OAKDALE -- The 56th Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo puts the bulls on center stage this weekend.
Rodeo's most notorious four-legged superstars are accustomed to top billing, of course, but -- for the first time in Oakdale -- they'll kick off the main performances Saturday and Sunday.
"When the bull riding starts, people are in their seats," said Norm Mendenhall, the arena director and the saddle-club president for the 11th year. "We'll start off with a bang."
Bull riding, and all its surrounding theater, normally is saved for the final event of the rodeo. But this year, due to the difficult logistics of loading a full session of bulls into the chutes, Oakdale will begin its performances with 12 cowboy-vs.-bull showdowns and end the show with 12.
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By featuring 24 bull riders per performance, the saddle club also saves money by opting out of the "special performance" bull riding on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
"By running 24 of them at the end of the rodeo, you're just jamming everything together," Mendenhall said. "This way, it's not so congested and you get more into the show."
The show begins today at 4 p.m. when about 50 of the 73 girls barrel racing entries try their luck. It marks the third year the barrel racing has started on Thursday to take advantage of better footing on the arena floor.
"They get better ground," Mendenhall said. "It's only them out there on Thursday."
Everyone else in the field of 512 will wait until the slack session Friday morning. They'll compete for a purse of about $100,000, which breaks down to cowboys' entry fees puffed by $4,000 per event from the saddle club ($8,000 in team roping).
The best of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association will split their time among three rodeos this weekend: the Clark County Fair and Rodeo in Logandale Nev., a four-performance event which wraps up Sunday; the 62nd Grand National at San Francisco's Cow Palace which ends Saturday night; and Oakdale. The Grand National, which used to be one of the last-chance qualifiers for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, was bumped from November to April last year.
"It hasn't hurt us like we thought it would," Mendenhall said. "We thought the guys would go more to Logandale and the Cow Palace because they're bigger-paying rodeos. We're still getting the timed-event cowboys here. It means Oakdale still has a little prestige to it."
Reigning world all-around champion Trevor Brazile, who's won rodeo's most prestigious award four of the last five years, leads the field. Brazile, the game's consummate roper, spices a list which also includes 2006 world champion team ropers Matt Sherwood and Allen Bach and steer wrestling world champion Dean Gorsuch.
Also in Oakdale are 2007 team roping leaders Mike and Brandon Beers and saddle bronc leader Rusty Allen. Brazile also has started fast and leads in the all-around as the PRCA trots into the spring.
Flying U of Marysville again will furnish much of the stock. Oakdale rodeo officials were saddened, however, by the recent death of Bob Christensen Sr., the rodeo's first stock contractor.
"He was with us the first 30 years," Mendenhall said. "He was real instrumental in getting us going."