According to Forbes.com, “If you were one of the original 20 cowboys that invested $1,000 to fund the start of the Professional Bull Riders 21 years ago and remained an owner, which some have, your seed money would now be worth over $4 million.
“In case you are wondering, the participants can make good money too if they perform well. Last season PBR paid out $9 million to riders and $2 million to the bulls (their owners).
“PBR is now owned by 44 cowboys, management and Spire Capital. The handsome return has drawn celebrities. John Elway, Wayne Greztky and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda joined the party by investing in bulls. … (N)o U.S. sport has produced a return close to PBR over a similar period.”
The PBR, called by some the “greatest sport on dirt,” returns to The Pit Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the 18th annual Ty Murray Invitational. Murray, who once spent his summers in Ruidoso, Pena Blanca and Santa Fe at various stages of his life, was one of those original PBR investors.
Naturally, Murray, 44, will be there.
“This is no BS right here; Albuquerque has become a very special stop for a couple reasons,” Murray said in a recent telephone interview with the Observer. “No. 1, geographically, (where it’s) located, we are able to get the very best bulls every time. No. 2, the fans in New Mexico — Albuquerque, the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas — over the last 18 years of us coming here, have gained a real knowledge of the sport.
“That makes it great and it magnifies the level of electricity you feel in The Pit,” he said. “It’s not only fun for the fans but it’s fun for the riders — a home field advantage. Also, it’s an event on tour for 18 straight years — it’s almost become an event that’s steeped in tradition.”
Murray knows the sport has its naysayers, but he thinks once they’ve witnessed an event up close, they’ll change their minds.
“I try to do everything I can,” he said. “I feel like it’s part of my mission to help the rest of the world see and understand, have a level of appreciation for what our guys do. It’s so hard for our people to understand, not only from a physical standpoint, but the mental aspect.
“All sports have winning and losing, hero and embarrassment; our sport has that pressure and possibility of living or dying,” he added. “It’s intense – it makes other sports seem not that ‘extreme.'”
As expected, the PBR’s annual stop here — the 12th of the tour this season — is Murray’s favorite.
“I love coming back to Albuquerque – even the smell in the air, the dryness. That’s my second home; I spent every summer of my childhood there.”
Murray said another part of New Mexico’s uniqueness is when he makes sure to “invite the No. 1 Native American bull rider and he gets a chance to play with the big boys in Albuquerque.
“A tip of the hat to the Navajo Nation — they have been such sports, and I love the underdog element.”
This year’s invitee — PBR regular Ryan Dirteater is also Native American — is Guytin Tsosie of Farmington, whom Murray says, “is stepping up to a huge level.”
Although not everyone thought moving the Ty Murray Invite to The Pit a few years ago was a good idea, in retrospect, it was.
“I think it’s been amazing; we wanted to go to The Pit originally,” Murray said. “At the time, PBR was new; they were like, what is this? Bull riders and dirt? As PBR started having success and they understood what we are, and we do this in the biggest venues — Madison Square Garden, AT&T in Dallas — I’m glad they decided to have us as a partner.
“I think it’s one of the neatest places; you can feel the excitement in the air, and everyone’s feeling that energy,” he said.
Joao Ricardo Vieira was the only man to cover all four of his bulls, for a total of 353.25 points, to win last year’s Ty Murray Invite; he went on to win the Rookie of the Year title.
Murray said 2012’s winner J.B. Mauney, who got stepped on by a bull in Tacoma and missed the second round, has a good shot to win on Sunday.
“I’m a big fan; (Mauney) approaches the game in a cool way and he’s won the world championship. It’s always fun to watch him repeat. He should be riding good.”
Gage Gay, a 19-year-old rookie, could be considered another favorite this weekend.
“I like watching this kid,” Murray said, likening Gay to a young Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
As for the bulls, 1,600-pound Bushwacker, the reigning world champion, has been ridden only once since 2009, when Mauney scored a 95.5.
“I hope people understand it; it’s not a marketing hype. He’s a Muhammad Ali or Joe Montana, or a Michael Jordan — one of those athletes that doesn’t come down the pike every day. This is his farewell season — that’s something you won’t want to miss.”
Murray was asked if there was a bull he never seemed to master during his 500-plus qualified rides pre-PBR.
“There was one bull that I had five times and he bucked me off all five times — White Lightning. He gave me fits; he gave everybody fits,” he said. “That was the only bull I couldn’t figure out.”
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Gay tied for the top spot in Round 2 of the PBR Passport Invitational Sunday in Tacoma with world No. 1 Guilherme Marchi and led the top 15 bull riders into the championship round, but it was a strong come-from-behind performance by Cody Nance that brought the event title to the Paris, Tenn., bull rider.
Gay, who had three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in just seven BFTS events this year before last weekend, was the man to beat going into the final round at the Tacoma Dome. But just 2.65 seconds after he nodded his head he was tossed into the dirt by Buck Wild, and Nance celebrated as the winner. Gay finished the event in fifth place and is now ninth in the PBR world standings.
L.J. Jenkins of Texico did not manage to stay on either of his two bulls in Tacoma.
The 18th consecutive Ty Murray Invitational is presented by Sandia Resort and Casino.
The top 35 men in the world will be at The Pit Friday and Saturday and joined Sunday by Bushwacker. The event begins at 8 p.m. Friday; 7:50 p.m. Saturday; and 1:50 p.m. Sunday.
The event will air live Saturday and Sunday on CBS Sports Network at 9 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.