The finale of the Spruce Meadows Masters is my favourite day in show jumping. The world’s best come under the clock tower with their A-game, ready to face one of the toughest courses in the world. If they are lucky enough to make it through round one in the top 12, then they get tested even further with a bigger and more challenging course (it’s hard to believe that this is possible) in round two. Only the very best pairs on the day will make it to the top, placing them among the elite of show jumping, etching their names into the history books. This year, there was even more at stake, since the International is the second leg of the newly created Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. The winning rider is automatically put into the hunt for the Grand Slam, where there is significant prize money if they win another leg – Geneva or Aachen, or of course, take all three.
Alright, let’s get to it.
As most of you know, it poured in Calgary on Friday night, and basically all day Saturday. All in all, the area received just about two inches of rain… that’s a lot of water. Although the International Ring has incredible footing, even the very best cannot entirely standup to the hooves of all those horses after being saturated to that extent. Walking the course, the higher areas were good, but the low spots were super soggy and gross.
With that said, I should clarify something. The grass in the ring is not like the grass in your yard. When the grass is tore-up, there isn’t super slippery mud underneath. Instead, it is almost a sand – like soil that does hold up quite well. Also, the ground crew at Spruce Meadows is amazing, so they worked on the footing all night, and it was in pretty decent shape for the Grand Prix. Not ideal, but that is why the course designer, Leopoldo Palacios, did alter the dimensions on some of the fences, making them a little smaller and safer to jump in the conditions.
After having walked the first round myself, I was amazed at its difficulty. Maybe the jumps weren’t as big as normal, but there were tons of technical questions, and areas where the riders really needed to know their horses. The combination that was the biggest scope test was 9ab, two very large square oxers set along the arena wall.
The riders needed to come in with lots of power in order to make the 2 long strides, but that risks the front rail of the first oxer, so it is a balancing act. The very best horses made it look easy, ie. Taloubet Z, whereas others struggled. Unfortunately, going for the win in order to achieve the third leg of the CN precision series, Kent Farrington and Uceko fell victim to this combination. They got a very awkward jump in, and then had a lot of trouble make it through the b-element just on all 4. For a moment, I thought they might fall, but thankfully Uceko found his fifth leg and caught himself. Besides that, they had a great go, but it was an extra expensive combination for them.
For me, the standout ride of the first round belonged to Ian Millar, mounted on Dixson. As one of Ian’s new horses, Dixson is a little short on experience, and this course was surely the toughest he had ever faced. Luckily for the horse, Ian is one of the most skilled riders out there, and with lot of rider help, and maybe a little luck, they jumped a clear round for Canada. Ian is always great for letting his inexperienced horses step-up into the big classes (how else do they become experienced?!), and it really worked out today!!
If that didn’t make Canadian fans happy enough, Eric Lamaze also rode a clear jumping round with Power Play, just incurring a single time fault, still good enough to make the cut into the second round.
When the first round concluded, there were a very surprising eight clears, one with just a single fault, and then three of the quickest 4-faulters made also made the cut as part of the top 12.
Coming back in reverse order according to faults, the riders started to find trouble early. Coming back on 4 from the first round, Roger-Yves Bost and Nippon D Elle were eliminated after two refusals at 4ab. Then, Shane Breen and Balloon struggled around the course, incurring 25 faults to add to the 4 that they were carrying. Later on, Ian ran into some trouble with Dixson and elected to retire, but looking at the class overall, they put on a great show and the future looks bright for Dixson as a top horse.
Yikes! Was this course even doable?
Third in, Eric Lamaze and Power Play faired slightly better, but still exited the ring with an additional 9 faults. On his way out, Eric was grumbling about the time allowed being impossibly tight. Hmm…
Well, Leopoldo agreed, because before Beezie could start her round, they bumped it up to 71 seconds from 66 (that’s quite the increase!). Unfortunately for Beezie, even with the pressure of the clock lessened a bit, they would still have a rail and a time fault to finish on 5.
The first clear (well, almost) of the second round was produced by Olympic gold medalist, Steve Guerdat and the pretty grey mare, Nasa. They jumped a lovely round, handling the horrific line of a triple bar to the bike (set at 1.62m!) to the triple combination (oxer, one stride, vertical, one stride, oxer), very well, not touching a thing. Sadly, when they crossed the finish, they were just a bit too slow, and incurred a single time fault to mar an otherwise amazing day.
Alright, wait a minute, did anyone go entirely clear?! Well, I’m glad to asked, because someone sure did.
Now, we generally don’t post fall photos like this, but we are making an exception because it adds to a great story. During Wednesday’s Finning Cup, Belgium’s Pieter Devos was having an awesome round with Candy until the final jump, when things went horribly wrong. Crashing over the oxer, Candy couldn’t keep her footing and fell, pinning Pieter’s leg between her side and the jump pole. Although Candy got up quite quickly, Pieter was a little slower, and when he did, he couldn’t walk on his right leg. Of course, he was whisked away by the EMS crew, but we never did hear how he was.
Well, we sure found out during the CN! Obviously not that much worse for wear, Pieter and Candy jumped a beautiful clear in the first round, and then followed it up by posting a clear in the second! Wow, talk about rebounding!!!!!!!!!!
With that, Pieter had accomplished a perfect score of 0 over the two rounds, so if there was going to be a jump-off, another rider would have to do the same. After having the nicest looking first round (a walk in the park), Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z had a seriously surprising rail in the triple combination, so they were already out (I was extra upset because I had picked him to win in the Media Centre raffle, but I guess that’s besides the point ;)).
Last to go in round two was someone who had a lot of success through the week, Penelope Leprevost, this time on Nayana. Having a clear in the first round, they needed another one to force a jump-off with Pieter. Sadly, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Four faults meant that she would have to settle for third place, behind Steve Guerdat in second with a total of 1, and Pieter in first!!!!
Belgium has another champion of the CN International!!!!!!
In the press conference, we learned something really cool about Candy. Her dam is a full sister to Big Ben!! Maybe that explains why she is a tall chestnut jumping machine!
Anyways, my sincerest congratulations to Pieter, it is just so fantastic that he could come back from a nasty crash to win one of the toughest Grand Prix classes in the world, and the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
Full results can be found here.
It is hard to believe, but that is it for another year at Spruce Meadows! Although the days can seem long when you are getting soaked out in the ring, the season absolutely flew by. This years Masters was one of the best yet, and it was a treat to be able to watch some of the best in the world perform over amazing courses.
I do have many, many, many more photos to share with you, so definitely keep an eye on our Facebook page.
I hope you enjoyed our Spruce Meadows coverage, it was a lot of fun bringing it to you!
Read my other blog posts here!