Toronto, Ontario, November 4th, 2011 – The Honourable David C. Onley opened the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this morning, and with it the 89th Royal Horse Show. But it was defending Canadian Show Jumping Champion Yann Candele of Caledon, Ontario, who, with a little luck and a lot of speed captured the first leg of the Canadian Show Jumping Championships presented by Greenhawk tonight.
Course designer Alan Wade of Ireland set a difficult track for the 14 entries and with the fall and elimination of Canadian Olympian Jill Henselwood, the first rider in the ring, it looked like a clean, fast round might be hard to come by.
Being third from the end in the order of go was an obvious advantage, but not one which could replace some good old fashioned luck when Candele’s mount, Game Ready, dropped a hind leg between the rails of an oxer in mid jump. Fortunately he pulled it back up again just as quickly, and avoided having the jump down.
“My horse became a little tense in the ring, as did many of the horses tonight,” explained Candele following the class. “It’s really our first indoor competition of the year and it’s a big one. But I was really efficient. It’s nice to be the Champion of your Country but after that you want to be able to compete against the best in the world, as we will be next week.” he laughed, referring to next week’s International division which starts on Tuesday. Candele has already qualified on points earned throughout the season to compete in the International division.
Angela Covert-Lawrence of St. Lazare, Quebec finished in second place, while nine-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar of Perth, Ontario currently sits in third, less than one rail behind Covert-Lawrence heading into tomorrow night’s final round.
This year marks the second year that Good Crop Services Indoor Eventing has been included in the opening weekend lineup, and tonight’s field of quality riders perhaps wishes they had an extra day of preparation time with their horses this year instead.
An exciting hybrid of the formal, Olympic discipline of three-day eventing, the Royal’s version blends the thrill of cross-country with the accuracy of show jumping, all set to rocking music and a roaring crowd. But “traditional” event horses are not often exposed to such stimulus, and don’t always react according to ‘Rider Plan A’.
Legendary rider Mark Todd (double Olympic Gold medalist) of New Zealand had an unfortunate moment of miscommunication with his mount at the second fence, resulting in rails scattering; and Jessica Phoenix of Uxbridge, Ontario, who just brought home the individual Gold medal from the Pan-Am Games had the heartbreaking final rail down on an otherwise foot-perfect round, over the course designed by American Olympic medalist David O’Connor.
But it was Canadian Olympian Ian Roberts of Port Perry, Ontario, with his mount Viper, who flew to the finish with a faultless performance to clinch the first round of the series tonight.
“I knew my horse was going to be great tonight - I had my choice of a young horse or this one, and I wanted to give this one a shot here this year. He was a Training level horse last year and he is an Intermediate level horse this year - so I’m not surprised with how well he jumped tonight. It’s a great class for educating a horse.” explained Roberts at the end of the evening.
Mark Todd had no such luck tonight - riding a borrowed horse that he had only ridden once before - this afternoon - ahead of tonight’s competition.
“I was happy with what we did in the warm-up, but obviously I don’t know the horse at all and he did a few things which surprised me,” explained Todd following the class. “I think he just mis-read the second fence, and he just didn’t leave the ground. But he got better as the round went on and obviously I’ll know him a bit better by tomorrow night.”
Michelle Mueller and Ian Roberts’ son, Waylon Roberts, sit in second and third respectively, heading into the final round Saturday evening.
Saturday afternoon’s matinee Horse Show performance welcomes back the Pony & International Jumper Relay Challenge and this year’s Horse Hockey feature, where NHL stars Curtis Joseph, Darcy Tucker, Mark Napier and Darryl Sittler will exchange skates for saddle & steed in an exciting polo match with professional polo players Dave Offen and Cliff Sifton.
The Stars of Horse Hockey will be signing autographs in Heritage Court Saturday from 11:30am-Noon.
Saturday evening’s Horse Show includes the final rounds of both Good Crop Services Indoor Eventing and The Canadian Show Jumping Championships presented by Greenhawk, as well as another performance by special guest Jerry Diaz.
Sunday brings The Ontario Toyota Dealers Royal Rodeo back to the Ricoh Coliseum, where the best from the East and West go head-to-head in the most extreme sports of bull riding, bronc riding and barrel racing.
About the Royal Horse Show and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair ~ A tradition since 1922, the Royal Horse Show brings top horses and riders from Canada the U.S. and abroad, including Olympic and World champions, to Toronto each November to compete for more than $750,000 in prize money and Championships. Over 1,000 horses of all shapes and sizes participate in show jumping, dressage, indoor eventing, driving, coaching and so much more, over the ten-days of hotly-contested competition. Special features such as the Spirit of the Horse Ring, EquiMania!, the Farmer’s Market, Trade-Fair Shopping, educational and agricultural events & competition round out this family tradition. Since its debut, the Royal has been a highlight of the Toronto fall social calendar, visited by Royalty, politicians, farmers and horse-enthusiasts for generations. For more information, The Royal Online’s live webcasting, complete schedule, results and to purchase tickets, please visit www.royalfair.org.