Saturday at the North American is always a standout. With the always awesome crowd and the prestigious competitions, it is a great day to be at Spruce. Furthermore, after Friday’s drenching, mother nature decided to be a little nicer to the Calgary area, and we stayed fairly dry in comparison! Looking at the classes on Saturday’s menu, the day opened up with Phase 1 of the ACTO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup, moved onto the TD Cup, and then went back to Phase 2 and Round 2 of the Queen’s Cup. If you are wondering why the GP was broken into phases, it was because it was being televised, and only so much can fit into a live broadcast (Phase 2). Placement on the order is all done via a draw, and I can’t quite decide what would be better- I suppose there are pros and cons either way.
The TD Cup was sandwiched in the middle of the day, and for the sake of keeping my train of thought on its tracks (it has a tendency to derail easily), let’s have a look at it first.
In winning round format, riders had to qualify earlier on in the week, and then after the first round the top 8 returned with a clean slate to contest the top placings- basically an exciting 8 horse jump-off! Designed by Leopoldo Palacios, the first round course did not make the trip to the top 8 an easy one. Not only was it quite a big 1.50m course, but it was long, and the time was tight. In fact, three otherwise perfect rounds were marred by a single time fault. Good enough for the top 8? Sorta…. there were 7 clears, so the quickest single fault round got to advance, and the other two were left wishing they shaved off another couple hundredths of a second somewhere.
The good news for Canada was that Ian Millar and his Olympic mount, Star Power, were in the group of 8 for the second round. Why was Star Power only jumping the 1.50m class and not the big Grand Prix? Don’t worry, all is well, Ian just wanted to start giving his other mounts milage, selecting Dixon for the Queen’s Cup. Remember when Ian substituted Star Power for In Style in some big classes back in 2011? Same idea here. After putting in a very nice clear in the first round, Ian and Star Power took to the jump-off with careful calculated presicion. As he is not the fastest horse by a long shot, this is one way that Star Power can win jump-offs, but todays class was full of very quick and accurate duos. Unfortunately, although they would jump a really nice clear again, Ian and Star Power would finish in 5th, just not quite able to match the speed of some of the other pairs.
Second to go in the jump-off, just barely having squeaked in, Christine McCrea and Zerly set off like a rocket. Incredibly fast from one to two, they easily navigated the shortened course, stopping the timers at 48.23 seconds. Although it looked great, I was hesitant to say that she had it. After all, pairs like Conor Swail and Game Ready, and Beezie Madden and Via Volo were still to come. A few rounds later, I started to change my tune. Even after taking the extremely tricky inside turn to the yellow oxer, Conor still ended nearly three seconds slower than Chris. Hmm, she must have been flying!
Last to go in the jump-off, speed demons Beezie and Shrimp had a great shot at beating Chris’ time. I’ve lost track of how many times I have seen Beezie completely take over and put on a clinic during jump-offs. She is so so so good, and Shrimp is always game. Saturday? Well, they were moving, and Beezie was as efficient as ever, but when they stopped the clock they were still over a second slower than Chris. She had it, and wow, her jump-off round was on a level of its own!
The most anticipated class of the day was, of course, the $200,000 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Not only is it a prestigious class, but there was also a little extra cash on the line. Recall that Kent Farrington won both the CN Reliability and CN Performance Grand Prix classes, both part of the CN Precision series. For his second win, he received a $50,000 bonus. Now, since the Queen’s Cup is also part of the Precision Series, if he won it, he would receive a $450,000 bonus. Talk about pressure!!!! In the history of this series, there have been other pairs that won two legs (ie. Eric and Hickstead), but never three… could Kent and Uceko do it? Well, we had to wait and see.
