MISSOULA — Stevensville's newest resident just happens to be one of the best bareback bronc riders in the world.

He showed his adopted hometown fans why Friday night in the Missoula Stampede.

Richmond Champion, who moved to the Bitterroot Valley from Texas recently, surged into the bareback lead on the second of three nights of competition at the Western Montana Fair rodeo. He scored 86 on Great Nation, a critter that last week produced the best score in the Big Sky Pro Rodeo in Great Falls.

Champion is ranked No. 4 in the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) world standings and has twice won the Calgary Stampede. He finished second in the National Finals Rodeo just two years ago and the 26-year-old is determined to reach the top before his career is over.

To do so, he knows he has to capitalize when he draws a bronc like Great Nation.

"If anything, more is expected of you to take advantage of that situation," he said. "That horse is going to give you the opportunity to do what you can do and more. A chance to really show off and have fun.

"I knew she was going to blow in the air and give me all the time and I was really looking forward to it. If that horse is jumping out there and they're seeing it and she's kicking like that, they're going to expect me to do my job. It worked out tonight."

Bareback riding is just as much a mental test as it is physical. Champion has been fighting with equipment issues lately, sort of like a golfer with his putter or a baseball player with the weight of his bat.

"I'm coming around on 10 years doing this and that's a long time to be riding bareback horses, but I'm constantly learning," he said. "I was telling Caleb Bennett, my traveling partner (from Corvallis), 'Yeah, I think I've finally got my equipment issues figured out.'

"He was like, 'No you don't.' I was like, 'Yeah, you're right.' I said, 'You're 36 and you still ask me questions.' This sport will teach you something day in and day out."

To be at his best, Champion knows he needs to be worry free when the chute opens. Friday's performance will help his confidence.

"It's been a month of little, subtle things that make a big difference when they start adding up," he said. "Riggings and gloves and tape jobs, sore wrists .... Every year there's something new that happens. But it's still fun. I'm loving it."

Champion is looking forward to the day when he can spend a little more time in Stevensville. By his count, he's only stayed there 10 nights because he's so busy with rodeo trips.

"But I'm sure loving that valley," he said. "We moved here because my wife is from Canada and it's closer for her to go home and visit. And I came through here a couple summers ago and thought this is pretty sweet. We were looking to get out of the Texas heat."

Another Montana man, 19-year-old Jayde Murphy of Cut Bank, seized the lead in bull riding with a score of 84 Friday aboard Apex Predator. Polson's Payton Fitzpatrick dropped into second after scoring 83 on Thursday.

"Each bull you get on you're just taking them jump for jump and you try not to think about a whole lot," Murphy said. "You try to clear your mind and get 'em rode.

"I had never heard of (Apex Predator). That's always good, though."

The conditions Friday night — Missoula received rain during the day — were extra good for barrel racing.  All of the best four times came from riders Friday night, which is noteworthy considering the large number of women that gave it a go on Thursday night and Friday morning in slack.

Cheyenne Wimberley, ranked 19th in the WPRA world standings, owns the best time at 17.41 seconds. Fellow Texan Stevi Hillman, ranked 10th in the world, sits in second at 17.47.

In tie down roping, Idaho's Cody Craig seized the lead Friday night. He posted a time of 8.3 seconds.

The Missoula Stampede will conclude Saturday night.

Bill Speltz is in his 13th year as Missoulian Sports Columnist. He also guides the sports dept., scheduling day-to-day coverage. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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