Sunday at the Masters holds one of the most prestigious classes in our sport. With a newly increased purse of 1.5 million dollars, the CP International is the richest class in show jumping, in addition to being the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam. This is not a regular Grand Prix. No, no no. It is something that is within a league of its own, something that dreams are made of, and where legends of the sport are created.
With that said… when I write posts I usually buildup to who won, leaving it until the end after a long description. Well, a) I’m too excited to do that and b) just about everyone already knows the result….
CONGRATULATIONS IAN MILLAR and DIXSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Already a legend of show jumping, Ian truly demonstrated that age is just a number, winning the class in a thrilling jump-off against young superstar Reed Kessler. I was really glad that I had sunglasses on because, to be honest, I may have had a couple tears of joy going on. It was an incredible atmosphere in that International Ring, one that I can’t even begin to describe. The air was electric as Ian won in front of the Canadian crowd, the fans going wild with deafening cheers and applause.
Alright, now I’ll explain the lead-up to the magical result.
When I had a quick look around the course before the competition started, I was immediately wowed at the size of the track. Obviously I expected this for a class of this magnitude, but walking up to these huge fences and striding out a few of the lines myself really gave me an idea of how tough of a test it really was. Within the first round, the area that really stood out to me was the big rainbow/butterfly triple bar down to the triple combination- mean enough by itself, to make things worse, it was along the side where the horses may get distracted by the crowd. Then, looking at the second round, the one stride of two white plank verticals. Yikes! Those planks are on tiny little flat cups and cannot even bear the slightest touch. There are no helpful standards, the colour is awful for the horses… it was going to be a challenge. Like you have heard before, and a statement that Eric make every year, the second round of the International is one of, if not the toughest test in show jumping. We aren’t playing games here.
With all of that said, round one rode very well. Although there were lots of faults, there were few truly disastrous rounds. This tells us two things: 1) the high quality of the field and 2) very sound course design. Leopoldo knew exactly what he needed to build in order to have a challenging, yet not unsafe nor disheartening day.
The scariest moment of round one, actually of the entire tournament, occurred when Leslie Howard and Tic Tac had a bad fall at the third element of the triple combination. Although I was literally standing right there, I missed exactly what happened due to looking through my camera. Luickly for me though, I had the forethought to set the PVR before I left, so I was able to cheat and review what happened when I got home. Coming into the triple, Tic Tac was eager and they got a great jump over the A element, and carried forward to B, easily navigating the one stride. Then, B to C was set as a 2-stride, and this is where things went wrong. A very big and powerful fellow with a huge step, Tic Tac misjudged the distance and took off after only one stride. This left him way off the base, and with absolutely no hope to clear the big oxer. Crashing through it, Leslie came off hard, and Tic Tac proceeded to gallop away towards the gate and up the smaller derby bank. Thankfully, although it seemed to take forever due to the intensity of the situation, Leslie got up under her own power, and walked out of the arena with her husband. Both she and Tic Tac appeared to be, for the most part, okay.
Besides that scare, the rest of round one went quite well. To many peoples surprise, Aachen winner (first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam) Christian Ahlmann and Codex One had the butterfly triple bar down. Rich Fellers and Flexible also pulled a single rail to mar an otherwise stellar round. After his phenomenal showing in yesterdays Nations Cup, hopes were high for Ben Asselin, but a little bit of inexperience surfaced as he and Makavoy ended on a 12. For his first time in this GP, I thought it was a very respectable round. Tiffany Foster, who also had a great Saturday, sadly ended up with 8.
Now, contrastingly to his teammates, someone who was not super satisfied with his own performance on Saturday was Eric Lamaze. Although thrilled to win the BMO, I think he was a little put off that he was the drop score. During his round in the Nations Cup, Zigali just seemed super impressed, and thus made some mistakes. Therefore, coming into the GP, you knew that Eric was going to change a few things. Well…. it worked… they went clear!! Although he still looked pretty impressed overall, Zigali was more focused and had a nice trip around the course. Once he gets more mileage and experience this horse is going to be great. The jumps are absolutely no issue for him!
Of course, I also need to talk about two Americans that basically split the vote in the media room on who we thought would win. Firstly, who could forget about Kent Farrington and, well honestly any of his horses, but in this case, Voyeur?! This pair is so, so, good and have had just a stellar season. Voyeur was fabulous during the summer series at Spruce, and obviously enjoyed the International Ring. Secondly, Queen Beezie!!!!!!! Seriously on a roll, Beezie did not miss a beat after coming back from her broken collar bone. Mounted on Simon, a horse that has done it all and basically won it all (he actually won this GP in 2012 with Jeroen Dubbeldam), they got my ballot to win it.
Jumping in 36th position on the order, Beezie and Simon did exactly what I though they would…. Make it look easy. Simon never seems stressed out or taxed, he just jumps the jumps, clearing them by a foot just because he can. And Beezie? So perfect that it hurts.
Kent and Voyeur were also do exactly as expected…. until the second to last fence. A skinny red vertical, it had come down a number of times already, but that didn’t make it less surprising when Voyeur took down that top pole. He jumped around the rest of the course so well that this just seemed unfair.
