Kurt Bensmiller poses with a chuck at the tarp auction Thursday. (Photo by Lyle Aspinall)
BY SCOTT FISHER, CALGARY SUN
If the Chicago Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews, it would certainly hurt their aspirations of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
Not impossible. But it would certainly hurt.
That’s what Kurt Bensmiller is facing as he looks for an elusive three-peat at the Calgary Stampede.
The Rangeland Derby’s newest young star will head back to the Half Mile of Hell without all-star right wheeler Tank.
And those don’t grow on trees.
“Hopefully, all 16 horses will be all-star horses,” Bensmiller said. “I’ve been at (fellow driver and close friend) Jordie Fike’s place and we’ve been breaking in some new ones.
“I had one who chipped a bone and he’ll have to sit in the field for the year. The vet said he’d never seen anything like it so it’s discouraging that I’ll lose him for a year.
“But he’s only 10. So he’ll be back as an 11-year-old ready to rock and roll.”
Bensmiller, who added his first WPCA world title to a rapidly expanding trophy case last fall, said losing a veteran horse like Tank can be devastating.
“He’s a big, powerful horse and I’ll miss him as the year goes on,” Bensmiller said. “But his health is what matters.
“Just replacing horses on an outfit like that is a lot easier said than done.
“If you don’t have that consistency with a horse that is going to go to war for you every night, it can be a little dicey.”
Bensmiller will be looking to join some elusive company this July as the fourth wagon driver to win three straight Stampede titles.
Kelly Sutherland was the last to pull off a trio of wins in 1997-99. Dale Flett (1961-63), Hank Willard, who won five in a row (1951-55) and Dick Cosgrave (1935-38) have also earned a three-peat.
Is the 33-year-old up for the challenge?
“I guess I’ll answer it the same as last year when everyone wondered if I could do two in a row,” Bensmiller said.
The Dewberry driver topped the 2016 Rangeland Derby canvas auction for the second straight year when Tsuu T’ina Nation shelled out $120,000 on Thursday night.
Building a lasting relationship with the group is something that gives a driver peace of mind.
“They make it pretty easy,” Bensmiller said. “They treat me and my family like family. No one worries about losing a bit of money now and then when you get to team up with someone who treats you as good as they treat you.
“I know what to expect when I come to Calgary, and they’ll probably sponsor me on the (WPCA tour).
It’s nice to just be able to go out and race because that’s what they want you to do. It’s nice to know where you stand with them and what to expect.”
Like maybe another trophy bronze?
“We do, too,” Bensmiller said with a smile. “And they do as well. They’re in it to win it.
“Hopefully, with what we put together, we can be back up on stage again.
“The end-game is to be up on stage after eight nights (for the aggregate award) and again after 10 nights (for the $100,000 cheque).”
The chuckwagon world lost former driver Donny Chapin on Thursday. Chapin, who drove a wagon for 25 years, died from a heart condition.