French chef d’equipe Thierry Pomel knew he had good horses and riders on his team for the $351,088 BMO Nations Cup at the Spruce Meadows Masters. He just thought he might not have quite enough of them.
Due to a health problem with the intended fourth horse, the French team shipped to Calgary with just three horses and riders. “Our hopes weren’t very high,” Pomel said. “For sure there was more pressure. The riders had to work hard and do everything exactly right.” But the three riders—Jerome Hurel, Marc Dilasser and Roger-Yves Bost—rose to the challenge, jumping impressive rounds to claim an upset victory in the Nations Cup, relegating the hometown favorites of Canada to second.
The U.S. team, the defending champions, had an extremely disappointing day. Coming on the heels of their relegation from the FEI Nations Cup league, they couldn’t put a clean round on the board today and finished a dismal 10th and last in the Nations Cup, not even qualifying for the second round. Lauren Hough’s was the best score, with just one rail in the triple combination on Quick Study. Mario Delauriers had two rails on Urico, while Richard Spooner had a foot in the water and a time fault on Cristallo. Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo rounded out the day with a foot in the water and a rail in the triple combination.
"To make it short, it just wasn't good enough," said U.S. chef d'equipe George Morris.
Hugh pointed out that there weren't any disastrous rounds for the U.S. team. "But unfortunately, without a clear round on the board, those 4s and 8s add up really quick," she said. "There's not a lot to say in this situation. We all do the best that we can. Everyone is to blame; we all made a couple of mistakes."
They’ve Got Depth
The French victory was all the more remarkable given that the first-string French riders stayed in Europe, waiting to compete at the European Championships on Sept. 13-19 in Madrid, Spain.
Pomel brought one veteran horse/rider combination with him—Bost on Ideal de la Loge. “Bosty” has been a lynchpin of the French international teams for more than 20 years, with Olympic, World Games and World Cup Final appearances. He rode as the anchor on Ideal de la Loge, a 15-year-old stallion, to a clean first round and just one rail in the second. “My horse was so good in the first round. [Pomel] came to me before the second round and put the pressure on. I tried to do the job,” Bost said. “I knew I could have one down, which was lucky.”
“Bosty is Bosty always. He can do whatever you need,” Pomel said.
Bost’s one-rail cushion in the second round came courtesy of Hurel and Dilasser’s rounds on up and coming 9-year-olds, OHM de Ponthual and Obiwan de Piliore. Hurel had just 1 time fault in Round 1, and a rail and a time fault in Round 2. Dilasser jumped to 8 faults in the first round, and a clear round in Round 2. “The first round, I was a little bit afraid because I didn’t know how my horse would be with the big jumps. For the second round, I knew that it was possible for my horse, and he was amazing,” said Dilasser.
After the first round, France, Canada and Mexico were tied for first with 9 faults each. The Mexican team was also operating with just three scores counting, as Aurora Rangel de Alba ran into trouble in Round 1 and retired on course, then declined to start Round 2. Santiago Lambre, Nicolas Pizzaro and Jaime Guerra tried hard in Round 2, but they fell to fifth. The battle was on between France and Canada. “There was a lot of drama out there. There was no telling which way it was going to go,” said Ian Millar of Canada. In the end, France finished on 18 faults to Canada's 21 faults.
Home Team Hangs Tough
Jonathan Asselin had been the drop score in Round 1 for Canada after having to pull out of the triple combination after a scary jump in. “I was a bit late organizing for it, and with the shadows there, it was very difficult. I think there was a miscommunication between myself and the horse and we were too far away to leave. She was awfully brave to come back and try again,” Asselin said. They had just two rails in Round 2.
Tiffany Foster had just found out she was going to be on the Canadian team—her first Nations Cup appearance—just six days before the class. She rode Southwind VDL to 9 faults in Round 1, and then was the drop score in Round 2 with three rails. “I knew Ian [Millar] and Eric [Lamaze] were coming after me, so that was a nice padding. I was very happy with him. I’m just glad I didn’t make a huge mistake out there!” she said. Foster is an assistant trainer to Lamaze, and has just upgraded to the top grand prix level with much success.
Millar, on Star Power, and Lamaze, on Hickstead, proved to be the just the reliable stars Foster expected. Millar was clear in Round 1, and had just a foot in the water in Round 2. Lamaze had the only double-clear performance of the day, much to the crowd’s delight.
There were lots of wet feet cantering around the ring, as many horses made a splash at the open water. Course builder Leopoldo Palacios put the open water as the fourth jump on course, off a tight rollback from a plank vertical. “Normally, the way we see water used is with a set-up jump before it with a related distance to the water. We don't see the water so often off a rollback like that,” said Millar. “Secondly, it could have had a more impressive box on the front of it. The more impressive the box, the more they come off the ground with their wither. That was a very understated box. And the box that was there was pulled away from the edge of the water, with a gap, so it was a plenty big water.”
The other trouble spot on course was the triple combination, which was set on the far long side of the ring under the trees. It was an oxer, two tight strides to a vertical, and one long stride to a wide oxer. “I don’t think I can say the words I’d use to describe the triple combination,” said Millar with a laugh. “It was tough, with a tight distance from A to B, long distance from B to C, then you’re really testing rider ability, power and scope. That was tough in location, too, with the way the sun was hitting it and the shadows from the trees.”
Find complete results of the BMO Nations Cup here and check back in tomorrow to see who wins the $1,003,109 CN International Grand Prix!