Oh right, before I move onto the second round, I should say that, as you have probably figured out, both Reed and Ian also jumped clear. In fact, early to go in the order, Reed posted the very first clear of the class. This was reminiscent of the 2012 CN International (not a typo, it was CN then) when she posted the only clear of the first round. Cylana is just so…. good at her job. She is a rock solid lady who has all of the ability in a sensible, beautiful package. Reed oftentimes refers to her as her “over-scoped equitation horse”, and this is a perfect description. She canters around the course like it’s 1.0m vs. 1.60m, it’s just another day at the job. Earlier in the week Reed was doing okay, but that’s just about it- a little rare for her. Therefore, I was thrilled that she seemed to be back to her normal self.
Now, as for Ian’s round, I know this is all anticlimactic since we all know what happens, but I’ll tell you anyway. To be honest, Dixson makes me nervous. He is a great horse (obviously!) that can do great things, but I also find him a little inconsistent sometimes. On more than one occasion I’ve seen him have a surprising rail when sometime impresses him a little too much, or he gets a bit strong. He’s got the ability, but just hasn’t quite matured 100%. Therefore, when they were jumping, I was holding my breath a little. Dixson was great in the BMO so I was reallllllly hoping that he would carry that momentum forwards. Luckily, he was super calm and cool, handling all of the questions like an old pro. Phew.
With this class, the top 12 return in round two. This time this consisted of 10 clears (Millar, Kessler, Lamaze, Madden, Guerdat, Etter, Olivier Philippaerts, Huerl, Breen, and Jufer), 1 time fault (Robert Whitaker), and the fastest four (Staut). Compared to previous years I’m not convinced that the course was as bad as it could have been, but it did the job nicely. As predicted, the one stride with the two plank jumps caused a lot of heartache. To make matters worse, and as I failed to mention, there was a triple bar to start off this line- getting the horses nice and forward before a short and careful one stride. Basically, it was the line of broken dreams.
Sadly for Canada, round two would get the best of Zigali, with him pulling 2 rails and a time fault for 9. He really didn’t like the dry ditch, and a rider other than Eric may have lost the battle on the approach- Zigali was like a wet noodle! Also, very surprisingly, Steve Guerdat (who was up for bonus money if he won due to his win in Geneva last year) and Nasa also ended with 9.
Now, my hopes for the bottle of champagne for picking the winner were dashed when, shockingly, Beezie had one of the planks down. In addition to this, they also incurred a time fault to make it a total of 5. She was in good company though, as both Olivier Philippaerts (with the same horse he won the 2012 class with, Cabrio) and Jerome Hurel also ended on 5.
Flying slightly under my radar, Marie Etter and Admirable logged a very solid second round with only one fence coming down. A very small lady on a very large horse, you could tell that they had a great partnership, and trusted each other 100%. I’m sad that I didn’t pay more attention to them throughout the week, but now know to look out for them in the ring. With their 4- fault total, they would finish in 3rd. Congratulations!
Within the first half of the second round, Reed and Cylana set off at a nice pace. Making it look easy once again, even through that vicious line, they achieved the first double clear. If Reed is this good now (and she is- she has proven it time and time again), I can’t even begin to fathom what her career will look like. The only question was- would someone force a jump-off?
You know the answer to that, but HECK YES!!!!!! Again, I think the other photographers were judging me, because I rode every jump with Ian and Dixson. A bigger horse, I wasn’t sure how he would handle “the line”, but with Ian guiding, I shouldn’t have worried. An odd rub here or there, but nothing major, saw the crowd losing their minds. There was going to be a jump-off, and Captain Canada was in it.
The jump-off course was actually pretty nice. It was a rollback from one to two, but then a long gallop to the double of liverpools by the out gate. Then it was back up the center of the arena, before turning down along the table top towards the in gate and the finish.
Since the order for the JO was the same for that of round two, Reed was forced to go first. This is not a nice position to be in, but Reed is wise and experienced beyond her years- she had it. Opting for a middle of the road approach, Reed made up time where she could and opened up Cylana when it was safe, but didn’t go crazy. If she were to have a rail then Ian would just be able to go for a slow clear… she did not want to open that door for him. She stopped the clock clear in 49.50. Now it was all up to Ian…
A big horse with a big stride, Dixson can really gallop and the course was suited to that. After making a serious turn to #2 and jumping it at quite the angle, Ian let Dixson fly down towards the liverpools. My favourite part of his round may have actually been what was going on at the in gate… the whole Canadian contingent was there, with a very vocal Tiffany Foster and expressive Eric Lamaze. Tiffany was definitely riding every jump with him, and Eric’s hand gestures and facial expressions were priceless. As he was coming down to the last oxer, the time was good, so he just had to leave it up. Thankfully style points don’t matter, because although it wasn’t the prettiest jump ever, they cleared it and we had a Canadian winner.
I admittedly got a little teary and shaky, but all out of extreme happiness. I’ve been an Ian fan since I was little, and I always wanted him to win this class again. I remember a number of years ago he was second with After Shock, but he had not won since 1991 with Big Ben (their second time). If anyone deserves this, it is Ian. He is such an ambassador for the sport, and I know that he has inspired/coached/impacted countless riders, and has quite literally helped shape the sport.
Your country is proud of you Ian, you will always be Captain Canada.
Okay, I’m getting worked up just typing it out + this post is at a soild 2300 words, so I’ll leave it there for now. Like I did for the BMO, I will write a separate post with all the details for the press conference. Ian and Reed had a lot of wonderful things to say, and there is a very touching story behind Marie Etter’s horse. Be sure to check back!