By the numbers
23: days for the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show (Jan. 13-Feb. 4)
36: rodeo performances
20: livestock companies
1,200: rides on broncs and bulls
600: bucking animals used
Stock Show Rodeo
The event consists of six different rodeos within the Jan 13-Feb. 4 run of the Fort Worth Stock Show. It begins with a ranch rodeo (Jan. 13-14). After that, there’s a rodeo that caters to Hispanic contestants (Jan. 15) and a competition that caters to African-American and other minority contestants on the Martin Luther King holiday (Jan. 16).
In a day when bull riding has emerged as a popular stand-alone sport, the Stock Show offers fans two nights of bovine busting (Jan. 17-18). And as the concept of an all-star rodeo has become a big hit with fans, the Stock Show will offer a competition called the Fort Worth Super Shootout that will feature credentialed competitors pitted against livestock, all of whom appeared at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas (Jan. 19). The cowboys and cowgirls vie for a total purse of $100,000 during an intense two-hour performance.
The main part of the Stock Show Rodeo is its traditional Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/Women’s Professional Rodeo Association show. The 2017 edition begins Jan. 20 and runs through Feb. 4.
It consists of 29 performances, more than any other PRCA/WPRA show. Its final round on Feb. 4 will feature the top 12 contestants in each event from 28 preliminary, qualifying performances. It also will feature the rodeo’s best bucking horses and bulls, broncs who can jump four feet off the arena floor, bulls who can spin faster than a carnival ride and can hurl a cowboy into the next county.
The stock market is soaring on Wall Street with the Dow Jones Industrial Average hovering around 20,000 points.
The bucking stock also is expected to soar throughout the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo. That’s because senior contractor Jim Gay will bring in 20 rodeo companies to make sure the 36 rodeo performances are well stocked.
With all those rodeo performances scheduled over 23 days at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, the Stock Show Rodeo offers fans more performances than any major long-running rodeo in the world. To make sure fans witness high pitching broncs and bulls regardless of when they attend the rodeo, a senior livestock producer must hire an array of savvy subcontractors.
“There’s nobody who can do Fort Worth by himself,” Jim Gay said. “It’s impossible.”
But what about those 28 preliminary performances leading up to the grand finale? Cowboys need to lock their spurs into broncs and bulls that can conceivably help them finish in the money, or at least keep them in the title race that’s based on an aggregate score.
That’s the reason Jim Gay, and his father, Neal, who began serving as the Stock Show Rodeo’s senior stock producer in 1979, pledge to bring in only their best animals and they ask other stock contractors on board to follow their example.
“There’s not any stock contractor in the rodeo business who has enough livestock to put on the rodeo in Fort Worth with just his livestock and keep it a top quality rodeo,” Neal Gay said.
With that in mind, the Gays bring in the top end of their bull and bronc pen from their legendary rodeo firm called the Rafter G Rodeo Co.
“When you’re out to get the top quality stock, you realize that everybody’s stock is not all good,” Neal Gay said. “So, when I made a deal with a stock contractor to come to Fort Worth, I would tell him that I just wanted to take only the top [bucking horses and bulls] that he had. Sometimes, that meant him being able to bring only five or six good horses because that’s the only good ones that he had.
“When I leased stock from somebody, I leased only from someone I knew or I knew the horses, and my son, Jim, is the same way.”
The Gays’ rodeo company is based in Terrell. They own about 150 bucking horses and about 100 bulls. Out of that herd, they will use about 75 broncs and 50 bulls throughout the Fort Worth Rodeo, Jim Gay said.
Some famous buckers
For the whole Fort Worth run, more than 1,200 bronc and bull rides will be made on about 600 different animals, Jim Gay said.
Over the years, the Gay family has owned numerous high-profile broncs and bulls with names such as Ringeye, Joe Cool and Kowabunga. They currently own a bronc named Assault, which has been one of the sport’s tougher bareback horses to ride in recent years. Three years ago, Assault helped Tarleton State University student Richmond Champion clinch the bareback riding title at RFD-TV’s The American rodeo at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Champion earned $1.1 million for his victory, which was an earnings record for one cowboy at one rodeo.
