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A bull called Outlaw leaps out of the rodeo chutes with Steven Turner of Cochrane, Alta., during action at the Calgary Stampede on July 9, 2004. ((Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press))

Fewer cowboys will be competing at this year's Calgary Stampede, prompting some grumbles at an Alberta rodeo over the weekend.

The Stampede is less than two weeks away and for the first time, rodeo organizers have set up new qualifying rules.

Each of the six events at this year's rodeo will have a top prize of $100,000, up from $50,000. But there will be fewer cowboys competing for that money. Only 120 cowboys and cowgirls will rope, wrestle or ride, compared to more than 330 last year.

At a rodeo in High River this weekend, some cowboys worried the change would mean fewer Canadians competing in Calgary this year.

Lance Mulvahill missed the cut for saddle bronco at the Stampede.He said having fewer Canadians in Canada's biggest rodeo is bad for the sport and bad for the industry that supports it.

"The beef industry has kind of taken a pretty good kicking from the Americans and a lot of our fan base are rancher-based people and it's a bit of a slap in the face," said Mulvahill.

'Very elite group of athletes'

The Calgary Stampede insists that the percentage of Canadians participating has gone up from 22 per cent in previous years to 32 per cent this year.

Rodeo manager Robin Burwash said the new qualifying rules will make the rodeo more exciting for fans.

"You are going to have a very elite group of athletes go every day," he said.

Rod Warren, who qualified in bronco riding, said most cowboys understand the new rules and need the extra prize money.

"Each day, we are going to be riding for good money and you can't worry about next year. You just have to try and win it this year," he said.

The new rules mean only 20 people will be participating in each event.

For most events, the top five cowboys on the Canadian circuit will make it to Calgary. They'll be joined bythe top 10 in the National Finals Rodeo in the U.S. ranks. Another four are selected by a Calgary Stampede committee and the fifth is selected from Rodeo Royal, Calgary's spring stampede.

While the National Finals Rodeo is held in the U.S., Calgary Stampede officials point out that Canadians can still participate.

Saddle bronco rider Scott Bresee won't be riding for the big money at the Stampede, even though he finished sixth in the Canadian professional standings.

"I think they got a little crazy," Bresee said.

The 94th Calgary Stampede runs July 7 to 16.