With the sun shining and the temperatures rising, Saturday at the ‘Masters’ was a glorious day. Actually, as I type this I’m still on a high of sorts – undoubtedly somewhat from the copious amount of caffeine I have consumed throughout the day, but also because of the great sport that I was lucky enough to watch unfold within the International Ring. Unfortunately, this could lead to even more rambling than normal (wait.. is that possible?), but I really try to keep myself contained, but bear with me a little bit.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
First up in the International Ring was the $125 000 Suncor Energy Cup winning round. Of course, if you read my posts from Spruce, you will know that with a winning round a set number of combinations advance to a jump-off where the slate is wiped clean, and they go in reverse order based on qualification (ie. the fast fours would have to go first, and then it works down to the quickest clear)…. and if you don’t usually read my posts, now you know (also, tsk tsk, you have some catching up to do!). At a tournament like the ‘Masters’ where there is such a high caliber of horses and riders in attendance, there is no way a four will get you into the winning round. Sometimes I would believe a time fault, but that wasn’t even the case on Saturday. In fact, there were 15 clears in total, and only 10 spots in the winning round- yikes!! Not only did you need to be clear, but you needed to keep your foot down as well.
Advancing to the winning round were names like Eric Lamaze, Ian Millar, Conor Swail, William Whitaker, and Pieter Devos…. it’s safe to say that it was loaded with talent. Right way, the rounds were fast, accurate, and impressive. Pair after pair would come in and best the time, pushing it lower and lower… where would the bar finally stick?! Unfortunately for Canada, Ian Millar and Star Power had an early rail, but Eric and Fine Lady were still to come… they already won a class this week, could they do it again? Since pairing up, Eric and Fine Lady have produced some spectacular results, so I was pretty sure that they could.
Flying around the course, things looked really good. Fine Lady was her usual eager self, and still definitely had an allergy to to the rails. Galloping to the final fence they were waaaaay up on the clock, and ending up besting William Whitakers’ time by over 2 seconds. Surely this was it!! With only two left to go, I was pretty confident that Eric had another win….
Oh boy, was I wrong.
As I should have known, Conor Swail and Martha Louise are seriously dangerous in any speed competition. Martha is so, so fast and eager. I’m not quite sure how she leaves the rails up sometimes, but she almost always finds a way to clear the fences while going at mach 4. From one to two he looked on par with Eric, but swinging down to three and then back up towards the line by the tabletop, I knew he had it. Martha showed no sign of slowing, and certainly did not plan on touching anything. Stopping the timers at 38.96, Conor and Martha became the very deserving winners of the Suncor Energy Cup!
Okay, okay, okay, now it’s time to talk about what has me really excited. Saturday was Nations Cup day, and it was a good one…. a really good one.
So, as I have said before, over the last few years as I have gotten to know the sport and those in it better and better, my “favourites” have come to encompass a larger group of horses and riders. No longer am I only stuck on Canadians…. unless it’s Nations Cup day. This is a part of the sport that can really get the patriotism flowing- and when it is in your home country, whoa, it is unfathomable to even think of other teams (under my professional media face that is).
Very similar to the team Canada sent to WEG, just with Ben Asselin taking the place of Yann and Tiffany opting to use Tripple X, the expectations for them were high. The Chef D’Equipe, Mark Laskin, is the first to say that he was a little disappointed in their performance in Normandy and that he did expect more from this group. Now I don’t want to offend anyone (because apparently I do that sometimes), but I was hoping for a better result as well. Of course there are six trillion factors at play within show jumping that can impact results, so it’s important to remember that disappointment does not equate with anger or blame. Contrastingly, it’s a reflection of the faith that we have in the teams ability – there is so much talent there so it can be painful when things don’t work out! With that said though…. talk about a great place to try and redeem yourself, a big Nations Cup on home soil!
Looking down the order of go, although I had faith in the Canadians to do great things, there was some serious competition.
The American team of Beezie, McLain, Lauren and Leslie would be very strong. Team Belgium, with both Philippaerts brothers, Pieter Devos, and Niels Bruynseels would also be one to watch. Also, I’ve learned to never, ever count out the Germans or the Irish – they have a sneaky habit of winning, a lot. If they were going to do it, the Canadians would need to be nearly perfect.
First in for Canada, Ian Millar and Dixson were incredible. Always a great pilot, Ian guided Dixson around, making it look like it was a 1.30m schooling round. Through the BMO double, over the bike, and down through the triple combination, Dixson didn’t touch a thing. He was rock solid, and when they crossed the finish with a clear, the crowd went wild. This is what is so, so special about being at home – the energy and enthusiasm that the crowd brings is just amazing to be surrounded by. I’m not going to lie, it even gets a tear out of me sometimes!
