Learning he drew Martini for Wildcard Saturday was an early birthday present for Ryan Gray.
The Petersburg, Texas, bareback rider saved his celebrating for after his 87-point ride aboard the Calgary Stampede bucker.
Taking $6,000 for the first-place finish, Gray gave himself a shot at the $100,000 top prize on Showdown Sunday with the eight-second effort.
"Yeah. My birthday's today -- not that that had anything to do with it," Gray said after his ride.
"Sure is nice, though."
So is the day-money, which was a whole lot more than the $750 he had to his credit for one split of fifth place over his week in Calgary.
Seems his luck started to turn for the better right around suppertime Thursday, when he found out he had a date with Martini, the 1,350-lb. bay gelding who carried Heath Ford to a share of first place in the third go-round a week ago.
"I knew it was a good horse. I knew they won a round on her here earlier in the week," Gray said. "I hadn't seen him in a while, but I knew it was a good horse and a good chance to win."
Grabbing the second spot in today's long-round for his good ride was Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore.
Mote earned $7,250 in Pool B over the week but needed an 86.5 aboard Wayne Vold's Centenial to claim a berth in the finale.
It wasn't Mote's birthday, but he felt like he landed the best horse the night before, when the draw was made.
He won top day-money at the Stampede a year ago on the mount that also helped Cody DeMers take top prize in go-round four this week.
"I was pumped. If they'd have let me pick out of them 12, that's the one I would have chosen," Mote said.
"That horse had a great day. He's got great timing, bucks hard, and bucks in a way that lets you show your stuff.
"That's all you can ask for."
Well, that and a special birthday memory, which doesn't come round often for Gray with the annual event coming so soon after the rodeo-crazy week of Cowboy Christmas in July and often during his Stampede efforts.
Most of his birthdays have been forgettable, at least in terms of money he has won on the rodeo circuit. The spot in the showdown helps make this one special.
"Honestly, I don't remember. I'm not huge on birthdays. I'm never around for a party or anything.
"I'll remember this one."