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Austin Gamblers open 2024 pro bull riding season as a league favorite

As the 2024 Camping World Team Series schedule kicks off this weekend in Oklahoma, the Austin Gamblers, as usual, are front and center again in terms of league storylines.

The Gamblers return for their third season after winning back-to-back regular-season championships, only to come away empty both years at the pro bull riding championships in Las Vegas. In 2022, the Gamblers entered the playoffs as the league’s top seed, but a rash of injuries hobbled their efforts as they watched the upstart Nashville Stampede complete a Cinderella run to the title. And last season was supposed to be the year of “unfinished business,” but the Gamblers fell in the finals to the in-state rival Texas Rattlers.

The Gamblers maneuvered a trade with a PBR expansion team, the Oklahoma Wildcatters, who had the top pick in the draft and took Kaique Pacheco, who was last year’s No. 1 nationals rider and had been left unprotected. The Gamblers sent two promising young riders, Austin Richardson and Cort McFadden (their No. 1 pick from 2023) to the Wildcatters for Pacheco.

He’ll team with Gamblers stars Jose Vitor Leme and Dalton Kasel to lead the roster.

“We feel like we have three legitimate No. 1 riders who can increase our scores and provide insurance against injuries,” said Gamblers CEO JJ Gottsch.

A look at the Gamblers’ 2024 roster

The Gamblers remain the favorite to win the Gold Buckle this year at nationals. Leme, the two-time PBR Teams MVP and two-time PBR world champion, remains Austin’s rock star, though he is battling to make it back from a groin injury. That makes signing Pacheco all the more important.

A rundown of the rest of the Gamblers’ roster:

∙ Kasel, a native of Muleshoe, was the 2019 rookie of the year and hopes to regain the form that had him in the running for league MVP last season until an injury set him back.

∙ Pacheco, who was on Nashville’s 2022 championship team, posted back-to-back top-five finishes in April and seems fully healed from a broken tibia and fibula he suffered in 2023.

∙ Lucas Divino, Rockdale’s Ezekiel Mitchell, Ramon De Lima and Callum Miller round out the roster, with protected riders Paulo Henrique Da Silva and Trevor Kastner in reserve.

Is this the year the Gamblers win it all?

The Gamblers likely will have to get past the Fort Worth-based Rattlers this season. They rained all over the Gamblers’ parade in Las Vegas and the rivalry between the two Lone Star State teams is growing.

“(Rattlers coach) Cody Lambert and I go way back,” Gamblers coach Michael Gaffney said. “We were together when we formed the PBR and I rodeoed with Cody for years. What better rivalry can you have than two guys who rode bulls together all those years and who want to dominate when we go into a game against one another? It is a friendly fight, but it is one we thoroughly enjoy. It is exciting. It is fun and it is healthy.”

The Gamblers are star-studded, but the Rattlers are deep and balanced and also figure to be able to withstand injuries as well. And the Kansas City Outlaws are also out there with 2024 world champion Cassio Dias and standout riders in Julio Cesar Marques, Koltin Hevalow, Wingson Henrique da Silva and Bob Mitchell. The Stampede return a veteran lineup, including Silvano Alves and Kaiden Loud, Alain De Souza and Josh Lockwood.

The Arizona Ridge Riders, Carolina Cowboys, Florida Freedom and Missouri Thunder round out the list of contenders along with two expansion teams, the Wildcatters and New York Mavericks, joining the league for their inaugural seasons.

One story to watch closely will be that of 18-year-old phenom John Crimber, out of Decatur, who was selected by the Freedom with the No. 1 overall selection in the New Rider Draft in May. Crimber, considered a generational talent, won one premier series event and finished runner-up five times during the regular season, going 29-for-66 as he covered 44% of his bulls. He will ride for his father Paolo, head coach of the Freedom.

At this weekend’s Wildcatter Days, the Gamblers will see another standout teenaged rider in Clay Guiton.

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