ANAHEIM, Calif ― Barely a month into the 2013 season, Asteroid and Bushwacker have already reestablished themselves as the top two bulls on the Built Ford Tough Series for the third consecutive year.
And that would be where the comparisons stop.
Beyond being at the top of their game, the two bulls are noticeably different in size and recognizably divergent in style and bucking patterns - even to the eyes of casual observers.
However, perhaps the most distinctive difference is the approach of their handlers and owners.
Earlier this year, Kent Cox, who handles and hauls Bushwacker, said his plan is to get as many outs for the 2011 World Champion Bull with least amount of travel. Conversely, Gene Melton, who handles and hauls Asteroid for Circle T Ranch & Rodeo, said bulls like Asteroid don't get in shape at home, and explained how it's his belief that they get their legs under them by being on the road competing.
If that's the case, the reigning World Champion Bull ought to be in mid-season form by the time he arrives in Anaheim, Calif.
Asteroid made his 2013 debut in three weeks ago in Winston-Salem, N.C., which is just over a 1,800-mile trip from the Louisiana-based ranch where he makes his home. Last week, Melton hauled him more than 1,900 miles to Sacramento, Calif., and is taking his time driving 400 miles down the California coast for this weekend's LiftMaster Invitational in Anaheim, Calif.
"It was a long one," Melton said. "We stopped and unloaded twice."
"Maybe he stood out just a hair, but that's the kind of bull he is."
Melton said he preplanned his stops and called ahead to arrange his stopovers, confirming the two ranches had room for his livestock. He added that "there are not a whole lot of good stops" in the direction he came from. On some occasions, he noted, he would have stopped a third time.
Melton will then haul Asteroid and several other bulls on the trailer 1,600 miles back home, amounting to nearly 5,800 miles traveled for Asteroid in the first month of the season.
"It's everyday business," Melton said. "We'll stay here for a couple (more) days and then go on down the road and stay at another place for at least one day. And then I go down to Anaheim at night to beat that traffic stuff. I'll get in there on Wednesday night."
To this point, Asteroid has bucked off two former World Champion bull riders - Guilherme Marchi and Mike Lee - and has been marked 46 points each time.
He put Marchi, a right-hander who prefers bulls that turn to the right, on the dirt in 4.86 seconds - largely because the 2008 World Champion cheated the bull to the left. So despite the fact that Asteroid came back to his favorable side, Marchi was late getting to the corner.
Lee said he didn't get his knees bent enough. Although he initially looked to be in good position, Lee was easily bucked off at the 3.4-second mark.
"Once he figured it out and got his feet under him, it was all downhill from there," said Melton, who added that the ground in Sacramento wasn't as good as what it was in Winston-Salem.
He said the various consistencies when it comes to the dirt in the arena is "part of the game," and noted that he pays closer attention to the ground inside the bucking chutes to determine what kind of footing his bulls will have.
Melton said in looking at the schedule and the staggered events, it'll be hard to create a rhythm or pattern to when he bucks Asteroid, as opposed to when he will stay home.
He's not planning to haul Asteroid to St. Louis, Mo., because
he'd have to haul him straightaway from Southern California, but
he's considering traveling to Kansas City, Mo., the week before
taking him a short distance over to Arlington, Texas, for the Iron
Bushwacker, meanwhile, has made one appearance this year - in Oklahoma City - and is tentatively slated to return to action in St. Louis. He is then expected to compete in three straight events, including Kansas City and Arlington. Albuquerque is another potential stop on Bushwacker's schedule.
Melton hasn't committed Asteroid to anything beyond the Texas event.
He said he could haul Asteroid back out to the west coast for back-to-back events in Tacoma, Wash., and Fresno, Calif., but said he doesn't "see any logical reason to do it."
Looking ahead, Albuquerque, N.M., would be another possibility, as would back-to-back events in Louisville, Ky., and Des Moines, Iowa, before closing out the first portion of the season in Las Vegas at the Last Cowboy Standing.
Following Asteroid's second outing of the season, Melton said, "Maybe he stood out just a hair, but that's the kind of bull he is."
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