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After a 16-year drought, the Canadian flag is raised in celebration during the Spruce Meadows Masters’ featured grand prix.
Two decades ago a dark-haired young Canadian rider was one of the 85,000 fans who attended the 1987 Spruce Meadows Masters tournament.
Like thousands of others in Calgary, Alta., that day he dreamed of someday following in the footsteps of Ian Millar, who became the first Canadian to win the Masters’ featured grand prix, then called the du Maurier.
Aboard the national treasure Big Ben, Millar returned again in 1991 for a second victory, cementing his place in Canadian show jumping history.
Eric Lamaze was that young man in the stands, and he lived his own dream on Sept. 9.
“I used to watch Ian [Millar] as a kid,” said 39-year-old Lamaze smiling. “I watched him win this class with Big Ben. It’s great to think that out there in the stands there might be another kid that will be winning this class in 15 or 20 years.”
This year, during the $950,435 CN International, the Canadians received a new superstar when Lamaze rode Hickstead to the only double-clear performance before 60,486 fans. In total, 187,126 fans attended the five-day tournament, Sept. 5-9.
“It’s more like a dream than anything else,” added Lamaze. “When it becomes a reality it’s something you were definitely hoping for. I think Hickstead is one of the greatest horses in the world. The great ones are the ones that can sense the moment to do something important.”
Indeed, Hickstead sensed the importance of the entire tournament.
In addition to his CN International win, the 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood stallion (by Hamlet) jumped double clear in the $332,652 BMO Nations Cup and led his team to third place.
“After he jumped two clear rounds yesterday it’s hard to believe it can happen again the next day over a course like this,” said Lamaze of the two-round CN International. “What you saw today was a great horse.”
Hubert Bourdy of France collected 1 time fault on Toulon for second place, and 2004 CN International winner Jos Lansink aboard Al Kaheel Cavalor Cumano placed third with a rail down.
Two U.S. riders qualified for Round 2—Richard Spooner with Cristallo and Lauren Hough on Casadora. Both had problems on course, however, and placed eighth and 11th, respectively.
Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela designed a masterful two-round test under gleaming blue Canadian skies. Of the 39 starters, 12 jumped clear and qualified for Round 2, just the number of slots allotted.
Will Simpson, who had a successful week at Spruce Meadows with two victories in the International Ring on Thursday (see sidebar), came achingly close to qualifying for Round 2 with El Campeons Tosca. A rail at the final fence relegated them to 15th as the second fastest four-faulter.
Likewise, Beezie Madden and Authentic made just one mistake on course—at the challenging triple combination at 12ABC—and their day was done.
Other U.S. riders suffering from just one rail down included Mandy Porter on Summer, Kyle King on Capone I and McLain Ward with Sapphire.
After the clear rounds came relatively easy in the first round, Palacios turned the tables in the second round.
“Round 2 was one of the most difficult courses I’ve ever ridden,” said Lamaze, a four-time Canadian World Equestrian Games team veteran. “When they didn’t come at you quickly, they were massive, and sometimes they came at you quickly and were massive.”
Although Palacios admitted his nerves were rattled when 12 competitors jumped clear in Round 1 (last year six jumped clear), he said his plan all along was to truly test the riders in the second round.
“God helped me in the end. I wanted just one double clean,” said Palacios smiling. “I think the second course was as difficult or the same as an Olympic Games. In this grand prix, the jump off is the second round. I believe for the pure sport it is against the fences, not getting lucky by running.”
The riders returned by virtue of their first round times, with Bourdy the slowest of the first-round clears. He and Toulon, a Belgian Warmblood (by Heartbreaker) fresh off a win in the $425,600 Global Champions Tour Grand Prix (Brazil) in August, made the course look easy.
A few extra strides may have cost them big money, however—$118,804 to be exact—the difference between the winner’s share of $308,891 and second place of $190,087. They were just over the timed allowed.
Bourdy’s pacesetting performance started to look as if it might hold, however, as rider after rider collected faults.
Scores of 9, 13, 6 and 20 hit the board before British rider Tim Stockdale and the attractive gray Fresh Direct Corlato gave the spectators hope.
