By: Justin Felisko September 06, 2014@ 01:00:00 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Friday night at Bridgestone Arena was another reminder of how close the 2014 world title race is shaping up to be.
Four of the five riders in the Top 5 of the world standings – Guilherme Marchi, Fabiano Vieira, Mike Lee and Silvano Alves – all converted successful 8-second rides in Round 1 of the Jack Daniel’s Invitational and are in position to earn a potential event win this weekend.
Joao Ricardo Vieira, who began the weekend in the No. 1 spot of the world, was bucked off by Big Kahuna in 2.94 seconds and Marchi rode Blues Man for 86 points to slip into the top position aboard the world standings by a slim 120.31 points.
“I am going to try so hard to win this title,” Marchi said. “I really want to, but we know these are the best bull riders here and everyone is riding so good. I am happy to cover that bull today. I’ve got another good bull on (Saturday). I just want to make some points and get it done this week.”
Fabiano Vieira (87.75 points), Lee (81.25) and Alves (79.5) also all covered their respective first-round bulls to gain a small bit of ground in the world standings, which features the Top 5 riders all separated by less than 1,000 points.
Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes won the 2000 Nashville BFTS event and is in town this weekend. He said it is so hard to predict what is going to happen over the final five regular-season events, a special 15/15 Bucking Battle in Huntington Beach, California and the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
“It’s been hard to try to figure out who is going to win,” Moraes said. “To say well Joao or Guilherme (would be OK), but I still bet on Silvano. Silvano is still less than 1,000 points behind. But, you also have to remember that Mike Lee is in the race. When Mike’s head is straight and his mind is into bull riding, he is capable of winning the title at any time.
“I think it is now a wait and see.”
While the 2013 title race eventually became a two-headed bout between Alves and J.B. Mauney, the 2014 version may end up featuring multiple riders.
Right now, it is easily anyone’s game heading down the final stretch of the season.
Alves, who is 2-of-6 to start the second half, has been a familiar face atop the standings since winning his first title in 2011 and Moraes says that there is no denying that Alves will be right there within striking distance come Finals.
“He is kind of cold. He never panics,” Moraes said. “He just keeps up with his own game. It doesn’t matter, whatever they say, it is his strategy and it is working. He is figuring if he rides most of his bulls he is going to win something.
“If I had to put my money on somebody, I would put it on him.”
Joao Ricardo Vieira was the only contender not to have success in Round 1, and Moraes touched on the 30-year-old’s struggles with riding bulls away from his hand. Moraes called the failures a result of a timing issue.
“He still hasn’t (adjusted) to the speed here,” Moraes said. “Into his hand, he is relying on his inside leg and strong arm, but away from his hand it is pure balance and speed because bulls here are very fast.”
Moraes then added that the championship round draft has helped the 2013 Rookie of the Year stay in the hunt for his first World Championship.
“Now with the draft, you pick the right bulls and I think that is why he is able off to be in the position he is in,” he explained. “He is young enough and tough enough and he will adapt even more.”
Once again, Round 1 presented another glimpse of the unpredictable Fabiano Vieira. The 31-year-old is still contending with his unstable right shoulder and came through with the second-best ride Friday night with 87.75 points on C-Note.
It was a week after he had to drop out of the Thackerville, Oklahoma, BFTS event’s championship round because of the injury.
Fabiano did explain before climbing aboard C-Note that the pain had subdued to a three on a scale of 1 to 10 after last week stating his shoulder was hurting around a seven.
“Oh it is working for him so far,” Moraes said. “I just want to see how long it is going to work.”
Moraes, like many others in the sport, has admired Fabiano’s toughness, but he wishes that some riders would understand sometimes fighting through an injury can make matters worse.
“He is very tough. Sometimes I admire and sometimes I criticize them when they are too tough,” Moraes said. “Sometimes they don’t realize how hurt they are and make matters worse.”
Then, of course, there is the rider who had been atop the world standings 12 times in 2014 before reclaiming the top position on Friday.
“Guilherme has always been one of the best riders we have had,” Moraes said. “He is more consistent than most guys. The last several years have been very turbulent for him in every aspect of life. I think now, everything is back on track. He is showing off that he is mentally (better) and all the other aspects of his life are better now and that reflects in his riding.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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