Next in for the maple leaf, Tiffany Foster and Tripple X (who, by my standards, is about as perfect as a horse can get) also looked great. Although a different ride than Verdi, it really looks like Tiffany and Hugo (aka Tripple X) have hit it off as a team. Their communication looks effortless, and really, Tripple X can just about do anything- nothing will ever be outside of his range of ability. Therefore, I really wasn’t surprised when they jumped a clear, although they would pickup one pesky time fault… only time would tell us how costly it would be.
Riding third for Canada, Ben Asselin was making his debut on the team at Spruce Meadows. Although he has ridden in Nations Cups before, this was his first experience in front of his home town crowd. With Ben, when I say home town I really mean it… The grandson of Ron and Marg Southern, Spruce Meadows is a part of his family. Scoring his first big win at last year’s ‘Masters’, Ben has only kept improving on the International stage. Although I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders on Saturday afternoon, it would have also been exhilarating with of his family and friends close by to share the moment. So, how did Ben handle it all?? With an amazing clear!!!! The. Crowd. Went. Insane… for good reason! With his performance, the worst that Canada could carry into the second round was one fault. Things were looking good.
Anchoring the team, Eric Lamaze and Zigali PS entered to thunderous applause. A horse with a lot of talent and potential, Zigali is still a little short on mileage – how would he handle Leopoldo Palacios’ monster of a course? Well, there were some really great moments, but his greenness did surface somewhat. Pulling an unfortunate two rails, Eric and Zigali would finish as Canada’s drop score… shocking, but okay. Canada was still in great shape, and I knew that Zigali would be great in round two.
Alright, so Team Canada went into round two with just a single fault, but where did everyone else lie? Well, Belgium was hot on our heels with 5, USA close with 9, and Great Britain just a little farther back with 12. Shockingly, Germany failed to make the cut to gain entrance into the second round (the top 6 got to go), along with Ireland. This was basically flooring for me, but as I’ve said a million times before, anything can happen in show jumping, and it just wasn’t their day.
This is when I got pretty excited. Could Canada take the win in the BMO Nations Cup?! Over the history of the event, Canada had only ever won once in 2006… could 2014 make it number two???
First back for Canada, Ian and Dixson had a good round overall, but did knock a rail. I tried to tell myself that this was okay and to keep breathing, but it was tough. Then, Tiffany and Tripple X left all the jumps up, but had a foot in the water…. I was nearing cardiac arrest.
Then, the second ingredient in our youngster sandwich (Get it? Ian and Eric are the bread, Tiffany and Ben the inside…), Ben and Makavoy, entered the arena. At this point in the class no one had managed to go double clear. No one. Could we expect our rookie to?
Gooooooo Ben!!!!! Although a little lucky at the bike after quite the rub, Ben made short work of the course, sending everyone into a frenzy as he posted his second clear round. Wow. Just wow. Can you imagine being in Ben’s shoes? Like I said, this is in front of his entire family, all of his friends, and very much his home town. I bet his feet still haven’t touched the ground, and I hope that they don’t anytime soon. He deserves to be incredibly proud. In fact, and this is jumping ahead a bit but that’s okay, the only other rider to post a double clear was Beezie Madden… and she’s as perfect as they come.
So, where did this leave us? Carrying one forward, even if Eric did not jump, the worst that Canada could score was 9. Pumped up at the time, I tried to do the math in my head… After the first 3 riders, even if their fourth went clear, the best the USA could score was 13, and the best Belgium could do was 13….. they would obviously have to battle it out for silver, BUT CANADA HAD THE WIN!!!!!!!!! AHHHH!!!!!! The funniest part was, the crowd did not quite realize this. Both Beezie and Nicola jumped (Beezie going clear and clinching second for the USA), and then it was announced that Eric wasn’t coming back. Now, the announcer could have been a little nicer and explained it immediately, but he let the crowd have a good groan before exclaiming that he didn’t have to because Canada already won. Then they went wild.
At this point I have lots to add from the press conference, but I’m feeling that this post it getting too long. Therefore, I’m going to leave it here and I will write another one with all the details on the course and the teams reaction… it turns out that they are all comedians as well as top notch riders 😉
On that note, bye for now, but be sure to check back for the rest of the details on Saturday’s competition, and of course, all the action on the final day of the ‘Masters’. In case you haven’t heard, there is a little thing called the CP International happening. 1.5 million in prize money, the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam…. just a small thing like that.