ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The fight to stay on the PBR’s elite Built Ford Tough Series was stepped up a notch on Friday night during Round 1 of the Ty Murray Invitational, presented by Isleta Resort and Casino.
Seven of the 15 qualified rides at WisePies Arena, aka The Pit, came from riders that began the weekend ranked 30th or lower in the world standings.
However, Stormy Wing – Friday night’s round winner – was the only one to escape the muddy waters of the BFTS cutline as a slew of proven past winners battle to hang on to their draw spots.
2009 Rookie of the Year Cody Nance rode Shelly’s Gangster for 85.75 points and is holding onto the No. 31 spot in the world standings.
“That was a good black bull from around these parts,” Nance said. “He dang sure was no day off. It is a good way to start the first round. I hadn’t been here for the last two years due to injury. I am just so thankful to be back in The Pit.”
Nance, who is tied for ninth place in Albuquerque, is only 94.17 points ahead of No. 38 Emilio Resende.
Resende – the 2012 Rookie of the Year – actually dropped one spot in the world standings despite his 86-point ride on Foxhole that has him sitting eighth in the event.
Riders only earn points toward the world standings for finishing in the Top 7 of a round and Top 15 of the event average.
The 29-year-old has competed in three BFTS events this season and has been bouncing between the BFTS and Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour.
Resende had fought his way back to the BFTS last season after being cut to qualify for his fourth Built Ford Tough World Finals before breaking five ribs after Shoot Out The Lights stepped on him in Round 4.
“Well, I continue my fight to stay in the Top 35 right now,” Resende said. “I am so happy because I am healthy again. After Finals, I took two months off for my ribs. This year I feel better. I am living my dream and riding bulls in the PBR.
“I never gave up. I am fighting a lot to stay with the Top 35 guys and best bulls. I don’t worry about my results. I just need to ride my bulls.”
Nance has actually been traveling and rooming with 2015 Australian Pro Rodeo Champion Troy Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is trying to qualify for his first career PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals and moved up to No. 36th in the world standings with a tie for third-place in Round 1.
The 26-year-old was the highest-finishing bubble rider and earned 45 points toward the world standings.
“It is great,” Wilkinson said. “I have been rooming and traveling with Cody Nance a little bit. He told me everyone here is standing above you and yelling. The atmosphere is fantastic. I enjoyed it. It was good.”
Wilkinson had bucked off the first 19 bulls of his career prior to getting career ride No. 1 in Albuquerque and was happy to finally get that monkey off his back.
“Every bull I have been on over here seem to be pretty rank,” Wilkinson said. “I am feeling pretty good on them. I just need to finish them off. I was able to finish one tonight. It is bloody great.”
Nance added, “You have to dig deep and find why you want to ride bulls. Why you want to be here and what made you successful in the beginning. You have nothing to prove to anybody. It doesn’t matter what anybody says on social media. You can’t let pride disturb your thinking. You have proved yourself when you got here.”
Wilkinson trails No. 35 Robson Aragao by 19 points in the world standings.
Aragao rode Bocephus for 81 points and a 13th-place finish in Round 1.
Paulo Lima, who is ranked 130th in the world standings, is riding with his last BFTS exemption and turned down a re-ride option after covering Payback for 79.25 points.
The other big bubble winner alongside Wilkinson Friday night was four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris.
In his first event since being cut from tour last month, Harris responded with an 86.25-point ride on Chute Boss.
Harris tied for fifth place and earned 16.6 points to move inside the Top 35 (33).
“I made him harder than what he was supposed to be, but it worked out good,” Harris said. “It is really important, especially that one. If I would have tried him like I had been (earlier this season), I would had fallen off because I would have been clamped up. I just kicked loose and rode like I am supposed to.”
He then concluded, “I am mentally focused and wanting to finish.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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