The Gays also recruit other firms such as the Frontier Rodeo Co., which has won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Stock Contractor of the Year Award for the past two years. Frontier owns an array of outstanding bulls and broncs including Medicine Woman, the PRCA’s 2016 Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year.
Longtime stock contractor Sammy Andrews also is on the card. He owns a rank bovine named Midnight Bender, the PRCA’s 2016 Bull of the Year. Andrews also owned the late legendary bull Bodacious, which was the PRCA’s top bull in 1994 and 1995 and retired to breeding in the mid-1990s.
The Gays also have recruited the California-based firm Four Star Rodeo Co., which owns Yellow Fever, the top bull at the Dec. 1-10 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
From paper to reality
With all that livestock talent bursting from the iconic white chutes in the Will Rogers Coliseum, the Gays will work to assure that each cowboy has a chance to earn a good score.
“We hope to keep the quality up,” Jim Gay said. “On paper, the quality will be up. It’s like, on paper, the Dallas Cowboys or the Patriots are supposed to win the Super Bowl. But that’s why they play the game. It’s the same with livestock. On paper, it’s supposed to be really good. But time will tell. At the rodeo, you have to get them their matchups.
“For a contestant, we want everyone to have a chance to win in every performance,” he added. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s your goal. It’s impossible to make every animal to be a National Finals Rodeo type of animal. That’s just impossible. It’s also impossible at the National Finals. Sometimes they get there and don’t perform. So, at the Fort Worth Stock Show, you try to work it out on paper, to put together a strong field of stock, so whoever is entered, on whatever performance that they’re entered, that they have a shot, no matter if it’s Monday afternoon, Saturday morning or Saturday night.”
The Gays commonly allow a stock contractor to supply the animals for an entire designated performance and ask them to pick only their best stock to appear within that two-hour contest.
“I’ve had great stock contractors such as Sammy Andrews provide the stock for a Saturday morning performance,” Jim Gay said. “We want to make it where fans are entertained well no matter if they’re attending the rodeo on Monday night or Saturday night.”
Luck of the draw
Since rodeo’s humble beginnings in the late 1800s, a big part of winning a rodeo has been what contestants call “the luck of the draw.” Cowboys draw lots for the animals they will ride. To win a rodeo, a cowboy usually must draw a tougher bucking horse or bull, then ride with correct form, in dramatic fashion for eight bone-jarring seconds to earn a high score.
The harder the animal bucks, the harder it is to ride, and provided the cowboy makes a model ride, the higher the score. A good score is in the 80s. A score in the 90s is rare, similar to a grand slam home run in baseball.
A cowboy can receive a score of up to 100 points. But that’s only happened once on the PRCA circuit, which began in 1936
On the Professional Bull Riders’ circuit, which is billed as the toughest league for rodeo’s headline event, the highest score in the PBR’s 24-year history was 96.5, received in by three competitors.
The highest score ever in a bucking stock event at Fort Worth’s PRCA rodeo was a 95-point effort by Bobby Del Vecchio in 1982, according to PRCA statistics historian Jim Bainbridge.
Awards and accolades
One of the highest marks in pro rodeo history was made by Neal Gay’s middle son, Don Gay, who earned a record eight PRCA world bull riding titles in the 1970s and 1980s. Don Gay turned in a 97-point effort on a bull named Oscar at a then-famous season-closing rodeo at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1977. Oscar was one of the sport’s most notorious bulls of that era and was featured on the Academy Award-winning documentary movie, The Great American Cowboy.
That leads to another fact about the Gay family: They’re famous and have a slew of awards and accolades.
Neal Gay, 90, the family patriarch, founded the Mesquite Championship Rodeo in 1958. In 1986, he masterminded the construction of a state-of-the-art arena with luxury skyboxes three stories above the arena floor. About the same time, The Nashville Network began broadcasting the Mesquite Rodeo, which featured a performance every Friday and Saturday night from April through September. With the constant TV exposure, the Mesquite Rodeo became arguably the world’s most famous weekly rodeo.
