BISMARCK, N.D. - When it comes to the contenders for this year's World Champion Bull, the majority of the attention has been on Asteroid and Bushwacker - with good reason.
However, Smackdown has also proven himself worthy of being in the yearend conversation.
I think he's in his prime right now," said Chad Berger, who owns and hauls Smackdown. "He doesn't get the recognition that Asteroid and Bushwacker do, but he's right on their heels, and I think he's right there with them."
This year, he's been ridden only twice in 13 outs at Built Ford Tough Series events.
J.B. Mauney rode him for 92.25 points in Oklahoma City, and Stormy Wing made the whistle for 91 points in Billings, Mont. Wing's trip was the one time Smackdown was marked fewer than 45 points, and even then, judges scored him 44.75 points.
Since making his BFTS debut in Reno, Nev., in the fall of 2009, he's recorded 49 outs at BFTS events, and 15 times he's been the high-marked bull in the round. He's had 63 career outs, including Touring Pro Division events and pro rodeos.
Considering Smackdown's consistency, Berger said he's unsure of why his prized bull doesn't get more recognition.
"He does the same thing every time," Berger said, "and I don't know if he's just boring to (the) commentators or what, but to me, he's right in the hunt. Either one of those bulls slip up one notch and he's the bull."
In addition to his consistency, Smackdown has also had some memorable trips.
In Sacramento, Calif., he gave Ryan Dirteater
all he could handle for 3.09 seconds, and was rewarded with 47
points. Three other times he was marked 46 points or better.
It's similar to last year, when Asteroid first emerged as a contender.
According to Gene Melton, riders and observers were in disbelief. However, he patiently stayed the course and by season's end, everyone was well aware of what Asteroid was capable of doing each time the gate opened.
The same could be said for Smackdown.
"Every week, more and more of the bull riders come up and say how great that bull is," Berger said. "I think eventually, he's going to get the recognition he deserves. I hope he does."
Regardless of what he deserves, what's more important is the attention he garners from the Top 35 riders in the world.
"Those are the guys who pick the Top 5," Berger said.
"All he's got to do is get there and then it's sudden death after that. You go to the Finals and he has two great trips, and he's going to be right in the hunt."
Berger said he intends to buck Smackdown at several Touring Pro Division events during the summer to keep him in shape.
"I bred cows to him last summer and I think, down the stretch, that hurt me some," he said. "Like at the Finals, he didn't have 100 percent of his strength. This year, I'm not going to throw him on the cows."
He did have his best Finals appearance in 2011.
"This is his year to make a run for it."
He was marked 45 points in Round 3, and then 45.5 points in Round 6. In four previous Finals appearances - 2010 and 2009 - he was marked 43.75, 44, 45 and 44.25 points, respectively.
The World Champion Bull contenders are voted on by the riders and the champion is then determined by the contender with the highest cumulative bull scores in two outs at the Finals.
This year, Berger said he wants to "keep his muscles going" over the summer months.
"I'm not going to overdo it," he added. "This is his year to make a run for it, and I'm going to try and do the best I can with him."
Smackdown will make an appearance Saturday night in the final round of the TPD event in Bismarck, N.D. It will be his first TPD appearance since Robson Palermo rode him for 94.5 points last year at the same event.
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