By: Kristian Limas
June 02, 2016
PUEBLO, Co. – If you call any hotel in and around Vinita, Oklahoma, right now looking for a hotel room this weekend you will be answered with a polite chuckle. When word gets around that local stock contractor Gene Owen will be holding a bull riding event in town, and raises the stakes by challenging reigning PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney to a $25,000 bounty match against Wicked, pretty much the whole world wants to come and see.
So the little town outside Tulsa, which is home to just a hair over 5,000 people, will be the center of the bull riding universe Saturday night as the Hometown Dodge PBR Touring Pro Division event will take over the local VFW arena.
“The ticket sales are good, the weather looks like it’s going to be good,” Owen said.
The marquee matchup between Wicked (7-2 BFTS) and Mauney was also the kind of hook that stirred a frenzy in town when word got out.
“Jimmy (Roth), my partner, he’ll gamble a little bit on a football game for fun so I called him on my way to New York with the bulls and I said ‘what’s the biggest bet you ever made on a football game?’ and he said $25,000,” Owen said before presenting his own challenge. “I said ‘well challenge J.B. to a match for $25,000’ and it took him about 15 seconds.”
Considering how early in the season Owen began the event planning, and the always hectic PBR schedule, he appreciated the World Champion sticking to his word.
“J.B. had already made a commitment to us,” Owen said. “I have the utmost respect for a man in this world today who will tell you something and shake your hand and stand by it. Everybody in the world would want him at their event.”
As for his opponent, Owen notes that Wicked has been looking good and making his own preparations.
“Wicked we’ve been exercising him and it’s kind of a funny story, the cows down the road it’s that time of year,” Owen said. “We spent about two hours just trying to get him back to his pen.”
Though he joked about the distraction Owen knows his headlining bull will be ready for his match up with the World Champion. Owen believes that being in Vinita will give Wicked a home-field advantage, especially considering he won’t be travelling far from home.
“You know you’re only as good as your last out,” Owen said. “He had an ok trip in Vegas, not his best, but he’s been home since then and he’s only eight miles from home. That makes a difference compared to hauling him 1,300 miles.”
The event in Vinita is the kickoff of the summer season for Owen and his team, and it’s a different kind of summer considering how his much his roster has grown compared to past seasons. With the help of his partner, Jimmy Roth, Owen intends to use the break to buck at various events through the summer months.
“My partner, Jimmy Roth, just a few weeks back bought in, and we had talked for about two years about getting onto somebody’s PRCA card so we could take some bulls to some rodeos,” Owen said. “With Jimmy, when he does something he jumps in %100. He didn’t just go and buy %2 of somebody’s card so he could take some bulls and buck them, he bought half the interests of Stace Smith Pro Rodeo which I think, of the last 12 years, they’ve been Stock Contractor of the Year for 11 so Jimmy went straight to the top and bought into a big rodeo company.”
It was a godsend for Owen, who remarked that in past years it was tough to get his bulls to the amount of events he’d have liked due to costs. With the help of Roth and his investment in the rodeo company the pair can more easily get their bulls some work and season the younger members of their roster.
“We’re going take a pot load of bulls, which can be 24 or 25 bulls, to Cheyenne (Wyoming) and Ogden, Utah,” Owen said. “We have some rodeos that we can buck a lot more bulls. We’ve got around 60 bulls here right now and they’ll give them all a job this summer and it gives us a chance to season some bulls that we haven’t taken to Built Ford Toughs.”
Like any good manager, though, he realizes his more seasoned veterans like Wicked, Cochise and Little Red Jacket are better served with some rest before the second half of the season.
“Wicked and Little Red Jacket and some of those won’t go to the rodeos,” Owen said. “Wicked is eight years old so he needs time off more than he needs time on. Those older, solid bulls won’t go to rodeos but we’ll have 40-50 that will.”
The work never stops for Owen, and if you ask him about his roster it’s hard to differentiate him from the General Manager of a major league team. He especially loves talking about the new can’t-miss prospect he acquired last winter that goes by the name Kill The Lights.
“We bought him out of Canada last winter and I had never seen him except for some videos,” Owen said. “But (PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert) took him to the PBR Finals last year, and the first time he was out he had J.W. Harris and they marked him a 46 and he just shipwrecked him.”
Owen knows he has something special and is excited about what Kill The Lights can become with just a little more seasoning.
“We’ve bucked him six or eight times just in the last few months and every time we’ve bucked him he has gotten better,” Owen said. “We sent him to another event a few weeks ago and he was the high-marked bull. They rode him 6-7 seconds and he was the high-marked bull. If they rode him for 2 seconds and he was the high-marked bull it wouldn’t have meant anything but at 6 or 7 seconds when the guy is still on him and he’s still bucking that was a real good sign for us. Hopefully we get him lined out for some work because he is a rank bull.”
Along with raving about what he has in the pipeline, Owen has also kept a watchful eye on the bulls that are on the cusp of reaching the next level. He hopes to develop more short-round quality bulls and believes the extra work this summer will work wonders.
“Some of those bulls like Buckle Up and Moto Moto that aren’t quite short round bulls all the time, what it does is it seasons them and it gives them some experience and it kind of builds their confidence,” Owen said. “They’re just like any other athlete, they got to practice or basically scrimmage and they got to go through the game to get better and stay tuned up.”
So while Vinita, Oklahoma, doesn’t quite have the bright lights of Las Vegas or Nashville, if you can find a room in town this weekend you should consider yourself lucky. You could just be watching the beginning of something special.
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