DENVER – Gage Gay glanced at the television monitor just beyond the rider walk-off area inside Madison Square Garden and looked on as Valdiron de Oliveira climbed aboard Nailed on Sunday afternoon.
“Think he will be 90?” Gay asked.
Gay then paused before adding, “I don’t think he has enough bull, but he should ride him. I am hoping he is 89.”
With $100,000 dollars on the line, one would expect Gay to be nervous or anxious as Oliveira tried to cover the last bull of the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden and steal the event win from Gay.
Instead, Gay stood on and just watched.
Sure enough Oliveira rode Nailed, but only for 86.25 points, and Gay nodded his head and headed out to the arena to celebrate his PBR Major victory.
There was no celebratory reaction.
Gay had just won a career-high $109,025.50 and was the No. 1 bull rider for the first time in his career yet he didn’t seem too excited.
“I don’t think it has sunk in,” Gay said on Sunday. “It might sink in when it hits the bank account Monday or Tuesday, but it’s pretty awesome.”
Gay earned the victory with a flawless 4-for-4 performance in New York, which he capped off with 90 points on Cut the Cord.
The Staley, North Carolina, native had originally planned on selecting Nailed with the second pick of the championship-round draft, but Oliveira snatched him up with the first selection. Therefore, Gay opted for Cut the Cord.
Prior to his ride on Cut the Cord, Gay was somewhat flying under the radar during the season-opener of the 25th PBR: Unleash the Beast Series after not placing in any of the first three rounds.
Gay stayed in contention for the event win by riding Pneu Dart’s Sarge for 83.25 points in Round 1 and Biloxi Shores for 81 points in Round 2. He then moved up to second in the event average with 85 points on Luke in Round 3.
No one was talking about a Gage Gay event win until he was spurring his way to the win aboard on Cut the Cord.
“Yeah, I mean, I’ve always didn’t like the spotlight anyways,” Gay said. “I’ve always been a quiet guy, so flying under the radar is cool with me.
“This kind of brings the radar out on me, but hey, if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.”
Gay’s performance caught the eye of nine-time World Champion Ty Murray.
Murray noticed a lot of riders making the mistake of trying to ride side-to-side in New York, whereas Gay was successfully countering each move’s up-and-down motion and taking things truly one jump at a time.
“You have to worry about this part,” Murray said while motioning front to back. “If you are not countering this part then, that (moving left to right) don’t matter. I feel like that is what Gage would do. Even when they would snatch his head and gets his head back like that, he would come back and he was fighting for that position he needed to be in.”
None of Gay’s first three rides placed him in a round, but that didn’t bother Murray.
You could still tell that confidence was not an issue by the time Gay was leaving the chute, he added.
“I always say you can tell on the second jump when a guy is making those crisp movements of where he needs to be that he is riding with 100 percent confidence. It sounds cliché how important confidence is, but it is so important in this sport.”
Gay will take a 336.67-point lead atop the world standings into this weekend’s Chicago Invitational.
It is the first time in the 23-year-old’s five-year career that he is the No. 1 ranked bull rider.
“First time in my career, but I kind of like it,” Gay said. “That’s all I dreamed of when I was a kid. I never thought about what it would feel like, it’s just always been my dream – being No. 1 in the world.”
Gay hadn’t posted a 90-point ride since his standout rookie-year when he finished 13th in the world standings after making a name for himself at 18 years old.
He may have not finished any higher than that in the standings so far, but Gay did take another quiet, step forward last season even though he finished a career-low 29th in the world standings.
Gay’s 25 qualified rides on the premier series tied his career-high from 2014 and his 37.88-percent riding percentage was a new personal-best. Gay also finished the season 9-for-17 (52.94 percent) in the final six events.
His largest problem in 2017 was finishing events strong. He went 2-for-17 (11.76 percent) in Round 3 and beyond (Round 3, Round 4 and Round 5) after beginning events 23-for-47 (48.94 percent) through the first two rounds of competition. Gay was 0-for-2 in two 15/15 Bucking Battles.
Gay, who has begun going to the gym for roughly 45 minutes a day, was well aware that qualifying for four consecutive World Finals was still not good enough.
“I’m not happy with just making the Finals,” Gay said. “I always should be in the Top 10, Top 5, every year, but everybody has bad years, and I’m just hoping this one’s one of the top ones.
“I pulled this right out of my back pocket, but I think I’ve got one or two more in there. Maybe one or two more for the year, or just for the first half.”
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