By: Justin Felisko
LAS VEGAS – Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger wiped his forehead and let out big sigh of relief.
Berger was still watching the replay of Smooth Operator’s 6.99-second buckoff of Dylan Smith when he heard Smooth Operator’s bull score get announced to the crowd inside T-Mobile Arena.
The Mandan, North Dakota, native pumped his fist into the air.
Berger could not ask for much more from the No. 1 bull in the YETI World Champion Bull race.
Smooth Operator increased his World Championship bull average to 45.89 points during Round 2 of the 2019 PBR World Finals Thursday at T-Mobile Arena, moving one step closer to delivering Berger his first World Champion Bull since he was part-owner of Code Blue (2009).
“I was tickled to death to come out here like we did,” Berger said. “Smooth Operator made a statement and Smooth Wreck (45.5 points for bucking off Keyshawn Whitehorse in 3.92 seconds) made a statement today. They both really bucked. I am really happy.”
The 2019 YETI World Champion Bull will be the bull with the highest average bull score from their top eight regular-season outs and two outs at the PBR World Finals.
Smooth Operator’s impressive regular season has him in the driver’s seat for the 2019 World Championship. The 9-year-old essentially just needs to get out of the chute cleanly and be his normal self and the championship will be his.
That does not make things any more relaxing for Berger, though.
“It is a lot of pressure,” Berger said. “I take pressure real well and I have been around this thing for a long time. But I want this so bad. I have had more success than any one man should have, but I have partners and that bull deserves it.”
Smooth Operator has been marked 46 or more points six times this season, and Berger gave credit to the 19-year-old rookie for giving it everything he had.
“He had a very good out and that little guy helped me, really,” Berger said. “He tried to ride him and that bull got stronger. Everything worked out in my favor for a change. I am happy with the score. Everything went good.”
Smith – the youngest competitor at the Finals – believes he will gain confidence from the buckoff.
“That is probably the rankest bull I have ever been on,” he said. “If I would go out there and ride like that every single time, nothing can throw me off. Being here at the World Finals made me realize this is where I belong, especially that. I have been trying a lot to show this is where I deserve to be because I have been getting on the rankest bulls that I have ever been on before. I feel like tonight is a sign I can ride anything out there, if I can take the No. 1 bull in the world that far.”
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert believes Smooth Operator benefitted from Smith’s effort as well.
“Smooth Operator helped his cause and Dylan really tried him,” Lambert said. “That was a good deal all the way around. Justin (McBride) and I talked before, and Justin was saying it is going to look good for Smooth Operator no matter whether he rides him or he almost rides him because he is going to try him so hard.”
Heartbreak Kid moved to No. 2 in the YETI World Champion Bull race with an event-best 46.5-point score for bucking off Lucas Divino in 1.32 seconds.
The 6-year-old increased his World Champion Bull average to 45.67 points ahead of Championship Sunday.
“I needed all I can get, but that is a good start,” H.D. Page of D&H Cattle Company said. “That narrowed the gap by a quarter.”
Heartbreak Kid was making his fourth appearance of the season out of the left-handed delivery, and he notched his first buckoff since Jess Lockwood rode him in back-to-back outs for 93.75 and 94 points.
Page said it was good to see Heartbreak Kid get back on the buckoff side of things.
“Being on the right-hand delivery for his whole career, pretty much, and I moved him to the left and he got by the first guy handily and then Lockwood rode him the last two times,” he said. “I don’t care how great they are, those bulls know if they get beat. So for him to come back and buck that hard after getting whipped two times in a row speaks volumes of him.
“I didn’t expect him to not have a good day, but it was nice to see it. We will go into the next round with a little more confidence. At least I am, anyway.”
The 2019 YETI World Championship will be decided Sunday during the championship round of the PBR World Finals.
“Smooth Operator showed what he can do,” Lambert said. “I think he will win it. He is so close that something weird will have to happen for him to lose.”
Berger hopes Smooth Operator’s incredible 2019 season ends with that $100,000 World Championship and that things go smoothly inside T-Mobile Arena.
“That bull is like my kid, and for him to win it would mean the world for me,” Berger said. “That is what I hope: we come out Sunday and get it done.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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