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September 9, 2004

Smith And Robert Heat Up The Ring At Spruce Meadows

Under cold and blustery skies, with temperatures barely in the 40s, the heat was on in the International Ring today at Spruce Meadows where 10 of the world's top 15 riders in the FEI Gandini World Rankings have gathered to battle for $1.9 million (Canadian) in prize money this week.

In the $25,000 (Canadian) Prudential Steel Cup, it was Robert Smith of Great Britain aboard Mr. Springfield who smoked the jump-off course over seven others.

Ludger Beerbaum of Germany, the No. 2-ranked rider in the world, aboard the elegant Champion du Lys held the lead with a fast clear in 42.56 seconds and looked hard to beat as he cut corners and galloped.

But Smith entered the ring and picked up a smart pace immediately. He urged the bay gelding to gallop strongly to the final fence, a substantial vertical, in the tie-breaker, and Mr. Springfield, an 11-year-old Irish-bred, gave it just enough air to clear it and cross the timers in 41.62 seconds to take the lead.

Smith, 43, the elder son of British Equestrian Team member Harvey Smith, was fresh from his fifth individually at Athens--in his first Olympic appearance.

Wim Schroeder of the Netherlands was the third rider to post a double-clear performance, but his time aboard Eurocommerce Berlin was a more conservative 46.77 seconds and good for third place.

Lauren Hough, the highest-placed U.S. rider, couldn't keep all the rails up in the jump-off aboard the chestnut mare Casadora, But their strong performance left them fifth, just behind world rankings leader Rodrigo Pessoa and Harry Potter, who posted the fastest four-fault round in 42.89 seconds.

U.S. rider Leslie Howard also qualified for the jump-off aboard It's Cruising. Two rails left them seventh.

Smith was on target to score a double when he entered the ring as the final jump-off rider of five who qualified in the $35,000 (Canadian) CANA Cup, the final class today. He and Marius Claudius, his 10-year-old, Dutch Warmblood stallion, needed to beat a quick time of 37.03 seconds set by Michel Robert of France with Galet D'Auzay.

Smith left out a stride on his way to the difficult double combination, but a rail fell there, relegating him to third with 4 faults in 35.97 seconds.

"I thought it would be hard [to win the second class], but I was always going for it," said Smith. "It didn't pay this time. But that's show biz."

Robert's speedy yet careful jump-off ride over Leopoldo Palacios' twisty jump-off tract was the best and ended a streak of second-place finishes for the chestnut Selle Francais who was runner up this year in a half-dozen grand prix classes, including Rome and San Patrignano (Italy), and in La Baule (France).

Robert, 56, said he went in with the intention of going just fast enough. "I thought I would like to go fast, but after the second fence I went for the clear," he said. "There are not a lot of clears in [Palacios'] jump-offs. They are not easy. They are big fences and technical."

Christian Ahlmann, a member of the gold-medal German team at Athens, posted a conservative clear aboard his gray Coester for second place.

The U.S. riders were just a few ticks of the clock short in this class. Jeff Campf aboard Lady-D and Norman Dello Joio with Sun God each had 1 time fault and placed sixth and seventh, respectively.

But the stars and stripes has already attained the top of the flagpole in the international ring. Yesterday Beezie Madden topped the opening day's Cinergy Cup aboard Conquest II. She was faultless over the course in 57.95 seconds in her winning performance, which was the best off the 45 competitors. Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts riding Tauber VH Kapelhof finished second, more than a second slower, and Rich Fellers was third with McGuinness.

Action tomorrow includes the EnCana Evening of the Horse, with the EnCana Cup and the Atco Electric Circuit six-bar class taking center stage. 

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