Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Domino. -Photo by Keara

Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Domino. -Photo by Keara

It’s hard to believe that another tournament has reached its end at Spruce Meadows, Sunday was the final day of the ‘North American’. If that is hard to believe, then this is worse- there is only one week left in the Summer Series! July 11-14th is the ‘Pan American’, and then it is goodbye to all of the competitors until they return at the end of August for the ‘Champions Welcome’ and, of course, the ‘Masters’.

Although thinking about that made me a little sad, there was still a packed day of competition on Sunday. Finally, Calgary was under a gorgeous blue sky, bright sunshine, and had just a hint of a breeze- perfect weather for competitors and spectators alike. Due to this, the stands starting filling up quite early in the day with excited fans, creating a buzzing atmosphere on the grounds.

The first competition in the International Ring was the 1.50m $50,000 Akita Drilling Cup. Designed by Anthony D’Ambrosio, the course proved to be extremely tough. If it wasn’t a bunch of rails falling, it was time faults that marred the riders scores. In fact, there were six pairs that left all the jumps up, but were bitten by the clock. This included Ian Millar with one of his new mounts, Baranus. They had a great round, but incurred a single time fault that left them in 8th.

McLain Ward and one of the most stunning horses on the circuit, Cadence. -Photo by Keara

McLain Ward and one of the most stunning horses on the circuit, Cadence. -Photo by Keara

The first clear round of the day didn’t happen until 23rd on the order when McLain Ward entered the ring on Cadence. Now, I really really wanted to include a picture of this horse in Saturday’s report because he is so gorgeous, but I decided that I already had too many photos happening. Cadence must have been in tune with my thoughts, and he was sad that he didn’t have a photo on HJU, so he went ahead and jumped a clear in order to ensure that I had to include him. Okay, Cadence, you got it!

As it sometimes happens, after McLain posted the first clear, they started to roll in. Okay, roll in is an exaggeration, but we got a couple more! Immediately next on the order, Belgium’s Jos Verlooy and Domino posted a clear, and then two later, Wilton Porter went clear with Radio City.

Wilton Porter and Radio City. -Photo by Keara

Wilton Porter and Radio City. -Photo by Keara

When all 33 combinations had attempted the course, we were still left with just the 3 headed into the jump-off. Although a small group, it was still great because all 3 riders were not afraid of the gas pedal.

Opening things up, McLain and Cadence started off with a huge gallop, and never let up one bit. Cadence has a massive stride, and  was all try over the fences. I suppose, we should also give McLain a little credit for being such an amazing jump-off rider. Second in, Jos and Domino put on a great show, left all the fences up, but just weren’t quite fast enough to catch McLain’s time. Finally, Wilton and Radio City gave it a great shot, but had the last fence down. McLain and Cadence had it!

It is interesting to note that McLain rode Cadence for the first time ever just 2 weeks ago, so to win a competitive 1.50m class is very impressive. There are still a few bumps to work out, like Cadence’s anxiety at the in gate, but they looked really good together.

McLain and Cadence over the last fence in the jump-off. -Photo by Keara

Because he deserves another picture: McLain and Cadence over the last fence in the jump-off. -Photo by Keara

The second competition of the day was none other than the Cenovus Classic Derby. Redesigned in 1990, the course has stayed the same ever since. Including Sunday’s results, there have been 588 attempts and only 17 clear rounds – a rare three occurring last year and…. we’ll get to yesterday in a minute.

This year, just 23 pairs were brave enough to take to the course, but it was a field filled with quality. McLain on Wannahave, Leslie with Lennox Lewis, Beezie with both Via Volo and Wrigley, Katie Prudent on V… there was a considerable amount of talent on the order. Naturally, thinking back to the Nexen Cup Derby in June, I was favouring Leslie and Lennox Lewis, or Beezie on Wrigley, as they both looked so comfortable and in command a month ago. With that said though, Wrigley hadn’t done much since, because of the injury she sustained during the Nexen (over reach on her heel), so she would either be really fresh, or rusty.

Well, I was waaaay off! In this sport, especially in a derby, I don’t think any guess (no matter how educated it is), is safe- things can go from great to 12 faults in the blink of an eye.

