Saturday at the National is always a busy day for riders, media, and fans alike. With a ton of things going on in all corners of the show grounds, there is not a dull moment to be found, so the day tends to fly by at warp speed. It was only when I was sitting in the restaurant with my family, looking around at all the tables filled with riders (including the big GP winner) that I finally relaxed… well, after I fought my inner paparazzi that is 😉
Anyways, as I mentioned in Friday’s recap, we seemed to have beaten the weather curse that generally comes with Spruce Meadows, as Saturday was a lovely sunny day with just a slight whisper of a breeze. Due to this, conditions could not have been better for the 1.45m TransCanada Parcours de Chasse (a speed class) and the big 1.60m RBC Financial Grand Prix Presented by Rolex.
Driving home from dinner, I had an urge to stop and buy some Guinness. Why? Well, remember the Irish takeover? I think it reached a new level during the Parcours de Chasse!
Coming into the ring as the eleventh pair to contest Guilherme Jorge’s tricky course, Darragh Kenny and Fantasy were all business. The jumps seemed to be a non-issue to Fantasy who easily jumped them out of stride, and Darragh is quite the speed rider. Although still within the first half of the class, I thought that we may have just seen the winning round because his time was just that excellent. Of course, in show jumping, I am slowly learning that you can never pick the winner until the absolute end, so I didn’t hold my breath! For a while it really did seem that Darragh had set the bar high enough, even fellow Irish rider, Conor Swail, couldn’t quite catch him with the super speedster, Ariana. Finally, with just 4 left to go in the class, another Irish rider, Shane Sweetnam, managed to best Darragh’s time! Ireland was sitting 1-2-3, with Darragh yet to come back with his second horse!
Last to go in the class was Darragh Kenny with his, as he put it earlier in the week, ATM- aka Picolo. For the first half of the course they were looking amazing. They were definitely up on the clock and Picolo was jumping great. Then, as they went to do a roll back from seven to eight, Picolo simply just couldn’t stay on his feet. The fall looked quite scary as I absolutely hate it when a horse goes down, but both of them were okay. Surly this put a damper on Darragh’s day, but he did still place third with Fantasy, right behind Conor Swail in second, and Shane Sweetnam in first. Go Ireland!
Next up in the international ring was the biggest class of the weekend, the 1.60m RBC Financial Grand Prix. Designed by Guilherme Jorge, the track was very big and very testing. I actually overheard him talking about it in the ring, and he said that with shows like Spruce Meadows, the horses get so comfortable jumping in the arena that it challenges him to build something tough enough to avoid having a GP turn into a speed match with most of the class in the jump-off.
Here is a look at the course map:
Overall, there wasn’t an absolute awful trouble spot on course, but the triple combination definitely took a number of victims, as did the skinny brown rails at six. Surprisingly, the line from the water to the London bridge vertical jumped really well- I would have thought that some horses would have had the tape at the water because of a weak ride in prep for the vertical, and others would have had the vertical due to an inability to comeback after the big stretch, but I guess there was just enough room to comfortably get both done.
Obviously I want to get to the clears and the jump-off, but I’ll take a minute to mention a few other pairs first. Although no Canadians were in the top 10, the class was far from a disaster for them. Tiffany, Eric, and Ian all just had a single rail in an otherwise excellent round. In fact, Eric’s round was fabulous until the final jump- this really made the crowd groan, and the poor guy didn’t look happy. Tiffany ran into a trouble at the first element of the triple combination, but otherwise Verdi was solid- he is so capable that nothing seems to phase him! Dixson also jumped very well for Ian, just rubbing the vertical at six.
So, although I can’t give you the great news of a Canadian winning, I can give you this:
Another combination that I want to touch on is Rich Fellers and Flexible. At 18 it is amazing that Flexible is still competing in these big classes at all, and even more amazing that he looks so good. Again, although not in the top ten, they only had a single rail in an otherwise perfect round. Go Flexible!!!
Finally, before I get to the winners, I should mention Nayel Nassar and Lordon, especially for those who may have been watching the livestream. After an awkward jump over the triple bar, Lordan pulled up extremely lame in the front. Immediately feeling it, Nayel jumped-off and was down checking his foot. Slowly lead out of the ring, Lordan was scary lame and had many of us holding our breath. Thankfully, after a few minutes we were told that it was a simple case of a twisted shoe, and that when it was removed, Lordan was immediately relieved. Phew.
Alright, so out of the 36 starter, only five managed a clear in the first round: Jaime Azcarraga, Enrique Gonzalez, Kirsten Coe, Jonathan McCrea, and *drum-roll* two-time defending champion, Kent Farrington.
Leading off the JO was Firday’s big winner, Jaime, this time with the bay gelding, Anton. Going first with riders like Jonathan and Kent behind you cannot be fun. Of course you need to go clear, but you also need to go as fast as possible because you know that they will not be using the brakes. Clocking in with a clear in 46.48, Jaime’s round was good, but seemed to be beatable.
The following three riders, Enrique, Jonathan, and Kirsten, all gave it a solid go. Jonathan was the quickest clear in 46.55, but Jaime was still holding onto the lead. Unfortunately, in the hunt for speed, Kirsten had a rail that would leave her in fifth place.
Last to go, very much in the power seat, was Kent. Now, if you know show jumping at all, you know that Kent is a viscous force in jump-offs. It doesn’t matter which horse he is on, he lightning fast and never hesitates to take risks. Mounted on Voyeur (probably one of my favorite horses behind his stablemate, Uceko), Kent took off into the jump-off in his usual fierce style. Flying at the fences, Voyeur was jumping wonderfully, and they were waaaay up on the clock. Then, at the triple bar, a risk just didn’t pay off. Galloping up to it, I kept waiting for Kent to take a tug and add a stride. Waiting, waiting…oh wow, nope, he’s going for it! By looking at both the horse and riders faces, you could tell that they were on the same page- they were going for the long spot. Coming off the gound Voyeur looked great, but that triple bar has a lot of width. Managing to get his front legs clear of the back rail in a superman dive, there just wasn’t any hope for the rest of him. Taking it out with his belly, the rail smashed to the ground, dashing any hopes for a consecutive 3-time victor of the class. They would go on to have the best time by nearly two seconds, but finished in fourth.
So, where did that leave us? That’s right, after taking the win on Friday, Jaime followed it up with the biggest win of the weekend- congratulations!! Interestingly, this is Jaime’s first time back at Spruce Meadows since 2009. For longtime fans, you may have seen him compete with Presley Boy, that gorgeous black stallion that eventually went to the Saudi Equestrian Team. Furthermore, this was Anton’s first International show, so his ability to perform so well is absolutely amazing- what a horse! Therefore, this makes this win (and this weekend) even more special, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Alright, that’s it for now because I’m actually late writing this, and need to get back to Spruce for Sunday’s action! Over the course of Saturday I took something like 500 photos, so once I sort through them I will be sure to share!