Kurt Bensmiller couldn't pull the grin from his face following the ninth and final heat of the 2018 GMC Rangeland Derby. The Dewberry, Alberta driver guided his horses to a fourth Calgary Stamepde Championship in the past five years. Bensmiller now owns Stampede championships from 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
"I was trying to get one at the start of this five years and now I've got four," said Bensmiller, who pocketed $100,000 for the Dash for Cash victory. "I don't even know how to explain it."
After the first back-to-back titles, his push for a third had been derailed by a penalty in the 2016 semifinal, which knocked him out of contention for the Dash for Cash.
"I never thought I'd have another shot at trying to win three in a row," said Kurt, who deployed outriders Chad Fike and Keegan Thomas for Sunday's championship heat. "Now we've built it up. I can't believe it's happened this fast. Who knows about next year? But as of now, we're really happy."
Working off the 1 Barrel, Bensmiller never trailed, rushing to the rail, surviving a race-long challenge from Jason Glass and a home-stretch push from Chanse Vigen, who was at the helm of his dad Mike's outfit.
When the dust settled, Kurt's pace was unbeatable – at 1:10.67 - it was the fastest of the week's 90 heats.
Vigen picked up $25,000, while Mark Sutherland settled for $15,000. Glass, hit with three seconds of penalties, got $10,000.
"He's had to figure it out," Bensmiller's chuckwagon legend father, Buddy, said of his son's emergence at the annual favourite in Calgary. "He's just got horsepower in the barn that I never did have. He drives well. They've got to give him credit for the way he drives."
Kurt used three outfits throughout the ten days of racing; none finished a night lower than fifth.
"That's 12 horses moving out of the barn, so that's a great feeling," he said. "There's probably more pressure on me now because it's all my fault, right? If I screwed up and didn't win, it would be all on me because the horses performed."
Only 35 years old, Kurt has become a one-man dynasty. So ow many of these can he win?
"Oh, I don't know," replied Buddy Bensmiller. "He'll just keep coming back every year and take every one he can. You don't set your sights ahead of you, you just go on to the next one that's coming along."
NOTES: Winning the Guy Weadick Award – named after the founder of the Stampede, it is presented annually to the chuckwagon or rodeo competitor who best embodies what the cowboy stands or and who best typifies the spirit of the Calgary Stampede was driver Troy Dorchester, a 45-year-old from Westerose, Alberta. The 2018 Equine Athletes of Excellence were also recognized. The annual awards are based on a points system through the opening eight nights – outriding horses: Leamen (Kurt Bensmiller), Jitters (Mark Sutherland); left leader: Ike (Kris Molle); right leader: Max (Mike Vigen); left wheeler: Royal Victor (Ray Mitsuing); right wheeler: Lucky (Jason Glass) Retirements this year include drivers Rick Fraser and Cliff Cunningham, and outriders Sandy McKenzie and Aric Pare.
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