Calgary, AB, Canada – The weekend of the Spruce Meadows 'Masters' Tournament CSIO 5* started with sunshine and fantastic sport. Crowds of spectators filled the stands to see the best horses and riders in the world compete for their countries in the $300,000 BMO Nations' Cup. Canada, led by the double clear of 20-year-old Ben Asselin and Makavoy, were victorious for the first time since 2006 over the United States and Belgium. Earlier in the day, Conor Swail (IRL) and Martha Louise took the top spot in the $125,000 Suncor Energy Cup 1.50m. The Spruce Meadows 'Masters' concludes on Sunday, September 14, with the feature event, the $1.5 Million CP International, presented by Rolex, part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
The $300,000 BMO Nations Cup had eight top teams compete in the first round, and six returned for the second round. Canada had a solid performance in the first round and were leading with just one fault. Belgium was one rail behind with five faults, and the USA had nine faults.
The courses this week are designed by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela. Millar spoke about the difficult parts of the course, where only eight clear rounds were recorded. “It sure did the job. When we walked it, the obvious problems were right there for you to see,” he explained. “The triple combination was typical Leopoldo, to use brown material on top and white plank below to draw the horse's eye down. There were a lot of faults at that triple combination. The time allowed was tough. When we got into the second round, my guess would be the shadows made a difference.”
Millar led off the team in round two with Dixson and had just four faults. They were clear in round one. Tiffany Foster and Tripple X III also knocked down one rail in round two, while they tallied just one time fault in the first round. The team leader was Ben Asselin on Makavoy, who recorded double clear rounds. Eric Lamaze and Zigali P S had eight faults in round one and due to Canada's lead that couldn't be beat, did not have to return for round two. Canada finished on nine faults.
Lamaze relayed, “I felt if I would have had to go, things would have gone a bit better for me. When you've got great riders in front of you riding rounds like that, often the last rider doesn't have to go. These riders did a great job today.”
“After the first round, I was feeling a lot better. The nerves kind of subsided, and I knew I could do it,” Asselin recalled. “The horse jumped great in the first round, and he jumped even better in the second round. I got a little bit lucky at the 'bike' (fence). He was just incredible today, and I felt like I was on it. He gave it his all.”
All four of the United States' riders improved in round two from round one. Members included Lauren Hough and Quick Study (5,4), Leslie Howard on Tic Tac (4,0), McLain Ward and HH Carlos Z (5,4), and the incredible anchor ride of Beezie Madden and Simon, who were double clear. Madden and Asselin were the only double clears of the competition. Team USA finished on 13 faults.
Belgium was unable to record a clear in round two, which relegated them to third place. Pieter Devos and Dylano led with a clear in round one, but had eight faults in round two. Olivier Philippaerts and Cabrio van de Heffinck had four faults in both rounds, while Niels Bruynseels and Pommeau du Heup had one and four faults. Anchor Nicola Philippaerts and Challenge vd Begijnakker had eight and 17 faults. They finished with 21 faults.
Fourth place went to France with 23 faults, Switzerland was fifth on 28 faults, and Great Britain was sixth on 37 faults. Germany was seventh and Ireland was eighth.
Canada's victory today is only the second time since 1977 that they have won the BMO Nations' Cup. Millar has been a regular member of the Canadian team, and stated, “It's always a little embarrassing that we didn't have a better record here because we come with our best game, and we really try so darn hard. Maybe that's the problem, I don't know. We've had some lovely finishes in it, but the win has been elusive, shall we say. It's a fantastic day today, and it's great to be a part of this team.”
This was Asselin's first time competing in the BMO Nations' Cup and he had high expectations for himself. “I hoped it would go this well, and it couldn't have gone any better. I've dreamed of riding on the team with these guys for a long, long time,” he said. “To come out with a gold medal was a pretty special experience.”
Foster said that the Canadian team always has great camaraderie and support for each other. “You feel that as a rider,” she remarked. “We were all really nervous as everyone was going around. After Ben went in the first round, we had a lot of faith in him, and we were kind of depending on him to go clear again. He pulled through.”
Chef d'Equipe Mark Laskin had big smile on his face when he spoke about today's results. “My expectation every time out with my riders is that we're going to win. Whenever we don't, I'm disappointed. Today, not so much!” he exclaimed.
Laskin continued, “We all know how difficult it is to do what Ben did today. We have a great appreciation for it, and it's just like a burst of joy when it happens. To see him in his first Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows 'Masters', jump double clean, it's fantastic.”
All of the riders said that they are looking forward to tomorrow's $1.5 Million CP International, presented by Rolex, which is the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Asselin pointed out, “Tomorrow will be my first time competing in the CP International. I've watched it a lot over the years and it's always posed a very, very technical and big grand prix. With the way my horse jumped today, I think he has a good shot jumping a clear round, hopefully two.”
Lamaze called the second round of the CP International, presented by Rolex as “one of the hardest rounds of show jumping in the world.” He added, “When you win this competition, it means something.”
Millar said, “The winner of the CP International is truly a deserving champion.”
