CHICAGO ― It's been 10 years since Billy Robinson last won a Built Ford Tough Series event.
However, the Galax, Va., native, who has been living in North Carolina, never forgot what it was like to stand atop the shark cage in Nashville, Tenn., when he won his first event back in 2003.
But after a decade of bouncing back and forth between the BFTS and the Touring Pro Division, he was glad to be reminded firsthand of what that feeling is like when he won the Chicago Invitational on Sunday evening at All State Arena.
With several riders smiling and cheering him on ― including Kody Lostroh, who congratulated him with a pat on the back ― the 33-year-old, 13-year veteran proudly accepted his buckle and then used the moment to thank his family for the continued support through the years.
"I never showed up not thinking I could," Robinson said. "I know I don't ride as good as a lot of these guys out here, but I never showed up not believing I had the talent or something to be up there.
"I believed I could do it and, I don't know, it just takes a lot. I have a lot of support from my family and they really stand behind me. And they're pushing me a lot this year, too, so I'm really trying to do my best and see what I can do."
Robinson said the Chicago win will go a long way toward earning one more trip to Las Vegas for the World Finals.
He said the motivation for the 2013 season came in October when he saw the disappointment in the eyes of his two sons when he just missed qualifying for the Finals. He finished the season ranked 38th.
Robinson made a valiant effort to earn a spot in Vegas by competing at the last two events of the regular season with a facial fracture sustained in Greensboro, N.C. He finished 10th in Philadelphia.
"I have two little boys at the house and they eat, dream and sleep bull riding," said Robinson, a married father of three. "All I see is them riding their little bulls around the house, bouncing, and I mean, they really look up to me a lot doing this stuff. When they sit at home and watch me do this, it's a lot to them and it means a lot to me.
"They're going back to Vegas at least one more time anyway."
So far this season, he's 4-for-6 at two BFTS events, including a 3-for-3 performance last weekend.
"I know I don't ride as good as a lot of these guys out here, but I never showed up not believing I had the talent or something to be up there."
Robinson split ninth and 10th in the opening round with Silvano Alves, who finished the event second in the average. They were the only two riders to cover all three bulls.
Robinson followed up 86 points in the first round with 85.25 points in Round 2 to earn the third pick in the bull draft for the Built Ford Tough Championship Round, where he selected Smackdown.
Alves took the lead with a career-best 92.5 points on Buck Wild. Four outs later, Robinson matched Alves ― as well as his own career best ― with 92.5 points of his own. His third score gave him a 2.25-point lead over Alves with two riders ― Marco Eguchi and Douglas Duncan ― left to round out the event.
Both came down just shy of the 8-second whistle, and Robinson, who hung up in the final round and said he nearly broke his right hand, earned the victory among well wishes and confetti.
"If you're going to ride bulls, you're going to have head games and you're going to have ups and downs," he said. "It's something you're going to have to face and everybody deals with it in their own certain way. Me, myself, I just keep going, and sooner or later, you're going to make that one ride that will turn things around a little bit."
For Robinson, it wasn't one ride in Chicago. It was the fact that he put three of them together at one BFTS event.
"I know one thing," Robinson concluded, "I ought to show up next week with every bit of confidence you can have, so that's my way of looking at it. As good as I (did) this week, like I said, I just showed myself I can still do it, and that's what I'm going on next week with."
Robinson, who has never competed for an entire BFTS season, is currently ranked fifth in the world.
It's by far the best ranking he's had in the PBR, since finishing the 2003 season ranked 14th in the standings. His best finish in the past nine seasons has been 34th.
He did tie for the season-lead with four TPD event wins and is in Denver, Colo., this week for the TPD Finals at the Denver Coliseum. He's up in the Tuesday night draw with hopes of qualifying for Wednesday's final two rounds.
Robinson will then travel home to North Carolina to his family and compete in next weekend's BFTS event in nearby Winston-Salem, N.C.
"This isn't going to be a one-time thing," Robinson said.
BACK ON TOP: Alves finished second in the Chicago Invitational for his second Top-5 finish in as many BFTS events, extending his lead atop the world standings. It's the first time Alves has been ranked No. 1 in the world in the opening month of the BFTS. He also set a career-high with 92.5 points on Buck Wild in the championship round. It's only the sixth time he's scored in excess of 90 points, and is a quarter of a point better than the 92.25 he scored on Little Yellow Jacket at the 2011 World Finals.
To this point, the two-time defending World Champion has struggled with English interviews and relied on translators to help him. However, beginning today, Alves is enrolled in an intensive English course at the University of North Texas. The 25-year-old Brazilian native will attend a four-hour-long class Monday through Friday in which he will learn to speak, understand and write English as a second language.
ROCKY-MOUNTAIN HIGH: As usual, the draw for this week's TPD event in Denver will look a lot like the draw in Chicago with 29 of the 35 riders making their way to Colorado. Thirteen will be up tonight and another 16 on Tuesday, including Robinson.
Two other riders ― Fabiano Vieira and Stormy Wing ― would have been in Denver tonight, but are in Dallas to be further examined by Dr. Tandy Freeman.
The top riders in the world are in the midst of, perhaps, the busiest stretch of the season. Riders like Austin Meier and Mike Lee competed in Columbus, Ga., on Friday night before making their way to Chicago on Saturday and Sunday. The Denver event is set for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Some of the riders will then travel two hours south to Pueblo, Colo., home of the PBR headquarters, for the first of a two-day TPD event, before heading to Winston-Salem for the BFTS event on Friday and Saturday.
It's an equally-busy time for PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert, who traveled Sunday night from Chicago to Denver. He'll oversee the pen there, and then on Wednesday, he'll set the bull pen for the Pueblo event. The PBR co-founder will then travel home to Texas, before heading to North Carolina for the weekend.
INJURY UPDATE: Vieira sustained a probable broken right ankle when he was stepped on while dismounting his second-round bull on Sunday. He did not compete in the championship round and is in Dallas today to undergo X-rays. He and Wing are not in Denver, as originally planned. Vieira is doubtful for Winston-Salem, while Wing sustained a bruised left ankle when he was stepped on after dismounting his first-round bull. He finished the event, and after being further evaluated by Dr. Freeman on Monday, Wing is now listed as questionable for Winston-Salem with a sprained ankle.
Luke Snyder sustained a concussion when he was thrown hard to the ground by his first-round bull in Chicago. He was originally listed as questionable for Sunday, but passed an extensive concussion test on Sunday afternoon, prior to the conclusion of the Chicago Invitational.
Although Snyder did not qualify for the championship round, he returned for Round 2, and wound up winning the long round with an 86.75-point effort on Chin Music.
Pawnbroker was also injured during Sunday's championship round. According to the official Facebook page of Robinson Bucking Bulls, "He was immediately transported from Chicago to Ohio where he was seen by a vet and his injuries stabilized. Pawnbroker is now up and eating and drinking. We will have more updates later this week, but are hoping for a full recovery."
JAW BREAKER: Eguchi, who finished last season ranked ninth in the world standings, returned to competition in Chicago after missing the season-opening event in New York. Eguchi sustained a fractured jaw among other injuries when he was struck on the right side of the face at the Brazilian Finals in November.
Eguchi's right jaw was fractured in two places, and the right side of his face remains temporarily paralyzed. Eguchi does not compete with a protective helmet, but has gone so far as to purchase one. He's yet to wear, however, it because of the pressure it creates on his jaw when he tightens the chin strap.
According to Robson Palermo, who helped to translate for the Brazilian native, Eguchi has yet to decide whether or not he'll eventually make the switch from the traditional cowboy hat to the protective helmet.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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