The Fort Worth Rodeo is by far the largest the Gay family has produced.
“You have to have good livestock to get the good cowboys to come,” Neal Gay said. “As a stock producer, of course I was interested in the cowboys doing good, but I also was interested in entertaining the people who bought the ticket to the rodeo. The thing that keeps us in business is to make sure people are entertained when they walk in there and watch the rodeo. When the rodeo is over, you want them to get up and say, ‘I want to come back another time.’”
Fans are attracted to rodeo for the same reason they are attracted to NASCAR races.
“In most cases, fans like to see the danger,” Neal Gay said. “The people in the grandstands don’t like to see anyone get hurt, but want to see someone nearly get hurt. It’s like a rodeo clown who has a bull that runs at him, but the clown steps away from a bull and the bull doesn’t hit him, but it was a close call. That’s exciting to people in the grandstands and everyone else involved. It’s even exciting to me when I see it.”
A good show
Dave Appleton of Fort Worth , the 1988 PRCA world all-around champion who specialized in bareback and saddle bronc riding and currently is a TV commentator for pro rodeos, said the Gays have a deep desire to produce a great rodeo.
“Anybody who knows Neal Gay and even Jim knows that they take great pride in putting on a great show,” Appleton said. “They sit and they watch that stock and they do a good job.”
Rusty Wright, a former Wrangler National Finals Rodeo saddle bronc riding qualifier, said the riders have benefitted from the Fort Worth Rodeo’s commitment to providing quality stock.
“I always drawn good horses there,” Wright said. “You can’t not get on a good horse there. You can’t go anywhere else and get on that kind of horses for that kind of rodeo that’s that many days long. It’s hard to have a rodeo with that many performances and have enough good horses, but they do it.”
All in the family
Neal Gay and his wife, Kay, have three sons who were bull riders in their younger days. Pete Gay, the eldest, qualified for the National Finals Rodeo three times in the 1970s. Jim Gay, the youngest, was a prize-winning bull rider, but turned more toward rodeo production and now runs the family rodeo company.
Don Gay was pro rodeo’s bull riding kingpin from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. He won PRCA bull riding gold buckles in 1974-77, 1979-81 and in 1984. When Don Gay won world bull riding title No. 8 in 1984, he broke Jim Shoulders’ record of seven titles, which had stood since 1959, a quarter century.
After racking up all those titles, Don Gay began stock producing and became a popular TV rodeo and bull riding commentator. During the December 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Don Gay was the bull riding commentator for the daily CBS Sports broadcasts. During the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show, he will serve as an announcer during the two Bulls Night Out performances. He will be in the arena on horseback, offering commentary on each ride.
Both Neal and Don Gay have been inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado – Neal in 1993 and Don in 1979. They also are members of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
At 90, Neal Gay received the prestigious Hall of Fame Legend Award last November. Don Gay received the same award in 2013.
Don Gay has deep admiration for his father’s savvy stock contracting abilities. He well remembers when his father was hired by the late W.R. Watt Sr. to produce the Fort Worth Rodeo in the late 1970s.
“When my dad went to work for Bob Watt Sr., they had had single stock contracting firms put on the rodeo for many, many years,” Don Gay said. “You had some producers who had subleased stock, some of it had worked pretty good and some of it didn’t. But my dad was able to put it together where it works for everybody because everybody wants to have a stock contractor of record at a prestigious rodeo such as the Fort Worth Stock Show.”
Don Gay said the stronger fields of livestock make it fairer for contestants. He said the stronger pens of livestock minimize the old luck-of-the-draw factor and make the rodeo more of a riding contest.
“I think competition-wise, what it means to a rodeo contestant that is entered and making his living riding and roping, it means that a contestant’s ability means something,” Don Gay said. “It’s not just the luck of the draw. That’s the difference in rodeo today and rodeo 40 years ago.”