By Jennifer Wood
North American Tournament
American riders always put in a strong showing at Spruce Meadows, and this year’s North American Tournament was no different. Of the 10 FEI ranking classes held that week, Americans won five. In the biggest class of the week, Saturday’s $200,000 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Americans finished second, third, and fourth. Course Designer Guilherme Jorge (BRA) put riders to the test in the International Ring.
Victory Gallops Led by Bond, Lamaze, Jayne, Cook and Little-Meredith
As the week opened, Californian Ashlee Bond won the $31,000 AON Risk Services Cup 1.50m class on Chivas Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding by Cumano x Lord Gothard (Little Valley Farm, owner). After sixty-four entries, she was the fastest clear in a jump-off of six competitors. Stopping the clock in 40.635, Bond was seconds faster than Henri Kovacs of Hungary on The Real Deal, owned by Rachel Cline. Brianne Goutal of New York was third on Nice De Prissey, owned by Cloverleaf Farms.
This was Bond’s first major win with Chivas Z. “I’ve won some 1.40m classes, but I’ve never won a big class on him,” the young yet accomplished rider acknowledged. She explained it’s been a long, but satisfying, road with her talented horse. “I’ve had him three years. He was really green and jumped super high and hard. I wanted to give up,” she remembered. “I thought I couldn’t ride him. My dad said to stick it out. Richard Spooner really helped me with him, and it got better and came together from there. It’s been a process. He’s still a bit green at times, but he’s become consistent. I’m so proud of him. The win is so exciting because of him.”
On Thursday, it was Canadian Eric Lamaze’s time to take charge. He and his Olympic partner Hickstead raced to the win in the $35,000 D-Line Construction Cup,1.60m class. Hickstead, a 14-year-old Dutch stallion by Hamlet x Ekstein, is owned by Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stables and Ashland Stables. The Ontario-based rider beat Katie Monahan-Prudent (FRA) aboard Sassicaia II who finished second, Californian Keri Potter on Rockford I third, Mario Deslauriers (now riding as an American) with Urico were fourth and Californian Guy Thomas (NZL) rode Peterbilt to fifth.
Friday’s $50,000 Lafarge Cup – 1.50m had an exciting jump-off between eight riders. Charlie Jayne of Elgin, IL, won his first International Ring class in his first year competing at Spruce Meadows as a professional. He and Urbanis, a 13-year-old Belgian gelding by Heartbreaker x Ramiro stopped the clock in 32.416 seconds, just half a second ahead of Lamaze on Coriana Van Klapscheut and Goutal again on Nice De Prissey.
Another first time FEI class winner at Spruce Meadows led the victory gallop on Saturday in the $75,000 TD Cup – 1.50m. Karl Cook of Woodside, CA, rode his 15-year-old Dutch gelding, Notories Utopia, to the speed win over Henri Kovacs and The Real Deal and Guy Thomas (NZL) on Carino. Cook won his first class in the major ring during the first week in the ATCO Power Double Slalom. Cook has been showing at Spruce Meadows since 2004, and is only 19 years old.
“It’s amazing to win here,” Cook said. “I love having crowds yelling as you’re going around the ring. You’re competing against amazing riders, so it makes you ride better. It’s a great place to show.”
Cook said of his horse, whom he’s ridden for seven years, “We got him to do the Children’s Jumpers, (but) we just kept moving up and up. He’s a very good teacher. If you do one he doesn’t like, he’ll throw you off or stop. If you do it again right, he’ll jump. He doesn’t hold a grudge.”
Lamaze also returned to the winner’s circle for the biggest win of the week in Saturday’s $200,000 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup. He finished just 3/10ths of second faster in the jump-off over Brianne Goutal on Onira and Deslauriers with Urico. Ashlee Bond and Chivas Z were fourth and Rodrigo Pessoa guided HH Rebozo to fifth place.
Marilyn Little-Meredith was the winner of two major classes at the tournament. She and Blue Curacao, a nine-year-old Belgian mare by Mr. Blue x Dark D’Amour, scored an opening day win in the $31,000 Enerflex Cup – 1.60m class over Lamaze and Hickstead and Deslauriers on Urico. Then, they scored their biggest win to date in the $175,000 Mercedes-Benz Classic Derby – 1.60m. Again, Lamaze finished second, this time with Atlete van T Heike, Leslie Howard and Lennox Lewis 2 were third, Champ 163 with Rodrigo Pessoa fourth while Black Cherry piloted by Will Simpson was fifth.
Little-Meredith, who is from Frederick, MD, was also showing for the first time at Spruce Meadows. She was incredibly pleased with her talented mare. “Blue is owned by Paul and Mary Loeber, and she has come along so quickly. She did her first grand prix in January and has been holding that level since then,” she described. “She has an incredible heart and is the most brave horse. She never backs off and she’s never scared. She always comes out every day and tries so hard. It makes you want to come out 100% every day too.”
She said of her wins, “I’m not going to lie, it’s huge. It’s amazing to win in such a field of great, seasoned horses and competitors.”
Little-Meredith was one of many riders who walked the course while the spectators were treated to the “Name the Foal” contest. The mares were led around the ring while foals trotted close behind, oftentimes in the path of walking riders. Little-Meredith smiled, “I’ve started breeding some myself, so it’s nice. It’s such a high stress thing for me walking the courses and then the foals were running around and it was such a pleasant distraction – it’s definitely a unique feature of Spruce Meadows!”
FEI Classes Saved by G&C Farm
Many of their FEI World Ranking classes at Spruce Meadows this year were in danger of losing their FEI status. Luckily G&C Farm of Wellington, FL, owned by Gustavo and Carolina Mirabal, stepped up to sponsor these classes.
Through their sponsorship, the prize money was raised from $25,000 to $31,000 in 10 classes during the Spruce Meadows Tournaments. By increasing the prize money, the classes now qualify monetarily since the FEI changed the exchange rate against the Swiss Franc instead of Euros last December. Otherwise, the $25,000 classes would have been disqualified from the ROLEX rankings because the original prize money offered would have been too low.
G&C Farm also created the $50,000 G&C Farm Rider’s Cup, which awarded points to riders who placed in the 29 of the eligible FEI events this summer through the North American Tournament. Lamaze’s consistency earned him the $25,000 first prize, while Pablo Barrios (VEN) won $15,000 for second. Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) was third, taking home $10,000.
Lamaze Lame but Recovering
Canadian Eric Lamaze rose to the top of the ROLEX World Rankings once again. He not only dominated the $200,000 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup with Hickstead but the pair galloped away with the win in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. While competing in the first round of this last event, Lamaze heard a crack and felt pain as he landed off the triple combination. Although the sound was his foot breaking, he continued for two more rounds fault-free and the win.
Lamaze talked about the importance of Rolex ranking classes and being number one in the world. “The ranking is really important because it allows you to go to many competitions around the world that normally you couldn’t go to,” he pointed out. “When you get the best spot, you feel like you can almost relax a bit because for sure you’ve worked hard to get there. If these FEI classes weren’t all here, it would have been impossible for me to move to number one.”