Salt Lake City is the center of the rodeo world at the moment.
Well, sort of, anyway.The Days of '47 Rodeo is certainly one of the tour's biggest, but it coincides with a handful of other top rodeos that make July the biggest money month on the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association Tour.
With that in mind, nearly all of the world's top cowboys will make stops in the Delta Center over the next several days. One of the two biggest names in the sport showed up Friday as the Pioneer Days rodeo began its eight-day run.
1997 World Champion All-Around Cowboy Dan Mortensen was on hand for the rodeo's first night of action and didn't disappoint any of the sparse crowd with his performance.
After a scary beginning, Mortensen rode Big Mary to an impressive win that left the Delta Center crowd on its feet.
"It was a little bit spooky right there at the beginning. Right off, she reared out of there and hopped on top of the gate," Mortensen said. "On that first jump out of the gate she got tied up and my leg got stuck. It lifted my whole body out of the saddle."
Mortensen quickly settled back into place and put on a masterful performance that earned him a score of 81. His nearest competitor, Mike Outhier, finished with a 74 to finish second in the day's round.
With rodeo cowboys being more of a fraternity than a group of opponents, Mortensen and Outhier quickly found spots next to each other on the rails surrounding the starting gates. Outhier - this year's leading money winner among tour rookies - was eager to get any extra help he could from the nine-year pro. "We talked a little," Mortensen said. "But mostly I think we just talked about the other horses."
With more participants than slots, Thursday saw several cowboys fill what are called the `slack.' With those scores factored into the overall standings, the cowboys and cowgirls have a good idea of what kind of scores and times will be needed to cash the winner's check.
Jim Bob Mayes completed his two runs with a combined time of 8.3 seconds. Marty Wells stood in second at 8.5 seconds.
Jamie Richards held the early lead in barrel racing at 13.46 seconds, while Lisa Lockhart and Gail Hillman trailed at 13.66 and 13.71 respectively. Riverton native Vickie Solmonson is currently in fifth with a 13.84 time.
Team roping saw Tee Woolman and Tyler Magnus take the early lead with a time of 4.5 seconds. Utahns Brian Winn and Brian Roundy had Friday's best time at 5.6. Standing in seventh were J.B. Barlow and Brett Sidoway from Washington and Hooper, Utah.
The few fans that managed to get out of the sweltering heat and into the air-conditioned arena got what they wanted when the bulls came out. Only two of 12 bull riders completed their eight-second thrill ride. Ray Wessel led with a 75 score while Bo Alameda registered a 68.
Riverton's Shane Bennett had the best run of the night in Steer Wrestling. His 4.1 second time would have been enough to put him near the lead had it not been for penalty for jumping the gun. The 10-second addition to his time will likely keep him out of the big money.
In addition to the normal rodeo action, the crowd was entertained by the ever-popular acts of the clowns and an impressive display put on by a trained buffalo.
With the first day of action out of the way, the cowboys will look to the next stop on the road. Mortensen, for example, was in Salinas, Calif., Thursday and Nampa, Idaho, Wednesday. Tomorrow the tour takes him to Manitoba and eventually to the Cheyenne Frontier Days.
"That's part of the sport," Mortensen said. "Riding is just a part of the sport. You also have to be able to handle all the hours between rodeos."
That whirlwind of rodeo action will bring cowboy legend Ty Murray - the current leader in the all-around cowboy standings - to Salt Lake City Thursday.