Behind the Code

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When Rick Wagoner sought to purchase a promising bull named Code Blue three years ago, it turned into an uphill battle.

In addition to buying a rank 2-year-old with great bloodlines, Wagoner also would be required to go beyond his financial resources to purchase a group of cattle along with Code Blue.

But Waggoner, a longtime bull owner from North Carolina, was determined.

“I had researched (Code Blue's) bloodlines and I thought it was going to be the next big deal,” Wagoner said.

It was a big gamble that’s paying off. When the Professional Bull Riders World Finals concluded the second round of its World Champion Bull race on Friday night, Code Blue hung onto his lead after turning in a score of 46.5.

The 5-year-old, light colored spinner, owned by Wagoner/Jimmy Walton/Chad Berger/Clay Struve, leads the title race with a two-ride aggregate score of 93.25.

Code Blue, who won the first round on Nov. 3 after turning in a 46.75, tied for first in the second round with a 46.5. Code Blue earned the lofty score after bucking off Cody Nance in 4.3 seconds.

Meanwhile, Big Tex, who is owned by Dakota Rodeo and Clay Struve, is ranked second in the world race with a 92.5, and trails Code Blue by .75. Big Tex also turned in a second score of 46.5 after throwing off Josh Koschel in 6 seconds.

Voodoo Child, owned by Jeff Robinson/Bar None/Buetler & Sons, is ranked third with a 92. He received a 46 after bucking off 2006 PBR World Finals average winner L.J. Jenkins in 4 seconds.

The World Champion Bull title race concludes Sunday during the short round. The bull with the highest three-run aggregate score will win the title.

Code Blue is the only bovine in the race who has gone unridden this season. During his maiden voyage on the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series, Code Blue improved his BFTS record to 13-0 after unceremoniously dumping  Nance in Round Five of the World Finals.

Cody Lambert, the PBR’s longtime livestock director, said Code Blue is ranked No. 1 because he’s such a fierce competitor.

“He’s exactly like Kody Lostroh and J.B. Mauney (who rank 1-2 in the BFTS world title race),” Lambert said. “He’s just a competitor. The bigger the stakes are, the more he’s coming up with the effort. The longer they ride him, the stronger he’s getting.”

David Fournier, a key founding organizer of the PBR and a former World Finals qualifier, said he was impressed with Code Blue after watching the bull throw off Brazilian Edimundo Gomes in the second round on Oct. 31. Fournier said Code Blue became stronger as the ride progressed.

“In this business, when  you have a bull that has never been ridden and you bring him to the World Finals and somebody really tests him to see what he’s made out of, it looks like he’s going to be ranker on the next trip,” Fournier said. “In my opinion, he showed me he was the real deal.”

Throughout the season, Code Blue has bucked off some high-profile cowboys, including Renato Nunes, Sean Willingham, and Ryan McConnel.

“He’s a very smart bull,” said McConnel, who faced Code Blue at Albuquerque, N.M., in March.  “When he spins, he shoots forward a lot and he makes real fast corners, and more of less tries to get a guy run back on the end of his arm. He’s the type of bull who is going to pull on your arm and try to get away from you more.”

For Wagoner, the purchase of Code Blue was risky, and it initially took partnering with his friend Jimmy Walton, a thriving contractor who works on apartment complexes. At the time, Walton was contemplating becoming involved in the bucking bull business.

The two men learned that Code Blue was owned by an Oklahoma doctor who was at first reluctant to part with the promising young bucking bull. But after the doctor learned that his wife had health problems, he made Wagoner an offer.

However, it required that Wagoner purchase other cattle.

“I think it was eight cows, six or seven calves, four or five bulls,” Wagoner said. “It was a trailer load.”

Knowing that the purchase would require more money than Wagoner had in his bank account, he called upon Walton for help.

“Just to be honest with you, I couldn’t swing it all,” Wagoner said. “I had to have a partner. So, Jimmy and I checked out the situation and then scraped to put it together.  A lot of people, including our family and a lot of standbyers, said we were crazy. But now, we don’t think we were so stupid.”

Wagoner said he first learned about Cody Blue when he received a call from a friend in Oklahoma who had watched the bull buck.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and I know people pretty much everywhere,” Wagoner said. “A buddy of mine had seen this bull and I had heard about his bloodlines. So, Jimmy and I went out to Oklahoma City and we got to see (Code Blue). Once we saw him, we knew he was what we were looking for.

“At that time and for the next 1 ½ years, he was a bull who jerked everybody down on his head,” Wagoner added. “Nobody could get past 2 seconds on him. So, we knew that if we ever got him, all we had to do was build a bull that had great potential, and luckily everything has worked out.”

Walton said he’s elated to be in partnership with Wagoner.

“For me, it was a gamble, being new to the sport,” Walton said. “But Rick spotted Code Blue and thought he was the real deal. And Code Blue was the real deal so we just decided to purchase the pack (of cattle), which also included a couple of good bulls as well.”

Code Blue became a smash hit on bull riding circuits such as the Professional Bucking Bull Association, which conducts some of its shows in North Carolina. Over time, the bull gained enough notoriety to work his way onto the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series.

Walton said one reason Code Blue has accelerated to stardom is because he likes what he does.

“Every out that he has out of chute, it’s clear that he really wants to be there,” Walton said. “He knows what he has to do and it’s not the same out every time. He wants to be No. 1 at what he’s doing.”

Walton said Code Blue’s challengers have a difficult time figuring out how to handle his unpredictable bucking patterns.

“He’s not really a high kicker every time,’ Walton said. “But he’s out there and he’s a spinner. And just when the riders are trying to figure him out, they can’t. When he spins, he goes different directions. They are yet to figure him out, but they keep trying.”

After becoming a big star, Code Blue also has become a pampered bull.

Wagoner feeds the bull waffles along with his daily grain rations. Code Blue also has a special covered area to eat, and a spacious running area.

“He’s got his own condo that he lives in and he’s got his run area,” Wagoner said jokingly. “He’s also has a laying area that we call his lounge. He also ’owns’ his own trailer. And if that trailer leaves the area, you’d better have another one to back in there because he‘s going to tear up something because he wants to be on that trailer.”

-by Brett Hoffman

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