Bulls best Native riders at Murray Invite

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

ALBUQUERQUE, March 31, 2011

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Spud Jones from Tohatchi, N.M., rides Palm Springs March 25 at the Ty Murray Invitational at the UNM Pit in Albuquerque. Jones did not make his ride.

As a first time entrant in the Professional Bull Riders Ty Murray Invitational, Justin Granger would have liked a Cinderella story to tell.

After all, it's the end of March and that's the best time for an underdog to emerge.

Unfortunately things didn't work out that way for the Tuba City bull rider. Instead he left the Pit in Albuquerque feeling a bit modest as the three-day riding event turned out to be a tough experience.

To him, the bulls in the Ford Tough Series are a different caliber, but after being shutout over the weekend he was amped about getting better.

"This was a nice experience, but those bulls were really rank," Granger said. "Shoot, I just need to go home and work out some more and try to get to a higher level."

Although Granger has participated in a few PBR events, the Built Ford Tough Series is by invitation only as the top 40 bull riders compete each weekend at different sites. The Albuquerque event was the 12th stop in a 28-city tour that will end in Las Vegas, Nev., in late October.

"Hopefully I can get another opportunity to ride in an event like this," he said. "Not too many people can say they rode in here, but I want to prepare myself for some upcoming events in the challenger circuit of the PBR."

Granger was one of three Native Americans invited to ride in this year's Ty Murray Invitational. He and Spud Jones of Tohatchi, N.M., represented the Navajo Nation while Dakota Lewis represented the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Besides Granger, Lewis was also a first-timer as the Montana cowboy earned his spot after winning the bull-riding crown at the Indian National Finals Rodeo last year.

Of the three, Jones was the most successful Native American bull rider at the event. In 2009, Jones qualified for the Wrangler National Finals where he placed in two rounds and finished 13th in the world with $98,556 in winnings.

But a torn ACL kept him out of competition for much of last year. And although the knee was repaired by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tandy Freeman, the 22-year-old says he's still trying to get back where he was in 2009.

"I'm in a slump right now and I just have been riding out," Jones said. "I have to try to move forward, but right now my confidence is not where it needs to be.

"You know I was happy to be riding bulls again, but it's hard to get your confidence back," he added.

In his opening round, Jones drew a bull called Palm Springs and kept up with the 1,600-pound beast for 3.10 seconds. Unfortunately his confidence didn't get any better as he lasted only 2.06 seconds on Flip Side in Saturday night's performance.

"Those were to great bulls and I have nothing to complain about it, but I made a few mistakes here and there," Jones said. "It's all me on what I did wrong."

As for his third-round draft choice, Jones said he was left with little choice but did last 4.40 seconds on Crossfire.

Granger, meanwhile, started the competition on Iron Horse and lasted 2.03 seconds.

"I seen that bull a couple of times and he usually starts to go the left," Granger said. "That night he blew out of there and he just popped my hand out and I fell off."

In round two, Granger gave Bad Moon a try before he was bucked off in 5.91 seconds. Afterwards, world champion Renato Nunes told Granger that he "had a great ride."

"He told that if I had a little more heart I could have covered him," Granger said. "I just made a little mistake and it was hard to recover."

In the last round, Granger wasn't able to finish as he lasted 3.23 seconds on Estaban.

Although this was humbling experience, Granger said it was well worth it.

"I got a chance to talk to a lot of guys and they helped me out," he said. "I know I have to keep working if I want to get to the top."

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