Shepherd Hills Tested is a bull on just about everyone's radar this season.
He is aiming to be the 2012 American Bucking Bull Inc. Classic Champion, and owners Luthy, Duckwall, D&H Cattle and Shepherd Hills Cutlery are hoping his winning streak continues through Las Vegas, where $250,000 is on the line.
ABBI, PBR's sister company, holds competitive events for bucking bulls. For 3- and 4-year-old bulls, these events (called Classics) are held in conjunction with Built Ford Tough Series or Touring Pro Division events. At a Classic event, there are an additional set of judges who just score the ABBI bulls. The bull with the highest ABBI score wins the Classic, regardless of what the cowboy's total score was or what score the bull was given by the PBR judges.
So far this year, Shepherd Hills Tested had impressed those ABBI judges more than any other Classic animal. The fans in the stands have liked what they've seen, as well. The PBR bull riders? Probably not so much, as no one has covered him yet. He has turfed such notable cowboys as J.B. Mauney, Chris Shivers, Austin Meier and Ryan Dirteater.
"The Pages have him out there and are testing this bull at every event that they can," ABBI Executive Director Kaycee Simpson said. "They aren't holding him back. They are trying to make as much money as they can with him. It's a business decision that has earned them close to $50,000 already."
Shepherd Hills Tested posts 46 points vs. Chris Shivers in Houston.
Formerly known as D&H's Smooth Groove, he was the 3-year-old bull who won the most money during the ABBI's 2011 regular season.
Shepherd Hills Tested started the 2012 season splitting second at the ABBI Cowtown Classic on New Year's Eve in Fort Worth, Texas. Then he won the Classic events at the BFTS events in Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Mo. He split sixth at the Spring Fling in Stephenville, Texas, and then won at the Classic events in Boise, Idaho, and Pueblo, Colo. He most recently won his hometown event in Ardmore, Okla.
The question now is: Could he go all the way?
In some ways Shepherd Hills Tested's season is reminiscent of Bushwacker's season in 2010, when he won event after event in the ABBI, and had a 100-percent buckoff rate when he took the Classic crown. Bushwacker was also in the running to be the PBR World Champion Bull as a Classic bull, an honor few bulls have received. Although he didn't end up winning the PBR champion title until 2011, Bushwacker definitely left his mark on the industry as a Classic bull. Shepherd Hills Tested may be on a similar path, although his average marks aren't as high as Bushwacker's were during his Classic career.
In Ardmore, Okla., Shepherd Hills Tested beat the second-place bull 30 Wild Card by just half a point. In Kansas City, he won by three-quarters of a point. A point and a quarter secured his victory in both Boise and Oklahoma City. He won by a big three-point lead in Pueblo.
"This bull is being tested, like a great bucking bull needs to be," Simpson said. "My hat's off to the Pages for working this bull like they are. They are great bullmen.
"However, they are also taking a risk every time they buck him, because he could injure himself or get tired and not perform as well as he could. But the Pages aren't going to play it safe. Their program traditionally produces bulls that mature early and haul well, and if they think they have a potential champion, they aren't afraid to see what he's made of."
"My hat's off to the Pages for working this bull like they are. They are great bullmen."
Shepherd Hills Tested has a commanding money lead in the ABBI with about $30,000 more money won than the No. 2 Classic bull. But money will just get you the Year-End Classic Champion title. Once in Las Vegas, the slate is wiped clean and the highest-scoring 3- or 4-year-old will take home the quarter million dollars for first.
"We want the best Classic bull in the world to win," Simpson said. "Whether that comes from a member with one animal or 1,000, it doesn't matter to us. What matters is we get it right and that the very best bull earns that $250,000, and the gold buckle in October. I do think this Finals will be one of our best ever. The caliber of Classic bulls is that high this year. He has some stiff competition."
There are bulls right on the heels of Shepherd Hills Tested. Classic bulls like Super Cool Cat, Gonzo, Ringo, Big Stink, Ragin JT, Carney Man, Little Combat, Boyd 335, Skatman Hou, Midnight Mood, Woody and Page U36 have all placed at events already this season.
If Shepherd Hills Tested can come out on top, then he has proven himself on the road all year and show that he has the talent - and heart - to be a champion. As a 3-year-old, he found his groove in ABBI Classic competition. Now only time will tell if Shepherd Hills Tested can win it all.
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