Jonathan Asselin and Showgirl (aka. Bella). -Photo by Keara

Jonathan Asselin and Showgirl (aka. Bella). -Photo by Keara

The first half of the order didn’t see any extraordinary results. Beezie had 8 with Wrigley, Shane Sweetnam had 8 with Fineman, and that was about as low as it got… until Canada’s Jonathan Asselin contested the course on Showgirl. Now, I have to admit that Jonathan often slips under my radar. I have a bad habit of getting stuck on Eric, Ian, Reed, Beezie, McLain, etc. I know, that’s not good, but at least I admit it, right? Well, after yesterday, Jonathan is firmly on my watch list. Although there were a few iffy moments, especially when Showgirl decided that hopping down the bank would be a good idea, they left all of the fences up, and finished the course with just a single time fault. Wow!!! I have never seen Showgirl that that well before, she was bold yet careful, and seemed very in-tune with Jonathan. I was very, very, very impressed. And, of course, the crowd was wild about it!

Looking at the history of the competition, one time fault could certainly win it, but we were in for a long wait as he was only tenth on the order. Also, with pairs like Leslie and Lennox, and Beezie and Via Volo to come, a clear was very possible.

McLain and Wannahave. -Photo by Keara

McLain and Wannahave (another nice dappled bay!). -Photo by Keara

Five pairs later, fifteenth on the order, McLain Ward entered the arena on Wannahave. McLain, always a fierce competitor, is a threat in any class on any horse. Easily down the bank, through the devils dyke, clear over the liverpools, just the last fence and he was clear, the Canada planks…..crash! What?! Although I was on the other side of the arena, I guess Wannahave blew a front shoe after fence 14, and when he went to take off for the final fence, lost all traction on that foot and slid right into it. Fortunately, they kept the forward momentum, and managed to finish going through the fence and cross the finish with just 4 faults. That. Seriously. Sucks. I have absolutely no doubt that they would have been clear, Wannahave was jumping like a machine, and they were well inside the time. But, what can you do – things like that are just another thing that make our sport more unpredictable, and more exciting.

Another impressive round came from Ireland’s Darragh Kerins with his pretty grey, E Muze Yek. Although they would have one rail, the horse looked fantastic, and they were very efficient across the ground. What makes it even more impressive is that this was the horses first derby- he had done the devils dyke once before in a 1.50m class an an option, be he had not even been schooled over most of the natural obstacles. Talk about brave!

Darragh Kerins and E Muze Yek. -Photo by Keara

Darragh Kerins and E Muze Yek. -Photo by Keara

Twentieth on the order, Beezie came into the ring on her second horse of the day, Coral Reef Via Volo. Could she pull out a clear to win the class? Unfortunately, no, they had 8 faults, but I want to share something with you. Beezie is human. Really. She is always to perfect in the tack that I begin to question it sometimes, but Shrimp through her a curve ball today that even shook her rock solid composure, just for a second.

Fence 10 has three parts- two walls on the sides, and rails in the middle, all flagged as an option to jump. Most riders took the left wall as it lined them up for going up the bank, and that is what Beezie appeared to be planning on. Coming it, she was bending Shrimp left, but at the last second, Shrimp took control and said “Nope! You can jump the wall if you want, but I’m jumping the rails!”. Uh oh! Thankfully, although it looked a bit awkward, they cleared it just fine and regained their signature form.

Oops! -Photo by Keara

Oops! -Photo by Keara

Alright, I’ve been stalling enough (not that the title didn’t give it away)…. after all the pairs had given it their all over the course, we had a Canadian victory in the International Ring!!!! No one could produce that elusive clear round, so Jonathan and Showgirl (with their single time fault) took the win! Woohoo!! It was refreshing to hear the Canadian anthem playing, not that I don’t like the American one, but being Canadian, my patriotism takes over.

Congratulations Jonathan! -Photo by Keara

Congratulations Jonathan and Bella! -Photo by Keara

Now, here is the press conference, and really encourage that you watch this one because there is lots of good information! More about what happened with McLain (who came second), more on Darragh’s horse (3rd), and lots from Jonathan. As a bonus, Beezie Madden was there because she won the North American Champion with Simon due to their great results in the 1.60m division throughout the tournament (Reed Kessler was second with Cylana, and Eric Lamaze was third with Power Play).

Press conference following the Cenovus Classic Derby at Spruce Meadows, July 7, 2013:

That, my friends, is the end of the North American tournament! Lots of great rounds were jumped, new champions were crowned, and now we are left looking at the last week of the Spruce Meadows Summer Series. The good news is, that includes a $400,000 Grand Prix!

Full results from the tournament can be found here.

Also, be sure to check out the HJU Facebook page for tons of photos. I took thousands, so now I just have to whittle them down a bit and get them posted.

Read my other blog posts here!