Back in the International Ring! -Photo by Keara

Back in the International Ring! -Photo by Keara

It is amazing to be back at Spruce Meadows! Over the winter I tend to forget how much I enjoy being there, but it comes rushing right back when I go into the ring with my camera. It really is a special place, and I’m sure that I will never get enough of it.

Anyway, due to the drudgery of “real” work, I was only able to make it to the National for the first time on Friday night. Luckily, the weather was just about perfect with just a little bite in the wind to remind you that you are in Calgary. Furthermore, looking towards the weekend, it looks like the “Spruce Meadows Curse” might not be fulfilled because, *gasp* it is not supposed to monsoon…. but I’ll only believe that when I make it through the weekend without a raincoat.

Before I get rambling about what went on during Friday’s classes, I really need to touch base on what occurred during the first couple days of the tournament. Although I wasn’t there to see the classes myself, the place is buzzing about this one particular rider’s momentum…

He's soooooo back! Here with a new mount, Fine Lady. -Photo by Keara

He’s soooooo back! Here with a new mount, Fine Lady. – Photo by Keara

Yep, not slowing up one bit from his streak in Europe, Eric won both of the $85,000 1.55m classes with Powerplay, and had excellent results with many other horses. Horsepower really seems to be falling into place for Eric (and Tiffany) thanks to the support of Artisan Farms. I don’t think Eric has ever had a string of horses like this, it is actually quite incredible to see. Also, with it being a WEG year, the timing couldn’t be better!

Okay, enough gushing about Eric, although I could easily go on forever (and ever). Instead, let’s talk about another rider who is a) on a hot streak, b) has a great accent, and c) is seriously cute himself. That’s right, I’m talking about Ireland’s Darragh Kenny! In what appears to be an attempt at an Irish takeover, Darragh is having an amazing tournament. With no less than thirteen top-3 finishes with eight different horses, I think we had all better start to learn to like drinking Guinness, because the Irish aren’t just coming, they are here and Darragh is leading them! Standing with the other photographers, many of them just couldn’t get over how well Darragh is doing, and in watching him ride myself, I couldn’t agree more. Coming back early on for the jump-off in the 1.45m Encana Cup, Darragh guided Picolo, a gorgeous bay gelding, to what seemed to be a somewhat conservative clear. Slowly though, as more riders attempted the course, I began to rethink my definition of conservative. Maybe it is because their round was so smooth, but apparently although it may have looked slow and easy,  it was a high bar to try and catch as rider after rider pulled rails in an attempt to beat it.

Darragh Kenny and Picolo. -Photo by Keara

Darragh Kenny and Picolo. -Photo by Keara

Therefore, when all the dust settled on what was a marathon of a class, Darragh and Picolo took top honors, followed by Richard Spooner, Mac Cone, Tiffany Foster, and Eric Lamaze to round out the top five. In the awards ceremony Darragh said that Picolo is his ATM- he always tries 200%, and can be counted on to bring home some cash when the show fees are due. He certainly didn’t disappoint!

Accepting the cheque. -Photo by Keara

Accepting the winners cheque. -Photo by Keara

Next up in the International Ring was the 1.50m RBC Capital Markets Cup Winning Round. With the winning round format, after the first round the top ten competitors come back for what is essentially a jump-off. Even if they had faults in the first round, if they squeak into the top ten, their slate is wiped clean and they are back in the hunt for the win. With a fairly small number of entries and a tricky course, Friday saw a 5-fault cutoff for entry into the second round- not bad, for once a time fault didn’t have to be crushing! Although the course wasn’t huge, I think a lot of the trouble came from the low light conditions and jump placement. For example, the first fence, a yellow and white oxer, was set along the arena wall in the dark shade of the grandstand. It came down A LOT. Then, later on in the course, there was a line that went from a fairly substantial oxer to a skinny vertical with simple brown rails that, once again, was plagued by shade. It also came down A LOT.

With that said though, there were of course some beautiful rounds, with one of my favorites coming from Jonathan Millar and Calvin Klein. Fitting to his name, Calvin Klein is a very stylish jumper who made easy work of the fences, sliding into the winning round with just one time fault. Sadly though, once in the second round they would have an unlucky rail, leaving them to finish in tenth.

Calvin Klein. -Photo by Keara

Calvin Klein. -Photo by Keara

Working into the second round, the rides just kept getting better and better. Second last to go, I really thought that Conor Swail had secured yet another Irish win. Riding Martha Louise, Conor really let her run, all the while taking amazing direct lines and slicing through turns. Knowing this pair, after they were through with the course I was sure that they had it – they are that good and that fast together! Ha, well, it is show jumping isn’t it…. you should only be sure that you shouldn’t be sure about anything!

Conor and Martha Louise. -Photo by Keara

Conor and Martha Louise. -Photo by Keara

Last to go, veteran Mexican rider Jaime Azcarraga and Matador, a stunning chestnut stallion, were all business. A much larger horse than Martha Louise, Matador’s stride simply destroyed the course, eating up amazing stretches of ground. If the course was twisty I think Martha would have come out on top, but the long galloping sections really suited Matador’s type – he was a treat to watch.

Jaime Azcarraga and Matador. -Photo by Keara

Jaime Azcarraga and Matador. -Photo by Keara

You did well buddy, of course you can kiss it! -Photo by Keara

You did well buddy, of course you can kiss it! -Photo by Keara

I’m going to leave it there for now because, trust me, there is a lot more action coming your way from Spruce Meadows! This weekend alone be sure to check back for reports on both the $400,000 RBC Grand Prix, and the $210,000 Nexen Cup Derby.

Keara