Like I mentioned, the first phase of round one happened in the morning, and almost immediately, the course started to show its teeth. A careful triple combination after the open water and a devilish last line, left many riders with double digit faults upon crossing the finish. A couple of early standout rounds belonged to Albertan’s Elizabeth Gingras (4) and Lisa Carlson (2), but an entirely fault-free round seemed to be very difficult to achieve. Finally, towards the end of the first phase, McLain Ward and Rothchild proved that it could be done, we had a clear!
Luckily, once we got into the second phase in the afternoon, the a few more clears started to come. Katie Dinan and Nougat du Vallet, Chris McCrea and Romantovich Take One, Conor Swail and Lansdowne, and Reed Kessler and Cylana all got it done without any faults. Umm, ya, Kent wasn’t on that list… Unfortunately, my heart had to break a little, because they looked great overall, but popped a stupid rail out of its cups in the triple. Ugh!!!!! Not all hope was lost because they still made the top 12 for the second round, but it wasn’t looking good.
So, going into the second round this is where things were at (faults are carried over):
Eric Lamaze and Power Play- 4
Francois Mathy and Polinska des Isles- 4
Leslie Howard and Tic Tac- 4
Beezie Madden and Simon- 4
Kent Farrington and Uceko- 4 🙁
Lisa Carlsen and La Boom- 2
Kirsten Coe and Calypso- 1
Katie Dinan and Nougat du Vallet- 0
McLain Ward and Rothchild- 0
Reed Kessler and Cylana- 0
Conor Swail and Lansdowne- 0
Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One- 0
Ah ha, yes, Eric was well into the thick of things! He’s baaaaack in the big leagues! Power Play is working out wonderfully, and that is really exciting for Canada! In the first round, they were very solid, but just were a bit too strong down to the bike in the final line. Opening up the second round, they were absolutely super! Fast and clear, the crowd was ecstatic! Also, this is probably the happiest that I have seen Eric in a while. Power Play got quite the hug, tons of pats, and then the crowd got a big thumbs-up and smile. Yes!
Beezie Madden and Kent Farrington also managed to produce clears in the second round, so with Eric, they were all left on four faults. Alright, so what about the clears and time faulters from the first round? Well, there was some trouble. Lisa and La Boom retired, Chris had a disappointing 17 faults, and McLain, Chris, and Katie had eight. Our first double clear?
None other than Reed Kessler and Cylana! Although they definitely had some pretty hard rubs, luck was on their side, and they crossed the finish with their second clear of the day.
Could anyone match her double clear and force a jump-off?
Now, this is painful for me, so I can’t imagine how painful it is for him…. Conor Swail almost did it, almost. The announcer even got excited, but quickly had to backtrack, because although they left all the fences up, a horrifying thing showed up on the big screen when they crossed the finish line…. a single time fault. Oh no!!!
When the final rider to go, Christine McCrea, had a rail with Romantovich, we all knew what it meant…. Reed had it!!!! There would be no jump-off because the two rounds were enough, Reed and Cylana were the only pair able to produce a double clear performance. Nice!
Now, I think it is because she is so consistent, and so so good, but I really thought that Reed already had some big wins under her belt. Due to this, I was very surprised when she said that this was the biggest win for her so far! But really, she was only able to start competing at this level last year- she is still only 18, her 19th birthday is on Tuesday! Anyways, it is certainly safe to say that this won’t be the biggest win of her career, at 18 she has already taken the sport by storm, and I expect her to be a phenomenal star for years and years to come.
Before we get to the press conference video, I want to mention one more thing- not only is Cylana an amazing athlete, she is also the best awards ceremony horse ever. Photo after photo, she just stood there like a rock, posing for the cameras, making the odd grumpy face, but what lady wouldn’t? 😉
Press conference following the 2013 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Reed Kessler, Conor Swail and Beezie Madden:
So, that got really long, but there was a lot to talk about!
Sunday brings the conclusion of the North American tournament, and carries with it the Cenovus Classic Derby- always a fun class to watch. Remember to keep checking the HJU Facebook page for photos, I throw one up after each class and will start the long process of uploading all of what I have soon!
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