Steamboat Springs California bull rider Chad Denton has already won two Pro Bull Riding Classic titles in Steamboat Springs, and if he gets his way this Labor Day weekend, he will own three.
For him, winning this weekend's Professional Bull Rider's Challenger Tour event is part of regaining the form he lost to an injury last fall.
"Winning Challenger events is the only way I can get back up," Denton said.
Denton climbed to 12th in the PBR's point standings in 2002 before an injury at the Las Vegas World Finals in November knocked him off track.
"That's just part of the game," the 25-year-old bull rider said. "You just have to deal with injuries, and I've had my share over the years."
During his career, Denton has undergone nine surgeries. He broke his ankle in 2001, and spent more than half the season at home recovering. That's the only year he missed the Steamboat Springs Pro Bull Riding Classic and it's also the only edition of the local competition that he hasn't won.
Last year, he stayed healthy for most of the season and returned to Steamboat to win the 2002 Steamboat Pro Bull Riding Classic.
But Denton injured his shoulder at the World Finals in Las Vegas a few months later and spent the next six months sitting on the sidelines while going through rehabilitation.
Because of the bad shoulder, Denton was unable to compete in the Built Ford Tough Series earlier this season -- and slipped in the PBR rankings because of it.
"I have no idea where I'm ranked right now," Denton said. "I've only been back for a couple of months, so I haven't had much time to make up ground."
After an injury, cowboys are allowed to enter four Built Ford Tough events without being ranked, he said. But most of the cowboys need to return to the Challenger Tour to regain their ranking.
Only the top 45 riders in the world are invited to the Built Ford Tough Series -- the highest level of riding offered by the PBR. There are only 29 of those events, including the World Finals in Las Vegas, during the season.
The Challenger Tour has 45 events, including the Aug. 31 stop at Romick Arena, which is part of Steamboat Springs' Rockin' Roundup. The events are not televised and tend to have smaller purses than the more elite tour, but it's the best place for a rider to build or maintain his world ranking.
For Denton, the Challenger Tour is the best place to regain the spot he lost while recovering from his injury. He is hoping that his two remaining starts on the Built Ford Tough Series will also add to his totals this season.
"Sure, I think it's still possible for me to make the World Finals," Denton said. "All it takes is a couple of wins and a cowboy can be right in there."
Pro Bull Riding Classic promoter Brent Romick is thrilled that Denton will return to Steamboat this year to defend his title.
He said this year's field of bull riders should be Steamboat's strongest ever.
"We are going to have 20 of the top 50 bull riders in the world right here in Steamboat Springs," Romick said.
Romick said the group of riders is expected to come from 18 states and four countries. Included in that group is one of the most recognized names in the PBR, Adriano Moraes of Brazil. He is the only rider to ever win repeat world titles in the PBR.
Other top names include Cheyenne Frontier Day's winner Paulo Crimber, PRCA World Champion Blue Stone and Justin Volz, who has won at Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Calgary Stampede in the same year.
Because of the big names, Romick is expecting the bull-riding event to draw record crowds once again. He is encouraging bull-riding fans to buy their tickets early and to show up at the arena on the day of the rodeo early.
Tickets are on sale at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, All That Jazz, F.M. Light & Sons, and Soda Creek Western Wear here in Steamboat.