By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Ky Hamilton was mentally preparing for his run at the 2020 PRCA bull riding championship during the upcoming Wrangler National Finals Rodeo when his cell phone went off.
Hamilton looked down and saw the 719 area code on the screen, and recognized the number was that of the PBR’s competition department. The PBR was calling to inform the 20-year-old from Mackay, Australia, that he had received a spot for the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals on Nov. 6-7 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
A surprised Hamilton, who is ranked 39th in the Velocity Tour, quickly accepted his spot.
Now the No. 2-ranked bull rider in the PRCA, who flashed his potential in front of PBR fans at the Monster Energy Team Challenge, has a chance at making a last-minute push for the World Finals.
Hamilton knows his easiest path to the World Finals and AT&T Stadium on Nov. 12-15 in Arlington, Texas, is to simply place in the top two at the Velocity Tour Finals this coming weekend in Sioux Falls and earn one of four wild card berths up for grabs for the World Finals.
Hamilton said he is not going to overthink what is at stake when he walks into the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center on Friday afternoon.
The reality is that Hamilton wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to qualify for the World Finals this year after deciding earlier in the year to college rodeo and focus on making his first NFR. Hamilton only competed in five Velocity Tour events amidst the COVID-19 pandemic severely altering the PBR’s non-Unleash The Beast schedule.
“Well, I feel like it is kind of easy for me (to not think about pressure) just because I never really set out to try to make the PBR World Finals this year,” Hamilton said. “I just kind of treat it like any other bull riding. I plan on going there and staying on everything I get on. If I do that, well, I’ve got a pretty good shot at winning it or doing good enough to make the PBR Finals. I am just treating it like any other bull riding. I plan on going there and staying on everything. It is not worrying me a whole lot.”
The unexpected phone call with the draw spot for Sioux Falls was the latest twist and turn for Hamilton in the past month.
There were moments when Hamilton, who moved to the United States in the summer of 2018, thought he was in a great position to qualify for his first PBR Finals, and other times where he figured he had blown his chances.
“When I won second at that Velocity Tour event in Casper (on Oct. 3), I went from having no points in the standings to 76th in the world,” Hamilton said. “I was like 31st in the Velocity Standings, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I could make the World Finals this year.’ Then I had no luck (0-for-3) at them last two (Velocity) events and I was like, ‘Oh hell, it is probably over with now.’
“Then I was told I have spot at the Velocity Finals, and I found out if you win first or second there you go to the World Finals, so the hope kind of set back in again.”
There are four wild card berths for the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium up for grabs at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center for riders that fail to finish the regular season inside the Top 35 of active/eligible riders in the world standings.
The top two riders in the Velocity Tour standings following the Velocity Tour Finals who have not qualified for the PBR World Finals earn automatic bids to the World Finals.
There will also be two more wild card World Finals bids available at the Velocity Tour Finals that will be awarded to the top two riders in the event average standings that have not yet qualified for the World Finals. In the event that all Top-5 finishers in the event average have already qualified for the World Finals, then the final two qualifiers will come from the Velocity Tour standings instead.
Hamilton will head into the Velocity Tour Finals ranked 87th in the world standings, but he is one of the most talented up-and-coming riders in the sport and could certainly earn one of the four wild card spots.
“With the NFR coming up, I have just been worrying about that,” Hamilton said, “and I went to them few Velocity events to get some points for next year so I could get into them (2021 events), and it turns out that I could make the World Finals this year.”
2016 World Champion Cooper Davis named Hamilton to his Team Ariat squad at the METC, and Hamilton went 5-for-15, including a 90.75-point ride on Spotted Demon.
Hamilton may become the first Australian bull rider to win a PRCA World Championship bull riding title next month. He is only $2,887.87 behind six-time and reigning PRCA champion Sage Kimzey in the PRCA standings. Hamilton has won five rodeos in 2020 and is 41-for-90 (45.56%) on the rodeo trail.
“It would be cool to make them younger guys at home (in Australia) realize it can be done,” Hamilton said. “If you work hard enough, and you want it bad enough, you can do it.”
Kimzey, coincidentally, earned his only PBR World Finals qualification by winning the 2017 Velocity Tour Finals event average three years ago.
If Hamilton can win the Velocity Tour Finals and qualify for the World Finals, he could join Boudreaux Campbell as another bull rider who has qualified for both the World Finals and the NFR this season.
A victory at the Velocity Tour Finals would also make Hamilton the first Australian to win the Velocity Tour Finals.
“To be able to make both of them Finals in one year would be pretty cool,” Hamilton said. “To ride for that kind of money at the PBR World Finals and get on those really good bulls before the NFR would be a big feather in my hat, getting that experience right before I go to the NFR. To be able to do that would definitely help me light up the rest of the year.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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