CHEYENNE — Typically pitted in the rodeo’s eternal contest between man and livestock, Brody Cress faced an additional foe on Sunday: history. No cowboy in the 123 years of saddle bronc at Cheyenne Frontier Days had ever won the event for three straight years. Then came the boy from Hillsdale. And then came the re-ride for Wade Sundell to make it final.
The arena shook when Sundell’s final score wasn’t enough to overtake the leader. Rodeo announcer Andy Stewart cut through the roar by repeating himself over the speakers, “History made! History made! History made!”
Cheyenne Frontier Days arena director Frank Thompson turned to Brody Cress and told the Hillsdale native to take three victory laps. The young rider followed those directions, just like he has for the past 23 years. His horse excitedly kicked the Cheyenne Frontier Days Park arena dirt toward the sky. Cress grinned from ear to ear. The grandstands surrounding him gave an unwavering multi-minute ovation through each lap. Their hometown boy had done it again.
The Cheyenne East graduate, sporting a black shirt speckled with sponsor patches under a matching black vest, rode Smith Pro Rodeo’s Resistols Top Hat out of chute No. 7 and onto center stage. By the sixth second of Cress’ ride the crowd teemed with anticipation. He rode to the horn and found himself atop the aggregate with an 87.5-point ride on championship Sunday, earning applause from his fellow cowboys and a raucous reception from the fans.
“I knew I needed to take care of my business because she was going to jump out and be awesome,” Cress said. “It was awesome to be able to do that.”
That successful ride, however, didn’t claim the title right away. Victorious in one battle, he needed a 4-minute wait in order to win another. Smith Pro Rodeo’s Awesome Sauce fouled Sundell on his first ride, even throwing him to the dirt with an unceremonious headbutt. A shaken Sundell headed back to the chutes for another opportunity.
No stranger to re-rides under those exact circumstances, Cress stayed calm. He won his first CFD title on a re-ride in 2017 after his initial horse stalled out the gates. Last year he led the aggregate but saw through a re-ride from Wyatt Casper before that placement became final. With the same relaxed demeanor he carried to the chute, Cress ensured Sundell got his saddle on the re-ride and watched from the chutes as his friend scored an 86.
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“I would have been happy for Wade to win it because, shoot ...,” Cress explained, “getting second here is still outstanding.”
Instead, the Wyomingite made history. The 123rd Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo would have made history regardless. This was the first year that Cheyenne Frontier Days elected to move into a tournament format instead of its long-standard multi-head aggregate standings. The top four scores from each day of first runs qualified for the semifinals. Cress did so by scoring an 85 on Thursday. Then the top six from each of the two-day semifinal sections qualified for Sunday’s short go. Cress scored the semifinal’s best score with an 88.5 on Friday. Then the best ride out of all 12 finalists on Sunday won the rodeo.
That journey proved to be one of attrition as much as anything else. Stetson Wright, the current all-around leader in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings, was thrown from Smith Rodeo Company’s Utopia shortly before Cress’ ride. Sterling Crawley, currently No. 3 in the world, suffered the same fate at the hands of a horse named Hickok. Cody DeMoss, who still holds the arena record for his 91 scored back in 2010, broke a bone in his leg and took a 10-day doctor’s notice, preventing him from competing in the semifinals and onward.
“I like that,” the East grad stated. “You just know you’ve got to jump out there and do all you can. Ride against the best guys in the world on the best horses on this stage. You can’t stub your toe.”
Cress never did. He scored the best rides in both the semifinals and finals to bring home a total of $12,584.88. That boosts his hopes of a third consecutive National Finals Rodeo appearance. He has just over two months to climb into the top 15 from his spot of 28th entering the day. He returns to the road after one day’s rest in order to capitalize on his moment. But in the meantime he’s soaked in Sunday’s moment.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Cress smiled. “To be able to come here and do that in front of people who have done so much throughout my life and supported me and got me to where I am today, to be able to pay them off and have it go good, it’s outstanding.”