CHEYENNE – The top-ranked bareback bronc rider in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings was shocked when he saw the horse he drew Wednesday at the 125th anniversary Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.

The quality of the horse was what was most surprising, but it didn’t matter to Tim O’Connell, who took Sankey Pro Rodeo’s Sozo for a ride of 87 out of Chute 6. The ride earned him the top score in the fifth performance to advance to the semifinals.

“That horse has been so good for so long, but it’s been a long time since I’ve got to get on him,” said O’Connell, who also admitted the draw made him a little nervous. “I scored an 89 on him about four years ago in Pendleton (Oregon), and I was pretty shocked to see my name next to him (Wednesday).

“He’s that final Sunday horse; he’s special.”

Following O’Connell was the second best bareback ride of the day by Will Lowe, who scored an 86. With the top score being threatened, O’Connell didn’t mind, especially since he had already secured a spot in this weekend’s semifinals.

He’s just glad to be competing against the best.

“Those are your brothers out there, and you want your brothers to do just as great as you did. I love competing against the highest level of competition,” said O’Connell, who hails from Zwingle, Iowa. “Cheyenne brings (motivation) out in you to begin with, and when great scores keep coming right in front of you, you know you need to turn it on just a little bit more, just a little bit more, and then all of a sudden, your turn it on ... meter’s all the way up.”

Steer wrestling

Kyle Whitaker hasn’t had the best season of his 25+ year career, but the veteran has started to find a little momentum recently.

That momentum carried into Wednesday when the Chambers, Nebraska, resident timed in at 7.2 seconds to finish first in steer wrestling. Whitaker had a small plan with the steer he drew based on what he saw during Wednesday morning’s slack round, and it played out well.

“That steer ran out a little more than I thought he would,” Whitaker said. “(Wednesday morning), he trotted out and wanted to stop a little bit, so I let him move a little forward.”

The years of experience has allowed Whitaker to work on his craft and technique. That technique is always crucial, and especially at the “Daddy of ’em All,” Whitaker said.

“Sometimes on the bigger cattle, bigger guys can get away with some things that a little guy can’t,” he said. “But in Cheyenne, you need excellent technique, no matter what, because you’re going so fast and you’re so far out there.”

Breakaway roping

Makayla Mack was on the brink of not qualifying for the CFD performances.

The 23-year-old breakaway roper finished tied for 30th at 6.0 seconds in the qualifying round, which was the cutoff point to advance. She proved that she belonged and made that spot she earned count by clocking in at 4.6 seconds Wednesday.

“I knew he was a good calf, so I just pushed the barrier and went at him and was fortunate enough to make a good run,” the Hennessey, Oklahoma, cowgirl said.

Mack is in her rookie year, and is competing at Frontier Park Arena for the first time. The atmosphere has been unlike any other for her, but it likely won’t be the last time she leaves Chute 9 during an afternoon in late July.

“It was amazing – the crowd and the energy is amazing,” she said. “I’m just thankful to have my horse and know that he’s going to do his job. So, hopefully I can draw another good one and keep going at them.”

Bull riding

JB Mauney was the final contestant of the day, and the crowd that didn’t leave early was in for a treat.

The third-ranked bull rider in the PRCA world standings rode Dakota Rodeo’s Eagle Eye for a score of 87.5. That score is now the top bull riding score through the first five performances.

Eagle Eye was a mystery to the Cotulla, Texas, cowboy, but ultimately, it’s just like any other bull – he’s going to buck.

“I had no idea what that bull was going to do,” Mauney said. “But I figured he was going to buck, and it all worked out.”

Mauney gets back on another bull today for a chance to win some more money in the sixth performance. He’s already secured a spot in the semifinals, but his focus isn’t going anywhere.

“I just need to keep riding bulls one at a time,” he said. “I usually don’t try to get ahead of myself, I usually don’t think too much about the bull I got.

“It’s just one jump at a time.”

Robert Munoz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at rmunoz@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter @rmunoz307.

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