Specialty belt buckles won't be the only distinguishing characteristic of the Missoula Stampede's 100th anniversary.
The events planners have brought in a star-studded field that should make the historic rodeo one to remember once it begins 7 p.m. Thursday at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.
It won't take long for those in the grandstands to witness some of the bigger names in the Ram Rodeo Series standings. Four bareback riders in standings top 50 will ride Thursday night including Nos. 9 Kyle Charley of Lukachukai, Ariz., and Wyatt Denny of Minden, Nevada.
Missoula was able to rope in some of the bigger names thanks to its positioning in the schedule, according to stock provider Wade Sankey. Unlike most years, the Missoula and Billings rodeos are positioned in the same week, giving points-thirsty cowboys and cowgirls the opportunity to score in both rodeos.
"They can do the first performance in Missoula then do the second and third in Billings," said Sankey, who has paired with four-time PBR Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson to provide the rodeo's stock.
It'll put a few miles on the truck, but that's what cowboys and cowgirls grow accustom to as they transverse the country looking for rodeos and chase points to qualify them for the PRCA National Finals Rodeo that begins Dec. 3 in Las Vegas.
"Everybody who competes here is running for a chance to go to the NFR in Las Vegas," said Pirrie Harris, a rodeo spokeswoman. "They're running around the country and they're hitting states that they may not have hit before and trying new things and testing the waters everywhere they go."
In addition to the points at stake, there is a purse of nearly $35,000 that has helped attract some of the circuit's more well-known athletes.
Despite the opportunity for money and points, some of the bigger names would have passed on the event had it not been for the stock Sankey and Robinson have provided.
"In my opinion, there are no better timed-event cattle in the world of rodeo right now," Sankey said. "In the timed events you want everything to be even, everybody needs to have an equal opportunity. It's as even in this set of cattle as it will be anywhere.
"In the rough stock events, we pride ourselves on the bucking horse end of things. We've always had great bucking horses."
Since joining with Robinson, Sankey can pair his timed-event and rough stock cattle with some of the best bulls around.
"It's pretty hard to beat us when it comes down to an all-around set of rough stock animals," Sankey said. "If you don't have the livestock those guys want to get on and you don't have a chance for everybody to win money on your livestock, then they're probably not going to come to your rodeo."
The cowboys and cowgirls who can control the stock well enough to win their respective events, will receive specialty 100th year anniversary buckles the fair designed to celebrate the milestone.
The rodeo begins Thursday and runs through Saturday with each performance beginning at 7 p.m. Friday's Tough Enough to Wear Pink theme will help raise money for breast cancer awareness.
Grandstand seats for the Missoula Stampede are $16 for adults and $12 for kids ages 5-15. General admission bleacher seats are $12 for all ages and children younger than 5 get in free to all events.