Rick Wagoner was on the line, bragging about a bull named Code Blue.
But there were two problems. One, PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert had never heard of Wagoner.
Two, after watching an online video from an ABBI event a year earlier when Code Blue had bucked off Mike Lee in just two jumps, Lambert wasn’t all that impressed with him. It turned out Lambert was at the event, and only marked the bull 20 points
Wagoner had his work cut out for him that night. After all, the North Carolina man was not the first stock contractor to call Lambert, and contractors had been wrong in the past. Lambert believed that to be the case this time as well.
But Wagoner kept asking who the bull reminded Lambert of.
“I don’t know if he wanted me to say Bodacious or something like that,” Lambert said. “Finally I got tired of telling him I don’t know, so I told him that he reminds me of bulls I used to ride at high school rodeos.
“I thought he was drunk,” recalled Lambert, “or he was at least feeling a little loose. He asked me if I was having a beer – it was in the evening – and he said he was having a cold one.
“Then he told me he wanted to bet me that nobody could ride him.”
Back in the saddle again
Ten months later, Code Blue is the PBR’s World Champion.
The story of a bull born and raised in Texas, purchased at a bull sale in Oklahoma and subsequently relocated to North Carolina would have never been told had it not been for a trail ride three years ago through Love Valley, which is where Jimmy Walton has a cabin.
Wagoner, a somewhat portly southerner known for wearing bib overalls, met Walton there on a horseback riding trip along the border of North Carolina and Virginia.
The two men with wildly different backgrounds became fast friends and formed W.W. Bucking Bulls two years ago.
Walton, a quiet man by nature, grew up on a small farm with horses and cows. He and his wife Alicia have one daughter, Christina, who will soon turn 8. “We’re a small family,” he said, “but we enjoy what we’re doing.”
Wagoner, on the other hand, likes to talk, and fancies himself as Code Blue’s driver.
The 53-year-old – though he mistakenly thought he was 56 – was raised around rodeos from the time he was born. His dad Calvin competed in the SRA, and according to Rick, he won 13 bull riding championships and three all-around titles. Calvin was good friends Carson Davis, and if Rick remembers it right, Jerome Davis got on his first bull at the Wagoner family ranch.
By the time Rick and his brother Craig were grown up, their dad was no longer competing. By that time, he was producing local rodeos at the ranch, located outside of Lexington, N.C. The two brothers decided to get involved in bucking bulls, and that’s when Rick met Walton and the two took a horseback ride.
“It was just a place where we go to enjoy some time off,” said Walton, who added that he and Wagoner are just two members of a big business. “It seems like here lately we don’t have much time to do that anymore.”
Home on the range
Soon after forming W.W. Bucking Bulls, the two partners encountered their first problem.
They needed a bull. They didn’t need just any bull – they needed one good enough to compete at the Built Ford Tough Series. If they were going to have only one, and they intended to make any money, he had to be a short-go-quality bull.
They had a pen full of bulls, but those were only good enough for local and regional bull riding events.
So when they headed out to the IFR in Oklahoma to buy and sell some stock, they were interested in a bull they had heard good things about. According to Wagoner, Code Blue seemed like a “pretty rank bull,” but nobody could get him started into a spin, because they were all getting jerked down so quickly.
Wagoner used the ABBI registry to trace his bloodline, and saw that Apollo was his half brother, and Sky King was his father. Bodacious was in there, too.
“It’s in the genetics, you know,” Wagoner said. “There’s nothing guaranteed on it, but it’s just something we were willing to take a chance on.”
Although the bull wasn’t nearly as big as he is now, Wagoner thought if Code Blue was anything like Bodacious, he’d be just as stout and just as rank once he matured around five years old.
By the time Walton and Wagoner bought the bull, he had had 30-some outs. While he hadn’t been ridden, he hadn’t impressed everyone either. They took him to another 20 to 25 events – local and regional bull ridings along with a few ABBI events – before the night Wagoner called Lambert.
“Actually, now I can say we lucked into it,” Wagoner joked. “Then, we weren’t sure if we were doing the right thing or not.”
“I was new in the business,” Walton said, “but just from listening to everybody – Rick, his brother Craig and his dad just teaching me along – I knew he was going to be something special. I was just learning. Rick kept telling me, ‘Jimmy, he has a real good chance,’ and I had to just keep telling myself, ‘Yeah, he does have a real good chance.’”
Code Blue is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any contractor.
Tonight he's the final bull at the Iron Cowboy Invitational, where one rider will leave Cowboys Stadium with a check for $260,000.
Wagoner had said he wasn’t in the business of traveling up and down the highways hauling his bulls, but once Code Blue came along, his plans changed—radically. As a matter of fact, he loves Code Blue like his own children “and I’m saying this where they can’t hear me … maybe more.”
“It was a great feeling at the awards banquet to have people come pat you on the back,” said Walton, who admitted he didn’t know what to expect last November at the annual Dinner of Champions. “I was just following Rick’s lead, not that he even knew what to expect. It was a great feeling, but it was weeks later when I finally realized what we had actually accomplished.”
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Wagoner said, “and I’ll tell you why – everybody looks around as says, ‘This is just a fluke.’ It’s sort of a letdown for yourself when you sit down and try to set some goals for the next year, because you know deep down in your heart that you’re liable to never find another Code Blue.”
“It’s a fluke for anybody to find a bull as good as Code Blue,” Lambert said. “It’s a freak deal when you have one that good.”
Wagoner added, “They can never take that away from him.”
Naturally, the reigning World Champion Bull is the centerpiece for their breeding program and, according to Walton, they already have five calves on the ground from Code Blue.
Believing “it’s out there,” Wagoner continues taking and making calls as the two look to purchase a second, and perhaps a third championship-caliber bull. But they know that when it comes to the BFTS, they’re just getting started … especially when compared to H.D. and Dillon Page, fellow Carolina contractor Jeff Robinson or their partner on Code Blue Chad Berger, who bought into the bull last season.
In the meantime, Code Blue is as rank today as he was last year in Tulsa when he bucked off Renato Nunes. That’s when Lambert first thought Code Blue was the frontrunner for the title. Lambert said that if Nunes had made it to the whistle he might have set a new all-time scoring record.
In 21 outs on the BFTS, Code Blue only been ridden one time. He's sent eight of the 24 riders competing in Arlington, Texas, to the dirt at least one time in the past 14 months.
The single time anyone made 8 seconds on him, he wasn’t really “on” him. J.B. Mauney earned a qualified score in New York, clinging to the side of the bull, his free hand contorted up to stay off the ground.
“I guess I’m going to have to eat my words,” said Wagoner, who pointed out that Code Blue doesn’t have a set pattern, and is capable of jumping 10 to 12 feet sideways when he’s in his spin, “but I don’t see anybody riding him, not sitting on top of him anyway.”
“And Rick Wagoner taught me a lesson,” Lambert said. “I’ve always looked at every video that people send me, because you might find that diamond in the rough, you might find that bull that’s better than the ones you have already.
“They didn’t send me a good video of (Code Blue), but at least Rick was so convinced that they weren’t going to ride him that he talked me into using him at Winston-Salem last year.”
—by Keith Ryan Cartwright
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