It's the day rodeo contestants have been dreaming about, some since they were kids. Showdown Sunday at the Calgary Stampede is rodeo's richest afternoon. They'll be handing out oversized cheques to the winners, along with the coveted Stampede bronzes.
First pays $100,000 and in the rodeo world, that's huge. Cowboys say bar none, it's the most they can win in a single day. Sure, if you make it to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and get on a roll, you can make a hundred grand. But only a few do.
They start Sunday's action with the ten best from the previous nine days. All begin on equal footing. They've brought in the A-pen of horses and bulls, to give everyone a fair shot. From there, the four best times and scores go on to the Showdown, to meet the Super-A stock, and go for the biggest bucks of all.
Everyone who buys a lottery ticket spends a little time dreaming what they'd do with $100,000. These sixty contestants now have much better odds of needing to figure that out for real. Some use that as a motivator, others would rather not focus on it.
In preparation for Sunday's Prime Time Showdown show on CBC, I've had the privilege this week of interviewing quite a few of the contenders. I've asked them about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and what it would mean to them.
Several have already tasted the riches. Cody DeMoss won the saddle bronc riding a year ago. He declared on stage it was going for a house, and that's exactly what he did. He and his wife built a cedar home in Heflin, Louisiana, and he said the money enabled them to really get a leg up on life.
What would he do with another sum like that? Probably pay off the mortgage on the rest of the house, he figured.
Cody Wright put his money from the Stampede in 2006 into 75 yearlings, to build up his cattle herd.
Davey Shields has won the Stampede jackpot in bareback riding for the last three years in a row. He bought a boat in 2005 that he named Grated Coconut, in honor of the great horse that helped him earn the win, and his place in the record books with a 95 point ride.
Last year, he talked on Showdown Sunday, that a Harley might be a good thing to spend some money on. But he's had second thoughts on that, and now the motor has gone in his boat. So he might be needing to replace that if he were able to win again.
Barrel racer Deb Renger spent hers on a trailer to help her get down the road. Bull riding champ Brian Canter says he hasn't used all his yet.
With the exception of the barrel racer, who had horse problems and didn't even come to Calgary this year, all of the 2007 champions are back to try again this Showdown Sunday. I often hear talk about the skill of 'knowing how to win', and that group certainly has an advantage there.
It's hard for us to imagine the pressure that can build up when you think of eight seconds of effort being rewarded with $100,000. That can begin to work on your mind, and so experience in previous pressure cookers will definitely be an advantage.
An awesome payoff
That's why bareback rider Russ Hallaby told me he wouldn't even say what he'd do with such an awesome payoff. He worried it might play on his mind too much and be a central focus, instead of the horses he had to ride. But he's getting married two days after the Stampede, so you can imagine his fiance may be doing a little dreaming for the both of them.
Likewise, barrel racer Lisa Lockhart was reluctant to ponder the possibility too, too much, although she knew plenty of bills demanding attention at home.
Bull rider Chad Besplug would pay off his education, and use it to do some travelling to places off the beaten path.
Tie-down roper Stran Smith said if he won the $100,000, he'd still be at another rodeo Monday morning, probably in Nampa, Idaho. He said his family's life wouldn't change that much, but they'd do their best to put the cash into circulation again.
For others, it would go towards land, or a place to call their own. All acknowledge it's a sizeable amount of cash that would definitely make a difference in their future.
The best part of Million Dollar Sunday at the Calgary Stampede is that really, there are no losers. While only one competitor in each event walks away with $100,000; second place pays $25,000, third is $15,000, fourth is $10,000 and finishing fifth through tenth place nets semi-finalists a $3200 payday.
Given that fact, it's still edge of your seat excitement to see who will ride to the top and have the mental fortitude, physical ability and drive to make them rise above the best and grasp that golden ring. It's all part of the drama of Showdown Sunday on a sunny Calgary afternoon.
BEHIND THE CHUTES: Wild Card Saturday at the Stampede lived up to its name. In the tournament format, any of the competitors who hadn't managed to grab a spot through their pools earlier in the week came back. That means twelve contestants had one more chance to qualify for Sunday, by being one of the two best in each event Saturday.
That led to one of the fastest rounds of tie-down roping even veteran rodeo fans had seen, maybe ever. Among the twelve, there were nine runs made in under eight seconds! Each time a cowboy would think he'd made the cut by speeding things up, he'd be defeated by the roper following him. It all came down to the last roper of the day, the season's hot hand, Josh Peek of Pueblo, Colorado. The young gun thrives on pressure like that, and he came out and roped clean in 6.6 seconds, just a tenth off the arena record.
Remember Dusty LaValley who I introduced you to earlier in the week? He'd made some money in Calgary, but the Canadian bareback riding champ came up just shy of qualifying through his pool. However, he came back Saturday to ride a U.S. horse called Cajun Queen to 85 points, which was enough to place him second, and get him one step closer to a very successful Stampede.
Several cowboys will be gritting it out in the pain department as they take their opportunity to earn bonus cash at Calgary. Bull rider Beau Hill has a very sore groin, while Ryan Gray was having the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team check an MRI on his sore knee, to see if he could continue riding.
The hard luck award for the Stampede has to go to bronc rider Jesse Bail. He had to get on numerous re-rides through the week, including Saturday. When all was said and done, he was one and a half points shy of qualifying. And he rode all week with a broken toe!
Dianne Finstad is an agricultural and rodeo broadcaster in Red Deer, Alberta. She grew up near the Montana border in southern Alberta where her family’s been ranching for a century. Her western background and 4-H experience led her to a broadcasting career, which has included more than 25 years of covering pro rodeo for television, print, radio and now through this blog, the internet!)