The Spruce Meadows Masters tournament is underway in Calgary, Alberta, and taking the top prize in the $125,000 CANA Cup 1.60-meter on Sept. 5 was Penelope Leprevost of France and Dame Blanche van Arenberg.
The luck of the Irish was with Conor Swail when he finished first and second in the $50,000 ATCO Structures & Logistics Cup 1.50-meter on Martha Louise and Lansdowne. The Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament hosts the best show jumpers in the world through Sept. 8. The highlight events of the week are the $350,000 BMO Nations' Cup on Saturday and the $1 Million CN International, part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, on Sunday. The Chronicle’s Mollie Bailey will be bringing you in-depth coverage of the weekend’s events.
The $125,000 CANA Cup had 39 entries, but only five were able to find the clear track over Leopoldo Palacios’ course to the jump-off. Leprevost, who has won silver medals at European Championships and FEI World Equestrian Games, and Dame Blanche van Arenberg, a 10-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare by Clinton, set the winning pace clear in 43.78 seconds.
“This is the first time I've gone fast with my mare,” Leprevost said. “The dressage and the control is not perfect, but she always tries. My problem is in the turns; she doesn't do them so good. The mouth is difficult. But in a straight line, she can go fast. She's very careful. I tried to do my best.”
World No. 1 Ben Maher gave it a try on Cella, but a rail in 45.52 seconds left them in third place. The only other clear round in the jump-off gave second place to Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze of Canada and Powerplay. They were just off the pace in 44.56 seconds. Beezie Madden, also an Olympic gold medalist, was the last one in with Cortes 'C'. After an early rail, they slowed down to finish in 48.40 seconds for fourth place.
This is Leprevost's first time competing at Spruce Meadows, and she has only ridden this horse for four months. However, she felt confident that Dame Blanche van Arenberg would be able to handle the atmosphere of the International Ring. “I'm surprised she went so fast. I'm not surprised that she won. She has a super mind,” she described. “She jumped for the first time in Aachen [too] and was great, so I wasn't worried about it.”
About Spruce Meadows, she said: “It's unbelievable. We heard a lot of super things about this show, but the difference when you can ride and come in the ring, it's amazing.”
For Lamaze, setting a plan with his young, talented horse is paramount. “I have to be patient,” he acknowledged. “I don't know have so many at the moment at this level. I have to do everything right and I have to get to know him and make him a better horse than he is today. I still have to take my time and be realistic about what I do, have a very solid plan, and stick to it. I have a good plan for this horse and so far it's working.”
When he went in the jump-off today, he was not thinking of getting the most speed out of Powerplay. He explained, “To be honest, Powerplay is going to learn to go a bit faster, but it's never going to be his forte. He's not much of a racehorse. He spends a bit of time in the air, and he has a big stride. But he's learned a lot. I basically didn't see Penelope go, but I just rode the plan that was challenging enough for my horse, but wasn't going to destroy my Nations Cup either. For me, I was happy with the pace.”
In a great display of horsemanship, Ireland's Conor Swail guided both of his horses to the top of the leaderboard in the $50,000 ATCO Structures & Logistics Cup 1.50-meter. There were 41 entries in the class, and 14 in the jump-off. Swail went fifth in the order on Lansdowne in the jump-off and with a daring approach to the final oxer, he took the lead with a clear round in 37.06 seconds. Six horses later, Swail was back on Martha Louise, and with efficient turns and an open stride, they brought the winning time down to 35.80 seconds for the win.
“I had an awesome day today,” Swail acknowledged with a big smile. “The two horses were absolutely fabulous. To come first and second in front of the international riders, the fantastic riders that are here, is really special. It's lovely here and there was a nice crowd here today. It's always lovely to win at Spruce Meadows.”
While Swail was quick with Lansdowne, he did feel that Martha Louise, a 9-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare by Maoubet de Pleville, had a good chance of catching him. He explained, “Lansdowne is a big mover, but he's a little slower than Martha. I knew Martha could probably be a little quicker around the same. I was surprised when she was so fast actually. She was smoking. The first bit was so fast and she turned so well after the wall that I knew all I needed to do was be patient at the last four jumps. She had it done by then.”
Martha Louise has been a proven performer this year for Swail, who sold her to his owners, Susan & Ariel Grange, after the winter circuit. She placed in 11 of 12 classes during the Spruce Meadows Summer Series, and went on to finish in the ribbons at the Dublin CSIO and the three-star events at the P.S.I. FEI European Jumping Championships before coming to the Masters. “Her record has been absolutely phenomenal here,” Swail affirmed. “She looks like she could be pushing Lansdowne for the top spot, the way she's been going.”
Swail was pleased with the way Lansdowne has rebounded after jumping in the European Championships in Denmark just 10 days ago. “It was as big as I've ever jumped and as big as he's ever jumped. He struggled a bit and I'm really happy how he's come out of it. This is the next big test,” he said.
While he plans to show Lansdowne in the BMO Nations Cup on Saturday and the $1 Million CN International on Sunday, his feeling on Saturday will be the deciding factor. “We'll see how Saturday goes,” he pointed out. “If he handles himself well, I'll be looking forward to Sunday. If he doesn't, I don't have to go. I'm not going to go if I don't think I can win. There are going to be a lot of years left in that horse. He's growing all the time. I think hopefully he'll be a horse to watch out for in the next three or four years.”