Top-ranked Kruse excited about Champions Ride
Jesse Kruse may be the luckiest man in professional rodeo -- at least that's what he thinks this season has been all about.
The Great Falls, Mont., cowboy is the runaway leader in the PRCA saddle bronc riding money earnings, having accumulated $101,503 this season and no other bronc rider has even come close to catch Kruse.
"I've just been getting lucky, drawing really good and just have been able to ride good so far," Kruse said.
Kruse is beating South Dakotan Bryce Miller by about $24,000 and is more than $37,000 ahead of the rest of the field.
While the 23-year-old has a dozen wins to his credit this season, he'll likely be going against the stiffest competition he's faced yet on Sunday when he comes to the Champions Ride Match at the Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte for the first time in his career.
The Champions Ride, in its 53rd year, pits some of the world's top bronc riders against each other for one day. Kruse said he's looking forward to competing there since the quality of bronc riders it draws is comparable to what he'll be going against at the National Finals Rodeo, an event he missed by a heartbreaking -- and unlucky -- set of circumstances last year.
"This would be pretty much exactly like the NFR with all these big guys coming up there," Kruse said.
Some of the cowboys committed to competing in this year's Champions Ride are defending world champion Cody Wright, Dickinson bronc riders Dusty Hausauer and Shaun Stroh and South Dakotans J.J. Elshere and Cody Taton, as well as several other cowboys ranked in the top 25 of the world standings.
Wright won last year's Champions Ride and went on to win the NFR.
Kruse missed the NFR by a clerical error -- one he admits was his own mistake. Last year, the PRCA limited cowboys to counting 70 pre-designated rodeos toward their season earnings. That number was increased to 100 this year.
Kruse, who had cracked the top 15 of the saddle bronc standings for the first time in his career late in the season, accidentally counted more than 70 official rodeos. He forgot to inform the PRCA that he would be attending some rodeos unofficially and was drawing out of others that ended up counting toward his season total.
Those unlucky errors meant that instead of being in Las Vegas in December, Kruse was home in the mountains watching the NFR on TV.
Now it seems Kruse's luck that helped him reach the top 15 last season is back.
"I've just been placing at almost everything I've gone to," Kruse said. "I think I'd rather have it that way instead of here and there. It seems like it happens faster that way."
North Dakota bronc riding legend and three-time world champion Brad Gjermundson, who is one of the organizers of the Champions Ride, said it has been exciting watching Kruse this season.
"When you're hot like that, those mediocre horses have good trips with you and have good trips with them because you're hot," Gjermundson said. "I remember those days. No matter what you did, it was right."
With a first-ever trip to the NFR all but set in stone, Kruse said he's taking the weeks as they come and hoping to stay healthy as he enters a week where he'll compete in a hometown rodeo -- the Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup in Great Falls begins today -- and trek to Idaho before ending up in the North Dakota Badlands for the Sunday afternoon showdown with some of the best in his sport.
While Kruse said he's anxious to see the competition, he's not concerning himself with how well he or they ride.
"I really don't look into that stuff too much," Kruse said. "I figure that either it'll play out like it needs to or it won't."
Healing Miller hopes to attend Champions Ride
Bryce Miller's season started off with a bang.
Lately, it has seemed more like the late rounds of a heavyweight fight.
The 29-year-old Buffalo, S.D., saddle bronc rider cashed in at Rodeo Houston in March when he scored an 85.5-point ride to win the rodeo's Super Series Shootout short round. The win earned Miller a $50,000 check.
Miller led the world standings until Kruse rocketed past him earlier this summer. Now he's standing solid in second place and trying to ride out the remainder of the summer and reach the NFR.
A nasty injury after being bucked at the Ponoka (Alberta) Stampede in late June didn't help those plans at all.
The bronc stepped on his head and neck, nearly tearing off his right ear and causing a bulging disc in his neck that lingers today.
"After that, I just haven't felt well," Miller said. "My neck's been pretty sore."
While he has an eventual week scheduled -- four rodeos over four days beginning today and ending Sunday at the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup -- Miller said Tuesday he hopes to make it to Sentinel Butte for the Champions Ride Match for the first time in his career.
"I've always wanted to make it up there," Miller said.
However, he doesn't want to aggravate any of his injuries, including a shoulder problem that returned after the incident, with going to too many rodeos in a row. However, he's confident he can cowboy up and power through.
"It's a tough time of year to be injured because we are so busy right now," Miller said. "I'm just riding through it. It shouldn't really affect my riding."