Having been through this drill a few times before, Fred Whitfield sauntered over to the gathered group of media and tipped his hat.
“Bet you’re surprised to see me,” the Hockley, Texas, native said with a grin.
At 47 years old and participating at The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth for the 25th time in his career, no one — at this point — is ever surprised to see Whitfield nodding his head and running calves at the Calgary Stampede.
And the feeling is mutual.
“There’s 30,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs before you every run (a calf),” said Whitfield who figures he has ridden six different horses in all of his years coming to the Stampede. “Then, when you’re able to get into the arena, you’re able to get them even more excited. It’s been a lot of fun coming up here roping.
“I say it every year: as long as they invite me, I’ll come back. But there’s going to come a day when I’m not going to be able to tie calves in seven (seconds), so I want to make the most of it.”
Tuesday, however, was not that day.
Whitfield, in vintage form, managed to cash in on the first day of Pool B competition by roping his calf in the day’s fastest time of 7.1 seconds. That earned him a nice first-place cheque of $5,500 and gave him an early start to advance to Sunday’s Championship Final.
He had the advantage of going a little later in the round, too, being the seventh of 10 cowboys to rope and was pleased with the calf he drew — a black and white speckled animal he’d had luck with at the Ponoka Stampede. Setting the tone before him was Timber Moore of Aubrey, Texas, and Clint Cooper of Decatur, Texas, who both had 7.6-second runs so the rest was up to Whitfield.
Just like he likes it.
“I want the competition to be tough because then it takes the mental lapses,” Whitfield said. “It’s easier. If not, you hit the barrier or the calf takes off.
“Whenever it’s the toughest, that’s when I’m at my best. I like it when the competition is good.”
Following him, Matt Shiozawa of Chubbuck, Idaho, came close with a 7.3-second performance but it wasn’t good enough on this day.
“I roped down a little ways … you kind of see what’s going on,” Whitfield said. “There was a 7.9 off the bat. One guy missed. Then, there was a 7.7 and 7.6. They just kept getting faster and faster. That calf I had, I knew he was pretty good … I’m just blessed to come out on top today.”
Whitfield has had a relatively quiet Fourth of July/Cowboy Christmas but he designed this season with Calgary in mind.
“I’ve got a good opportunity to win some money here, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Whitfield said. “If you come in second (on Championship Sunday) you’re going to win $40,000. If you win first, it’s $115,000, so you’re crazy not to come up here.
“We’ll see what happens.”