The duo even mastered the challenging line of triple bar, four long strides or five short strides to a double of liverpool verticals (7 to 8AB) set immediately in front of the in-gate. Their undoing came at the following fence, an immense airy oxer (Fence 9) with CN railroad train standards.
Spooner and Cristallo, his 9-year-old Holsteiner (by Caletto II), began strongly. After Cristallo dropped a rail behind at 3A, he picked up a gallop as Spooner kicked into gear going for a fast time. But Cristallo veered toward the gate in between the triple bar and liverpools and dropped another rail for 8 faults.
If Spooner’s luck through that line was unfortunate, Hough’s was downright miserable. Casadora had a clear round going until the nemesis line. She jumped the triple bar with a superb effort, but Hough chose to try for the four strides to the first liverpool, and Casadora declined to jump from the gap.
Hough circled and continued, but the chestnut mare was unsettled and collected 16 faults.
Gerco Schröder and Eurocommerce Milano pulled a rail at Fence 6, the black CN planks, but Schröder’s excellent ride when the Dutch Warmblood stutter-stepped before the liverpools kept them to just 4 faults and eventual fourth place.
Then Cumano stepped into the ring. The crowd hushed as the impressive, gray Holsteiner, who had just earned the individual silver medal in the European Show Jumping Championships (Germany), took to the course.
As Lansink and the stallion cleared jump after jump, the crowd’s cheering grew louder. On the way to Fence 10, an imposing British flag vertical, Cumano bucked in anticipation. Whether that excess energy cost him focus is hard to say, but the scopey horse ticked the top rail, denying them a second victory.
As the second-to-last starter, Lamaze knew what he had to do. A clear round would guarantee him at least second place and possibly the outright win if Nick Skelton and Arko III, the final starters, failed to jump clear as well.
For the Canadian fans, their moment had finally arrived. Reminiscent of the greetings that Millar and Big Ben received, the Canadians roared as Lamaze and Hickstead walked into the ring.
As the pair cleared the fences, the cheering grew louder. And when the 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood stallion jumped perfectly through the line by the in-gate, they knew.
So did Lamaze.
“I have to admit I saw the finish line before the last two fences,” said Lamaze smiling.
But he kept his focus and placed Hickstead at the perfect distances, ensuring the stallion never touched a rail.
As Hickstead landed from the final fence, the crowd went wild as Lamaze galloped and pumped his fist in the air. Likewise, co-owner John Fleischhacker of Ashland Stables, Long Lake, Minn., was in the stands celebrating victory.
Skelton and Arko III began their course with the crowd still murmuring. But as Arko kept clearing the jumps with room to spare, they grew hushed. As Lamaze watched Arko and Skelton, he thought to himself that he’d better mentally prepare for a jump-off.
And just as it looked as if Arko was on target for a clear around, the unpredictable stallion ducked out at the first liverpool, giving the Canadians their much-desired victory.
“I knew that line would be difficult for his horse; he’s a big mover,” said Lamaze. “I knew if he was going to try five strides, it was going to be a difficult line for him. I was watching on the camera, and [the refusal] just happened. He was very capable of going clear.”
For Lamaze, he had absolute confidence in his horse in the second round.
“You get a little bit nervous, but once I had the first round behind me I had a really good feeling,” said Lamaze. “He came back better, if that was even possible.”
Sweet Revenge For Germany
After the first round of the $332,652 BMO Nations Cup, it looked as if the Netherlands was on target to defeat Germany yet again as they’d done just a few weeks earlier in the European Show Jumping Championships.
But then the rails started to fall like rain for the Dutch—who had a commanding lead after Round 1—and they didn’t stop.
Meanwhile, the Germans rallied in Round 2, posting three perfect scores.
So, when Dutch anchor rider Schröder toppled a rail with Eurocommerce Monaco as the final rider in Round 2, the prestigious competition came down to a jump-off.
Germany against the Netherlands, both with 12 faults. Germany prevailed.
“It was a very good feeling to beat the Dutch team,” said German Chef d’Equipe Sönke Sönksen smiling. “Everybody is very, very happy!”
The team chefs d’equipe chose their contenders to break the tie—Heinrich Engemann aboard Aboyeur W versus Schröder and Eurocommerce Monaco.
The eight-fence jump-off offered room for galloping, although several tricky fences—the combination at 4AB and the Swiss planks at 5—ensured that excess speed wouldn’t be tolerated.