“A lot of the times the horses that do well (in the Nations Cup) do well in the CP. It sounds like a lot of rounds of jumping, but when you get on a roll here, it can be quite good,” Foster said. “Eric and I both had the opportunity to ride in Aachen this year, and (Rolex has) really created something that's the new dream and the new goal to achieve. The show tomorrow will be difficult, but we're all really excited and look forward to doing it.”
Conor Swail and Martha Louise Speed to Win
Forty-three top combinations lined out to compete in the $125,000 Suncor Energy Cup 1.50m. The event was held in a Winning Round format, so the top 10 finishers from the first round continued through to the second round. Leading the event in the second round was Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Fine Lady 5, who set the time to beat at 39.37 seconds, two seconds faster than eventual third place finisher William Whitaker (GBR) and Upper Class, who had a time of 41.60 seconds. Swail and Martha Louise, a 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare by Maloubet de Pleville x Wolfgang owned by Susan and Ariel Grange, were able to lower the winning time to 38.96 seconds.
Swail acknowledged that he has had a difficult year with injuries to himself and his top horse. “It's nice to get into the winner's circle again,” he said. “It's been a slow year for me. I feel like I really haven't gotten started this year. It's nice to get that confidence again and believing that everything is as it should be, in my mind anyway!”
Swail praised Martha Louise, who is a consistent winner for him. “Martha is a fantastic horse. Thanks go to my owners, Sue and Ariel Grange. They're great supporters of the sport. I'm lucky to be able to do a good job on the horses, and I'm lucky to have such good horses,” he noted.
After seeing Lamaze go two seconds faster than Whitaker, Swail knew that he would have to go all out. “You've gotta go as hard as you can go, obviously with leaving the fences up,” he confirmed. “From (fence) two to three, most people were doing 11 (strides). I got there in one less. I was still able to do it smoothly, not to upset her. That's one of the areas where I was able to beat Eric. That's how I work to her strengths. I'm able to maybe do things that other horses can't do, with her. Thankfully I end up being the winner on occasion.”
Swail believes that the International Ring at Spruce Meadows suits Martha Louise's strengths, her huge gallop, scope, and heart. “She's able to go at speed very comfortably, whereas other horses maybe get a little more upset going quickly. She's very calm doing it,” he said.
Final Results: $125,000 Suncor Energy Cup 1.50m Winning Round
1 MARTHA LOUISE: Swedish Warmblood/M/Chestnut/10 Maloubet de Pleville/Wolfgang
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Susan & Ariel Grange: 0/0/38.96
2 FINE LADY 5: Hanoverian/M/Bay/11 Forsyth/Hauptstutbuch
ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Artisan Farms, LLC: 0/0/39.37
3 UPPERCLASS: Dutch Warmblood/G/Dark Brown/13 Concorde/Indoctro
WILLIAM WHITAKER (GBR), Elisan AB: 0/0/41.60
4 OH D EOLE: Selle Francais/M/Black/12 Kannan/Papillon Rouge
KEVIN STAUT (FRA), Haras de Hus: 0/0/41.79
5 MATADOR: Dutch Warmblood/S/Chestnut/12 Indoctro/Corland
JAIME AZCARRAGA (MEX), Jaime Azcarraga & Family: 0/0/42.07
6 CHASE MANHATTEN: Westphalian/G/Grey/11 Cornet Obdensky/Raphael
MARIE ETTER, Ecurie Galoubet: 0/0/42.27
7 URANO: Warmblood/S/Chestnut/10 Baloubet du Rouet/Kannan
JEROME HUREL (FRA), Joel Rampelburg: 0/0/42.50
8 ECHO D: Belgian Warmblood/G/Bay/10 Orlando/Skippy II
PIETER DEVOS (BEL), Devos Stables: 0/0/43.75
9 HALLMARK ELITE: Warmblood/G/Bay/14 Lord Barron Z/Renville
DERMOTT LENNON (IRL), Keonan Stables Ltd: 0/4/39.50
10 STAR POWER: Dutch Warmblood/G/Bay/13 Quick Star/Calvados
IAN MILLAR (CAN), Team Works: 0/4/45.88
11 CORAL REEF VIA VOLO: Belgian Warmblood/M/Dark Bay/16 Clinton/Heartbreaker
BEEZIE MADDEN (USA), Coral Reef Ranch: 0/72.43
12 CELESTE 26: Holstein/M/Bay/10 Casall/Landgraf I
NADJA PETER STEINER (SUI), Katharina Peter: 0/73.43
For full results and more information, please visit www.sprucemeadows.com.
For further information on the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, please visit www.rolexgrandslam.com.
Based in Calgary, Canada, Spruce Meadows is the creation of the Southern family who built a Show Jumping complex at the foothills of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. It was in 1976 that the first Spruce Tournaments were held, with annual spectator attendances reaching over 50,000 by the end of the decade. Today, Spruce Meadows boasts one of the greatest outdoor equestrian venues in the world and offers an incredible experience for riders and fans alike. Spruce Meadows focuses on the organization and hosting of show jumping tournaments of unmatched quality for junior, amateur and professional athletes in a manner that reflects basic family values in a clean, green and welcoming environment that celebrates the horse and encourages the breeding and training of quality sport horses and the teaching and development of athletes. For more information on Spruce Meadows, please visit www.sprucemeadows.com.