CALGARY- The wagons have rolled in, and it’s once again time to hear the thunder from horses rounding the track at the Rangeland Derby. 36 drivers have visions of lining up in that final heat on the final night of the Calgary Stampede.
A date in the Dash for Cash on July 13th requires nine nights of consistent racing. That’s exactly what we saw a year ago from Jason Glass, en route to winning his first Stampede title and a cheque for $100,000.
Glass is again one of the favourites, sitting third overall in the World Professional Chuckwagon Association standings, trailing only Jerry Bremner and Kirk Sutherland.
“Glass has three really good outfits that are capable of a top five run on any given night. [Jason] is a bonafide champion,” says Chuckwagon analyst Billy Melville.
‘Captain Kirk’ may be the early frontrunner. Sutherland was the World Champion runner-up each of the last two seasons, and has already won a WPCA tour stop this year in Saskatoon.
He almost won his second in Ponoka last weekend, but despite crossing the finish line first outrider penalties cost him the title. Kurt Bensmiller was the eventual champion, for his first Ponoka victory. He also sits fourth place in the world standings.
Meanwhile, Kirk has been in the Dash for Cash two of the last three Stampedes, this year he’s hoping to earn his first title. His brother Kelly is looking to add to his record 12 Stampede titles, during his 41st trip to Calgary.
Last year’s World Champion Rick Fraser is also in search of his first Rangeland Derby victory.
“Fraser is on the cusp of winning the Calgary Stampede,” says Melville. A penalty on Day 8 cost Fraser the Richard Cosgrave Memorial Award, as aggregate winner. Fraser has been to the dash five times, only to come away empty handed.
Never count out Troy Dorchester, the Stampede Centennial champion remains the only driver to win the unofficial Chuckwagon ‘Triple Crown’ (Ponoka Stampede, Calgary aggregate, and Calgary Dash for Cash). Dorchester currently sits sixth in the world standings.
Melville believes 2009 Champion Chad Harden is another guy certainly capable of breaking through again.
“He may not have the speed as some of the other guys, but he’s one of the best drivers out there, just not really given the credit,” he says.
Harden is one of only six active drivers to have won the Rangeland Derby, and only two have won it multiple times. The others are Kelly Sutherland (12) and Luke Tournier (2).
‘Lightning’ Luke still holds the earnings record at a single Calgary Stampede, which he set back in 2007, his last win in Calgary.
There won’t be much of a battle for this year’s Orville Strandquist Awardt, Kris Molle has that all but sealed up, as the only rookie driver in the field. The Chauvin, Alberta native comes by way of the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association tour.
As Molle gets his first taste, three veteran drivers are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Brian Laboucane, Reg Johnstone and Tim Haroldson will all race in their final Calgary Stampede.
This is the second year on a shortened track at Stampede, and many are expecting the track record to fall a couple more times. Glass holds the current mark at 1:09.87, don’t be surprised to see more times under that 1:10.00 mark.
Run clean and run fast. That’s what every driver hopes to do as the 2014 edition of the Calgary Stampede opens Friday night.
Regardless of who earns the right to race in next Sunday’s sudden death heat, the Rangeland Derby guarantees 10 days of great racing and great entertainment