NASHVILLE – Cody Hart has seen plenty of talented bull riders come through the PBR in the 21 years since he won the 1999 World Championship with 16 90-point rides and four event wins.
Hart has wondered during those two-plus decades who would one day beat his PBR single-season record for 90-point rides because, in sports, it is only a matter of time before a record falls.
Well, the 43-year-old can now officially tip his hat to reigning PBR World Champion Jose Vitor Leme. The No. 1-ranked bull rider in the world set the new standard for 90-point rides on Saturday night when he recorded his 17th 90 on the Unleash The Beast this season with a 90.75-point ride on Show Me Homie during the PBR Ariat Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires.
“I couldn’t have handpicked a better guy to beat it,” Hart told PBR.com this week. “Man, I am glad. It has been so long. I have held that record for so long, and I was wondering when it was going to get broke. From what I watch on the broadcast and things, he is in a realm of his own, that’s for sure. It is good to see. He takes the sport serious.
“Of all the bull riders going right now, he is the least – the LEAST – one-dimensional. It doesn’t matter what they do or which direction they go. I know he prefers them to go into his hand, but it really doesn’t matter if they go left or end-over-end. He is going to ride them.”
Hart had 16 90-point rides during his 1999 gold-buckle season, one of the greatest single seasons in PBR history. Hart recorded his 16th and final 90-point ride that year when he rode Copen Zandy for 92.5 points during the historic Night of the 90s (Round 2) at the PBR World Finals.
That 90 came on Hart’s 46th qualified ride of the season, while Leme’s 16th, which occurred on July 31 when he rode Woopaa for a record-setting 97.75 points, happened on his 30th qualified ride.
Leme’s 17th 90-point ride occurred on his 35th qualified ride – 11 rides faster than Hart.
“It’s very special,” Leme said. “I am not only here to win. I want to put my name on the history (books). Now I put my name for another reason, for most 90-point rides in a single season. I’m just so happy because I work for that. I work hard for all these 90s. I pick the rank bulls to go into the 90s, and I’m just so happy and blessed about another great mark on my career.”
The four-time PBR World Finals qualifier is on a march to win a second consecutive World Championship and become just the second rider in PBR history to win back-to-back world titles.
Leme earned 29 world points on Saturday night by winning Round 1 to push his lead atop the world standings to 439.50 points.
When Hart won the 1999 World Championship, he clinched the gold buckle two events before the World Finals in Columbus, Ohio.
“Other than just staying focused and enjoying the game, it is the easiest thing in the world to keep riding that high,” Hart said. “But getting there is the hard part. It seems like everything comes so easy when you are riding that high, and you are riding at your best, and you are doing the things that Leme is doing now. It is easy to do things right. For some reason, I don’t know if you got a rabbit’s foot in your pocket or something, but everything seems to come easy and go your way. He’s definitely doing the right things to keep that rabbit’s foot in his pocket.”
So, what is next for Leme to accomplish when comparing his 2021 season to Hart’s 1999 campaign?
Of course, he still needs to hold off his world title challengers, riders such as World Champions Kaique Pacheco and Cooper Davis, in the final three months of the season.
Hart, similarly, had to fend off a series of World Champions in his pursuit of the 1999 world title.
Hart won six regular-season events as he withstood the efforts of nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, two-time PRCA champion bull rider Terry Don West and future two-time World Champion Chris Shivers.
After spending the first three months of the season chasing Murray, Hart made sure to smash his foot on the gas pedal once he got ahead of Murray in April.
“Ty was chasing, and it was me and him,” Hart recalled. “It was kind of funny because I was chasing him in the first half of the year, and then we went to Albuquerque, and I passed him at his own event. Then he never seen my taillights after that. But I always played it like they were always right on my heels. That kept me driving and going. Even when there was no chance of them catching me, I still had to keep it in my mind that they were on my heels, and I had to keep the gas pedal down and keep going. In this sport, if you slack off any at all, you are going to be picking dirt out of your ears for the next three weeks.
“I always acted like they were right behind me. You are crazy not to be able to look at the standings or hear the announcers talk about how big of a lead you’ve got or how big of a lead you’ve got. You have to block it out and focus on one bull at a time and one jump at a time.”
Leme currently has four wins this season, and there is the possibility he could challenge two-time World Champion Justin McBride for the PBR single-season record for most event wins in a season (8) if he continues to ride at an elite level and stays healthy.
Leme won seven regular-season events last year on his way to the 2020 World Championship.
Leme will look to extend his lead in the world standings Sunday during Championship Sunday of the Music City Knockout (8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network). He has drawn The Sauce (12-2, UTB) for Round 2 on Sunday. The Sauce bucked Leme off in 6.56 seconds in Omaha, Nebraska, earlier this season.
Let’s take a look at how Leme’s 90-point ride record and 2021 season are shaping up compared to Hart’s 1999 season of dominance.
Cody Hart’s path to 16 90-point rides
Outs: 67Rides: 46Average 90-point Ride Score: 92.16
Top Ride: 94.5 points on Cripple Creek Promiseland
Number of 90-point rides on PBR World Champion Bulls: 4 (Promiseland, Moody Blues [2x], Panhandle Slim)
Jose Vitor Leme’s path to 16 90-point rides (Note: Leme notched his 17th 90-point ride on Saturday night)
Average 90-point Ride Score: 92.13
Top Ride: 97.75 points on Woopaa
Number of 90-point rides on PBR World Champion Bulls: 0
ANALYSIS: It took Leme 37 fewer outs and 16 fewer qualified rides to get to 16 90-point rides compared to Hart.
Both riders averaged almost the same score, even with Leme having the PBR-record 97.75 points on Woopaa on his tally. Hart had four 90s that were 94 points or higher, whereas Leme had two.
One area where Hart still edges Leme is World Champion Bulls ridden for 90 or more points. During Hart’s 16 90-point rides, a quarter of his 90s were on the back of three different World Champion Bulls. To be fair, Leme could have at least two rides on a World Champion Bull if Woopaa goes on to win the 2021 YETI World Champion Bull title.
Hart was 90 or more points 34.78% of the time he made the whistle, while Leme is posting 90-point rides at a ridiculous 48.57% clip.
One other difference between 1999 and 2021 is that the championship-round draft had yet to be instituted in the PBR in 1999.
However, 12 of Leme’s 17 90-point rides came via random draw and not the championship round.
“It was a little bit different back then,” Hart said. “We didn’t get to pick our bulls back then either. Whenever Leme reaches into the hat, he has the choice to pick what he wants to be 90. On. Back then, we were subject to the luck of the draw and hope you drew something you could make the whistle on. Don’t get me wrong, there were awesome bulls back then, but you had more 85- to 87-point bulls compared to now. There is a lot of 90 bulls out there that don’t get rode because they are picked last or don’t get picked at all, and that last guy has to get on him. Now, guys can be like, ‘Yeah, you can be 90 on these two. Well, this one goes to the left, and this one goes into my hand. I am going to take the one into my hand.’”
Hart laughed when asked how many 90-point rides he could have posted during a draft era.
“That is hard to say. I might’ve only had 10,” Hart said before laughing. “I might have picked something that I may have been 88 on instead of getting on that one that nobody wanted and be 92. I don’t know. If I could pick them out of there, there is no telling. I would hate to say one thing or another. Maybe I would have picked over my head, and I would have got my head stuck in the dirt more times. I was lucky the way it turned out anyway.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media