'Rewarding' revenge for Zeke Thurston keeps Albertan rolling

Saddle-bronc star wins Day 2 show with redemptive re-ride at Calgary Stampede

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Zeke Thurston is picking up steam.

So much so that not even Cloudy Skies could put a damper on his run Saturday at the Calgary Stampede.

The Alberta saddle-bronc star put a sunny spin on what’s been a one-sided rivalry with the raucous horse for a Day 2 victory at GMC Stadium.

“Dang sure a tricky horse,” said Thurston, a three-time Calgary Stampede champ in 2015, ’16 and ’17. “But I got my revenge on her. Got her rode and got a score, anyway.”

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And got the first-place day-money of $7,000, to boot.

That after the native of Big Valley, Alta., came in 0-2 against Cloudy Skies — with both battles coming at big-time rodeos. Thurston was bucked off by the Calgary Stampede Ranch star during the first round of the 2023 Canadian Finals Rodeo and also at the heralded Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

And this renewal of the rivalry came as a surprise, after Thurston was awarded a re-ride Saturday, with Cloudy Skies drawing in for the showdown.

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“It really is rewarding,” Thurston said. “Because the odds are stacked against you usually if it’s a re-ride. But at the same time, you get warmed up and you get your motor running. That’s why I don’t mind doing the re-ride right away because you’re already in your gear and kind of in that mind-frame, so you might as well do it again.”

So the 29-year-old Albertan climbed back on and made this one stick on Cloudy Skies — enough for an 85.5-point show and the $7,000 top-ride payout.

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Thurston just edged out Riggin Smith for top spot after the Idaho cowboy put up 85 on Annual News but has the top two-day total with $12,500 in the saddle-bronc event.

In second with $8,500, Thurston does control his own fate in Sunday’s third and final round of Pool A action in a bid to finish top four for a spot in the championship day.

“I love this rodeo — it’s a lot of fun,” Thurston said. “It’s a tough one to win. You’ve got to get on a lot of horses and battle the best guys in the world, and a lot of things have to go your way.

“But my body’s healthy — I feel really good.”

And he is on a roll, coming off a $30,000 week during the Fourth of July rodeo rush — or Cowboy Christmas, as it’s called in rodeo circles.

After success at three rodeos in Canada — including Ponoka — and more from a handful of visits to U.S. shows — including wins in Red Lodge, Mont., and Killdeer, N.D. — the heater has pushed Thurston up to eighth place in the PRCA world standings.

“Busy couple of days,” added Thurston. “I was a pretty tired guy Friday coming into Stampede.”

Now he’s buzzing.

BARRELLING AROUND THE TRACK

Ashley Castleberry has dreamt of participating in the Calgary Stampede ever since she was a young barrel racer.

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But the Texan’s debut with her horse, Skyy Blue, didn’t go as planned.

So she picked herself up from the last-place finish, dusted herself off, asked the grounds committee to tend to the track where Skyy Blue slipped up Friday and came out smokin’ Saturday.

Good enough, in the end, for top spot and the $7,000 payday on Day 2.

“It’s easy to count yourself out for the whole week after that,” said Castleberry, when recalling the Day 1 debacle. “But you just have to go run for run and have a very short memory. So I just blocked out (Friday’s) run and knew I was first on the ground (Saturday), so I really went for it.”

The 17.34-second trip was, indeed, a winner — and the fastest time in barrel racing through two days.

Even better for the 24-year-old Castleberry was that it topped legend Lisa Lockhart’s time of 17.47s and lifts her into contention for one of four berths to Showdown Sunday. Those spots will be decided after Day 3’s final run of Pool A.

And Castleberry would like to secure one of those to continue living the dream at GMC Stadium.

“You’ve got to earn your spot here,” added Castleberry. “It’s been several years in the making to get here. But it is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s big. It’s loud. The crowd is into it all the time.

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“It is awesome.”

John Douch from Huntsville,TX, during the Tie-Down Roping event at Day one of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary on Saturday
John Douch from Huntsville,TX, during the Tie-Down Roping event at Day one of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary on Saturday, July 6, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

AROUND THE CHUTES

For the second-straight day at the Stampede, Leighton Berry finished on top of the bareback field after riding Bomb Cherry to a splendid 87.5 points. But Berry had to split Saturday’s top prize money with fellow Texan Cole Franks, who matched Berry’s ride on Born Fearless. Only bull-riding phenom Nick Tetz — a Calgarian and the only cowboy to stay on in his event to earn $23,250 Saturday — has won more cash than Berry — who has pocketed $13,250 — through two rounds of The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth …
John Douch was the fastest tie-roper Saturday with a 7-flat run, edging Day 1-winner — and fellow Texan— Tuf Cooper and Brazil’s Marcos Costa by one-10th of a second … Stephen Culling, of Fort St. John, B.C., topped all steer wrestlers with a lightning-quick 3.9-second job … Denver Leitch, of Grimshaw, Alta., won the day-money in novice bareback with a 72.5-point ride on Garnish Rose. The 2024 novice bareback champ will be crowned Sunday when the event’s third of three days wraps up. Jace Lomheim, of Hughenden, Alta., is the leader with $4,000 after two performances, followed by Leitch at $2,500 … Sunday’s Day 3 of the Stampede gets underway at 1:30 p.m. at GMC Stadium.

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