CONGRATULATIONS OLIVIER!!!!!!!!! -Photo by Keara

Wow, what a day in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows! Although only 30 riders would enter the arena to face Leopoldo Palacios’ course, it was a competition for the record books. Really, even if only 10 riders were to go, it would still be exciting since, in a class like this, it isn’t so much competing against the other pairs, but instead, it is competing against the course. If you can make it around a course of this caliber in one piece, you are at the top of the sport. Then, to win this class, you are among the absolute elite. To win this class at 19 years of age…..incredible, just incredible.

Before I dive in too deep, you may be wondering about the Hickstead tribute. Yes, I have pictures and things to say about it, but it is something that deserves its own post, and quite honestly, an entirely different tone that I don’t want to have to mix in with the celebration of the CN. So, don’t worry, it is coming, and yes, I will (eventually) put the photos on Facebook.

For now though, lets focus on the $1,000,000 CN International!

This competition is arguably one of, it not the, toughest classes in the world. And Sunday’s course? One of the fiercest monsters that I have ever seen. When I went out to walk the course, for I minute I thought that I grabbed the course for Round 2 because, wow, it was really tough (round 2 is always a lot tougher than round 1)! But, nope, it was Round one, yikes! The trickiest line on course was the open water at 6 to the double of bicycles (one stride) at 7ab. Yes, I have seen the bike after the water a number of times, but to have a one-stride of them?! Then, of course the triple combination was very tough, and the very last jump- the nasty horribly delicate black CN planks. With all of that said, there was plenty of trouble everywhere on course- I don’t think any jump was a freebie, they were either massively maxed out or part of some very technical question.

Shortly after the course walk, news of scratches started to filter into the media center. Unfortunately, one of those scratches was Eric Lamaze. Having opted to ride Coriana today, he said that at her age and experience level (although she is his most experienced horse), this course was not doable for her. It would have been asking too much. When asked if he thought that Derly could do it, he said no. Yes, both these horses can jump, we know that, but this is not a normal 1.60m track, not by a long shot. Even compared to the Olympics, this track is a) entirely different and b) arguable larger and more difficult. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that even if he were able to make it through the first round, he would have been in trouble going into the second.  I think it is great that he made the decision in respect to his horses, really looking out for their welfare and future… they both have a lot of career ahead of them!

From the 30 remaining brave souls, not everyone was able to escape round one unscathed. Richard Spooner took a tumble from Cristallo at 9, Robert Whitaker voluntarily retired on USA Today when trouble arose later in the course, and a score of 20ish faults was not surprising. Beyond the jumps themselves, the clock was also a factor- time faults were very abundant.

Did anyone make it through round one with a clear?

Reed Kessler and Cylana. -Photo by Keara

Yes- Reed Kessler and Cylana! How great is that?! Fresh off the Olympics, Reed has returned to Spruce Meadows better than ever. After a great showing the in the Nations Cup on Saturday, Reed landed the only illusive clear of the first round! Although there was a little bumping and banging, all the poles stayed in their cups and she easily stopped the clock within the time allowed.

The remaining two Canadians in the competition, Mac Cone and Ian Millar, also put in respectable rounds. Mac’s horse did amazingly well over the largest course of his career to date- they would only incur 8 faults. Ian probably wishes he had a slightly better result, but really, Star Power jumped great and the 8 faults were just from little mistakes, nothing that cant be fixed.

Ian and Star Power. -Photo by Keara

Alright, so it is important to note that the two rounds of the competition are cumulative, we are not talking the ‘winning round’ format; faults are carried over, the top 12 advance to round two.

How was the course for round 2? Well, if I said it was easy that would be an outright lie, and if I said it was tough, that would be a horrible understatement.

The course for round 2.

 Big, imposing, and technical….just what you would expect in round 2 of the CN International. Trouble spots were…..the entire course. A fall occurred at 2, 3 came down a lot, 8ab caused a nasty fall and a number of rails, 10abc saw a couple refusals…..I could say something for just about every fence. The scariest moment occured when Tina Fletcher (GBR) crashed 8b with Hello Sailor and, on her way down, got tangled up in the tack and drug for a ways. I was shooting that fence, so I saw it all unfold. She was on the ground for quite some time until they got her into a golf cart. From there, she was taken to the Spruce Meadows medical centre, and then went to hospital. The last I heard was a possible broken ankle and various soft tissue injuries. I wish her a speedy recovery!

Tina Fletcher and Hello Sailor starting over 8b. -Photo by Keara

Okay, lets start looking at our winners! Coming in with 4 faults from the first round, Ludo Philipparets (BEL) put in a fabulous effort with Challenge VD Begijnakker, coming home with a clear in a time of 70.11 seconds. His round was picture perfect, I don’t think I gasped once!

Ludo in round one. -Photo by Keara

Then, come on now, it wouldn’t be a competition at Spruce Meadows without Beezie Madden being a factor! Sunday, on Simon, Beezie logged an annoying 4 faults in round one (he jumped soooo well!) and came into round 2 cool as a cucumber. Remember, Simon has won this class before with his previous rider, so it was no surprise when they jumped a gorgeous clear in 69.06 seconds. I love watching Beezie ride in general, but Simon is just the icing on the cake, what a fabulous pair!

Beezie and Simon. -Photo by Keara

So then came Ludo’s son, 19 year old Olivier Philippaerts, riding the breathtaking grey stallion Cabrio van de Heffinck. Carrying only a single time fault from round one, Olivier was in a good spot to at least place very well. Hmm, it seems very well wasn’t going to be good enough! Hop, skip, jump, done. A little trouble with the clock again, but clear over the fences. Combined score= 2 faults.

Olivier over 7b in round one. -Photo by Keara

Finally, Reed Kessler confidently rode into the arena for her second round on Cylana. Last to go, Reed knew that, to win, she could only afford a single time fault at most. Unfortunately, things just didn’t quite go as planned. That nasty combination at 8ab would trip up the pair, leading to 2 fallen rails, and a score of 8 faults. Honestly, I’m incredibly happy for Reed. Once again-

What did that mean??

1st= Olivier  Philippaerts

2nd= Beezie Madden

3rd= Ludo  Philippaerts

I would kiss it too! -Photo by Keara

Cabrio knows that he did well! -Photo by Keara

One ecstatic boy and one proud stallion. -Photo by Keara

Victory GALLOP! Nothing was holding Cabrio back! -Photo by Keara

And, finally, your Leading Canadian Rider of the tournament:

Ian Millar! -Photo by Keara

Here is the press conference following the class. There is a lot of good stuff- how Olivier will spend the money (haha), Leopoldo’s explanation of the course, Beezie talks Simon and the CN vs. Pfizer million….and more!

Oh ya, guess how much the  Philippaerts family is going home with from this one class?

$335,000 (Olivier) + $103,000 (Ludo) + $3,500 (Nicola – Olivier’s twin brother)= $441, 500

That’s it!! It’s hard to believe that another season at Spruce Meadows has come an gone! I still have more to talk about- the Hickstead Tribute, a little trip I took… so keep your eyes peeled for those. Also, we might just have a little giveaway up our sleeves…..