Ocala, Fla.—Feb. 18
As the week of Valentine’s Day approaches, Canadian chef d’equipe Mark Laskin knows there’s two phone calls he has to make—to Canadian powerhouses Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze.
With the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona a major goal for Equestrian Canada every year, the qualifying competition in HITS Ocala is a vital stop for Canada. Winning puts them in a good position on top of the North and Central American and Caribbean League, so it’s only logical that he selects a team he feels has a solid chance at securing a victory.
“You know, we have a luxury in Canada to have a one-two punch that can come in the third and fourth position with Ian and Eric, so that’s our strategy, and they came through,” said Laskin.
It was no surprise that Millar and Lamaze, riding Coco Bongo and Dixson, were the ones to boost the Canadians to the top of the podium of the $450,000 Longines FEI Nations Cup of the United States. Marina Azevedo’s track for the five-star Nations Cup caused faults throughout the course, and only Lamaze and Millar turned in double-clear efforts. As a result, they split the $61,000 bonus awarded to the rider who had the best performance for the class.
“You had to have one rail down; that’s all you had to do,” Millar jokingly told Lamaze.
“I can rely on Coco Bongo’s carefulness, especially lately. He’s really on form,” said Lamaze. “I love the Nations Cup format. I’m a big fan, and there’s always pressure—whether you go first, second or third, there’s always pressure. You want to do well, you aren’t riding for yourself, you’re riding for your country, so you always have pressure. To go fourth it’s pressure, but you always have pressure, and today we were able to win.”
“I echo Eric’s thoughts,” Millar said. “I’m very much a Nations Cup rider. When I was less mature than I am, that was always my big objective and that’s all I really wanted to do was ride for Canada on a Nations Cup team. And yes, the grand prix [classes] are very important, but the Nations Cups are even more important for me, so to have this prestige and start to get the financial backing that they are and be put in the key position I’m all for it.”
After the first round, Canada and Germany sat tied with 4 faults, apiece. Brazil followed with 8, and the United States and Ireland were tied with 16. Mexico had a difficult first round with 26 faults and were unable to rebound in Round 2.
Francois Lamontagne was Canada’s lead rider with Chanel Du Calvaire, and they ran into a bit of trouble during the triple combination, dropping the back rail of the middle oxer and incurring a single penalty. While the second round was smoother, they did tip the same fence again.
“The second time, I wanted too much to ride forward, and I did a seven [strides] in the eight,” he said. “That wasn’t my plan, and I was in trouble, so again I started out with the oxer and took down the back rail again, but I’m pleased I did the one [stride] in the one.”
Tiffany Foster turned in a solid four-fault effort in the first round for Canada on Brighton, a horse she typically competes at the four-star level. When she tried to fix her first-round mistake, it backfired a bit, and she finished the second round with 16, which was Canada’s drop score in Round 2.
“I kind of changed my plan a little bit from [Fence 1] to 2 in the second round because I had two down,” she said, “which I think just made him think we were doing a speed round, so we needed the jumps to be two holes lower.
“I sometimes like to do that because it just puts a little more pressure on Ian and Eric,” she joked. “And they usually rise to that, so that was really part of my plan.”
The riders for Brazil were able to match their eight-fault effort to finish second. After having a standout first round, Germany struggled in the second round, with Christian Heineking and NKH Caruso getting eliminated and both Andre Thieme and Markus Beerbaum pulling three rails apiece.
Since the Nations Cup came to Ocala in 2015, Ireland and the United States have traded off the top spot (Ireland in 2015 and 2017, and the U.S. in 2016), but things did not go their way this year. The teams finished in a tie for third with 24 faults apiece. Lauren Hough and Ohlala were the only American pair to pull off a clean round, with Laura Kraut (Confu) and Beezie Madden (Darry Lou) turning in two four-fault efforts. McLain Ward and HH Callas were the drop score for both rounds with 12 faults in each.