German team veteran Engemann took the course first; he began conservatively, going for the clear round. He picked up speed at the end and asked his Westphalian gelding to leave from the gap. His game chestnut took the flier to the final oxer for a clear round in 43.47 seconds.
His time was beatable. But it didn’t matter.
Schröder returned, trotting in with confidence with his nearly black Holsteiner. But a rail at the first fence ended his mission, and he retired.
If nothing else, the Germans were consistent. All four riders—Thomas Voss/ Leonardo B, Engemann/Aboyeur W, Holger Wulschner/Clausen, Christian Ahlmann/Cöster—had four-fault totals in the first round and clear second rounds. This was the first time since 2004 that the Germans have earned the Nations Cup.
“We were unlucky in the first round and everybody was really good in the second round. We were happy to win today,” said anchor rider Ahlmann.
Sonksen said this particular team was selected based on their performances in the Samsung Super League Nations Cup in Dublin, where they won the Aga Khan Cup.
“What makes this team a little stronger is one rider,” said Sonksen. “And that’s Christian Ahlmann. Never change a winning team!”
The Netherlands began the Nations Cup with a bang, posting a perfect 0 in Round 1. Their momentum didn’t last, however, as rails fell throughout Round 2 for their entire 12-fault score.
The Canadians, the defending champions, came just 1 time fault short of qualifying for the jump-off. They placed third with 13 faults with a strong team of Archie Bunker/John Pearce, Special Ed/Jill Henselwood, Hickstead/ Eric Lamaze, In Style/Ian Millar.
When anchor rider Millar and his bay In Style hit the middle element of the BMO Triple Combination at 11ABC, the mathematicians in the stand groaned. They realized Canada’s total of 13 faults would prevent them from earning their second consecutive Nations Cup title.
Pearce, who was first into the ring, chose one long route that proved costly. “I had no idea how tight the time was,” said Pearce, who conferred with his teammates when initially making his plan. “Unfortunately, it cost us a time fault.”
The United States (Sapphire/McLain Ward, Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold/Margie Engle, Cristallo/Richard Spooner, Authentic/Beezie Madden) was never in the hunt and stood last of six teams after Round 1.
Ward and Sapphire had the team’s best score with a 4 and a clear. But the usually reliable Authentic and Madden dropped three rails in the first round and were the drop score.
With additional rails hitting the ground in the second round for everyone but Ward, the team finished with 24 faults but did move up to fourth, 1 fault better than fifth-placed Switzerland.
The British had bad luck in the second round. Michael Whitaker had a hard fall after the challenging 4AB wall/oxer combination when his horse swam through the oxer; he went over the horse’s head, flipped over and landed on his side. After catching his breath, he walked out of the ring, but the team had lost their drop score with his elimination and finished with 28 faults.
Michael didn’t return for the awards, and he scratched Insul Tech Mozart Des Hayettes the following day for the CN International.
Lamaze’s Olympic Plan In Action
Eric Lamaze, 39, Schomberg, Ont., has come a long way in the past decade.
Veterans of the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, Alta., will remember that it wasn’t long ago that Lamaze was greeted not with cheers but with boos when he stepped into the ring. And in 2000 he left Spruce Meadows in disgrace.
Times change; so do people.
Twice Lamaze qualified for the Olympic Games—1996 and 2000—and twice he was set down for drug violations after testing positive for cocaine, missing his opportunity to compete.
Now, with the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong on the horizon, Lamaze has his plan.
“I’ve spent the last three years in Europe in the spring preparing to come to Spruce Meadows in June. I’ve been going to La Baule [France] and Madrid [Spain],” he explained. “These shows are a little higher in level than the national tour, so when I arrive here my horses are competitive. They’ve jumped some big classes and are here to win. I don’t come here to school my horses; I come to win.”
With impressive performances on the Canadian team this year—including the FEI Nations Cup CSIO (Fla.) victory and team silver and individual bronze at the Pan American Games (Brazil)—Lamaze has reaped the rewards of his dedication. He was instrumental in helping Canada qualify for the 2008 Olympics with their team medal in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’ve really concentrated on bringing myself up in the sport; that’s the best reward you can give an owner,” said Lamaze. “They can buy you the horses, but if you don’t take the time to make yourself better it’s all for nothing. The past three years I’ve concentrated on preparing myself well, and it’s really paying off.”
