks.
“It’s going to be awesome for him,” Watkins said. “Julio can get pretty sentimental sometimes. More so then he will let on. It’s going to mean a lot to him.”
Moreno expects the grandstands in Salinas to be packed and that it will be just as loud as it was when he competed on Sunday afternoons.
“You could hear the thunder roar like being at a PBR,” Moreno said. “The noise and everything was so close, but from far away you could hear them around that race track.”
“Just talking about it now, I am getting the chills and goosebumps.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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