U.S. Chef d’ Equipe George Morris said it all during the awards ceremony of the $339,515 BMO Nations Cup at the Spruce Meadows Masters: “There’s nothing better than winning the Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows. Nothing.”
This was the U.S. team’s second win in three years, but it wasn’t without drama during a typical Calgary, Alta., fall afternoon that featured bright sunshine, rain showers and a significant drop in temperatures during the two-round class held today, Sept. 11.
But the quirky weather didn’t deter the dedicated Spruce Meadows fans. A crowd of 69,374 spectators set an attendance record and watched eight international teams battle it out during the venue’s 35th anniversary season.
The U.S. team of Rich Fellers/Flexible, Ashlee Bond/Cadett 7, Richard Spooner/Cristallo and Beezie Madden/Coral Reef Via Volo collected 17 faults to top the Irish with 21 faults and Canada with 25 faults.
“This was a brilliant course that Leopoldo [Palacios] designed,” said Morris. “It was very subtle. It asked every question. It asked boldness. It asked carefulness at the delicate verticals, and the water is always a problem. The last line was a work of art. Asked straight scope and precision.”
Rails fell everywhere, and refusals weren’t uncommon as the first round separated the strong from the weak.
Swiss rider Dehilia Oeuvray Smits with Cerano von Hof CH provided the only close call when she swam through the A element of the BMO double combination, somehow managing to remain in the saddle while her rattled mount bolted away afterward. After regrouping, she returned in Round 2 to post a 5-fault score.
In the first round, the two Richards—Fellers and Spooner–tallied 4 faults, while Bond was the drop score with 8 and Madden jumped a rare and celebrated clear.
After Round 1, the U.S. team shared the lead with the Netherlands with 8 faults, but it was anyone’s class since two other teams hovered just behind with 9 faults—Ireland and Canada.
Reigning Olympic gold medalists Eric Lamaze and Hickstead kept Canada in the hunt. Despite being out of practice since breaking his foot during his winning jump-off round at the Grand Prix of Aachen (Germany) in July, Lamaze—sporting a walking cast and taping his foot while in the saddle—provided the team’s only clear first round.
In the second round, with Great Britain and Belgium dropped from the class, the remaining six teams battled for the top placings.
The U.S. team started strongly, with Fellers and the diminutive Flexible jumping clear. But then the U.S. team’s luck quickly turned.
Bond had planned to tone down her performance with the chestnut gelding Cadett for an improved score when disaster struck at 4AB.
“He felt good and organized from fences 1, 2 and 3, but when I went to rebalance after 4A he jumped B and launched me 3’ in the air,” said Bond, who rolled off upon landing, unhurt.
“Hopefully, with a little stick tight I’ll be able to stay on tomorrow,” she quipped.
Despite the added pressure on the two remaining riders, Spooner and Madden, the U.S. kept the momentum going. Spooner’s fault in the water meant that Madden had two rails and a time fault in hand. The veteran anchor rider just used one of her rails and the time fault to secure the U.S. victory.
“It’s always a little scary when you don’t have a drop score left,” said Madden. “You certainly don’t want another disaster because you can go from looking like you’re going to win to sixth in a heartbeat. You always breathe a sigh of relief when Richard comes home with 4 and I come home with 5 because it could have been a lot worse.”
Jeroen Dubbeldam of the Netherlands guided BMC van Grunsven Simon to the only other double-clear performance in the Nations Cup while leading his team to fourth.
“I was very happy to have this team; they all know this venue,” said Morris. “They’re all great riders with great horses. I’m just very, very proud and pleased.” This was the sixth U.S. victory in the 33-year history of the BMO Nations Cup.
The U.S. riders dominated today’s action in the Internationale Arena. In the $73,753 BP Cup, a speed class held earlier in the day, Fellers placed first aboard the venerable McGuiness with Madden second aboard Prima and Karl Cook third with Notories Utopia.
“He’s a fast horse, and he knows the field. He’s grown up here,” said Fellers of the 15-year-old who began competing at Spruce Meadows at age 6. “He’s been to Spruce Meadows so many times. He’s a proven veteran, and he performed today.”
For complete results, see the Spruce Meadows website: www.sprucemeadows.com.