Lamaze said he’ll spend the month of October in Europe and then return to Wellington, Fla., for the winter.
“Hickstead will have a long rest, and so will I, then we’ll start back the season near the end of Florida,” he said. “Then we’ll have a great plan and strategy to keep this up for next year.”
Lamaze sees the Canadian team as a future international force.
“We were so close to winning that Nations Cup,” said Lamaze. “We didn’t jump off because of 1 time fault. And Jill [Henselwood] stepped twice on the tape. These were great rounds. It wasn’t meant to be. But really it’s such a respectable performance from all of the Canadians. I think if you’re a Canadian you can’t help but be proud of what the sport has become in Canada.
“That we can be so competitive here in Spruce Meadows is great,” he added. “I was part of the earlier teams when winning a class here was a huge deal, even on a Wednesday! Nations Cup, we hated that day almost. There was never anything good that came out of it for us. We were riding horses that just weren’t capable of doing it. We’ve always had the riders in Canada. We just lack horses, and now we have a few who are really special.”
Spruce Meadows Tidbits
• Contrary to popular belief, Eric Lamaze didn’t have the perfect weekend. He and Lindberg Des Hayettes fell while contesting the BP Cup on Saturday morning. “When I went down the bank he lost a shoe and, believe it or not, it hit him in the head. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but I went down to the next fence and he felt OK. Then he looked at the bank going up and he stuttered a little bit, and I put my leg on and the rest was kind of blurry.”
• CN President and CEO Hunter Harrison took the microphone after the CN International for a rare comment: “I’ve put a great deal of time into this sport and seen a lot of classes, but this is probably the best day of sport and the best class I’ve ever seen. It was appropriate that we’d have a Canadian champion.”
• Bradley Cox, Mobile, Ala., made a speedy impression with her two mounts, the flashy pinto Santa Teresita Duvalin and Kosta, and she topped the Royal & Sun Alliance Cup on Wednesday in the All Canada Ring with Kosta.
• After a stellar season and victory in the ATCO Frontec Cup aboard Naleida, Catie Boone, Lexington, Ky., was named the Xerox Junior Rider of the Year.
• Lamaze won a $47,700 bonus after his CN International victory by winning a second leg of the summer-long CN Precision Series.
Simpson Is Lightning Fast On Thursday
While the 45-mph storm clouds blew through on Thursday, Sept. 6, during the Spruce Meadows Masters—toppling jumps and sending everyone for cover—they couldn’t match the speed of Will Simpson. In a rare sweep, Simpson galloped to victory in both featured classes in the International Ring.
First he topped the $28,513 AKITA Drilling Cup with Carlsson Vom Dach and then he returned for the $38,017 CANA Cup aboard El Campeons Tosca.
Simpson, 48, Thousand Oaks, Calif., was thrilled with both horses. “This is a good one,” said Simpson with a smile. “I won one last year, but you know, that’s one. Not two.”
Simpson and Tosca (by Casch) also won the CANA Cup last year, and the 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare was at the top of Simpson’s list. An injury during the HITS Thermal (Calif.) circuit, however, put her on the sidelines; she’s just now coming back.
Despite some problems in the opening day’s Finning Welcome, where Tosca collected 8 faults, Simpson said she’s in top form. “She had a rough day yesterday with the shadows, and I gave her a weak ride,” he explained. “She could have come out today and done anything.”
Tosca and Simpson had their work cut out for them, though. They faced three other top contenders who qualified for the jump-off, including Richard Spooner and the impressive Cristallo and John Whitaker’s Peppermill, who had just earned team bronze and placed fifth individually for Great Britain in the European Championships (Germany).
In the jump-off, Simpson asked her to go, and she didn’t let him down. “I came around the playpen and saw a green light and went for it,” he said. “She jumped it huge. The scope came out, and I said, ‘OK, she’s back and ready to go.’ ”
With a double clear in 35.46 seconds, Simpson and Tosca sped to victory by more than a full second over Spooner and Cristallo, who placed second in 36.55 seconds.
Click to view the Spruce Meadows photo spread.