LAS VEGAS - If selecting the entire pen of bulls that will represent the PBR at the World Finals wasn't a difficult enough task for Livestock Director Cody Lambert, he also had the unenviable task of setting the pens for each of the five long rounds.
Even statistician Slade Long cringed at the thought of organizing which bulls match up best.
While the top of each list might have been the easy part, Long wondered whether the bottom half of the pen was where Lambert spent most of his time mixing and matching various bulls until he each pen was equal - at least in theory - from top to bottom.
Lambert recalled when he rode at the National Finals Rodeo: They had to match up only 15 bulls per round, whereas he's matching up 39 bulls for the early rounds. The draw includes the Top 35 qualifiers from throughout the season and four international invitees from Brazil, Canada, Australia and Mexico.
"It gets a lot tougher," he said.
Lambert said the riders who qualified for this year's World Finals will start out by drawing the 39 rankest bulls at the Thomas & Mack Center in the opening round on Wednesday night. Those bulls will compete again on Sunday.
Long surmised that Round 1 "will be a big test" and could affect the race for the world title, which includes Silvano Alves, Valdiron de Oliveira, L.J. Jenkins, Guilherme Marchi, J.B. Mauney and Austin Meier.
The top ABBI Classic bulls are out on Thursday in Round 2, while Lambert said the second-best set of bulls will be in Round 3 on Friday night.
"The bull riders (have) their work cut out for them," Lambert predicted. "They're going to face three tough pens in a row and it doesn't get any easier after that."
Saturday and Sunday, they'll matchup with the best bulls from the first three rounds.
"It's going to be tough," said Lambert, of the likelihood anyone rides all six bulls at the Finals.
One particular bull fans, riders and PBR enthusiasts are awaiting is the appearance of Chicken on a Chain.
The 2007 World Champion Bull will have one final outing in his illustrious career, and that will take place on Saturday night, in Round 4 of the World Finals. Lambert said he's Saturday draw is "not set in stone yet," but that's what he's planning on going into the competition.
It'll be the last Finals for Bring It as well.
Lambert said there are several other bulls competing for the last time in their careers.
"That's just the nature of the beast," he said.
He added that nearly half the bulls going to the Finals this year were not in Las Vegas last year, which means it was likely the last appearance for those bulls. Lambert explained that when bulls are unable to "make it back" they typically do not get better as they get older and reemerge at the Finals a year or two later.
Other than Chicken on a Chain, one of the only other bulls in Vegas with over 100 career outs - an exceedingly rare feat in the PBR - will be Charlie Bull Ware.
According to Long, he's been a fan favorite and rider favorite throughout his career.
"He's got a lot of them on the ground," said Lambert, referencing the growing list of riders who have bucked off Charlie Bull Ware. "He's a good little bull and, I think, this will probably be his last year too because he has been around for a long time."
"The bull riders (have) their work cut out for them. They're going to face three tough pens in a row and it doesn't get any easier after that," said Cody Lambert.
Conversely, there are a number of bulls making their World Finals debut.
Reed Corder owns Blue on Black, for instance. The interesting story, according to Lambert, is that most people don't remember Corder even though he won the Finals event back in 1998.
Other riders from the early days of the PBR, who are now contractors with bulls in Vegas, include J.W. Hart and Gilbert Carrillo.
In anticipation of the World Finals, Lambert and Long recorded two separate podcasts. In the first one, posted Saturday morning, they talked about the World Finals; in the second, which will be posted on Sunday morning, they focused on the bulls contending for World Champion Bull.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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