Calgary, CAN - September 5, 2012 - - The Spruce Meadows Masters tournament kicked off Wednesday afternoon as a bevy of international talent and recent Olympians walked into the famed International Ring, all looking to walk out the victor of the $35,000 Finning Cup 1.60m.
But it was France’s Jerome Hurel who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the 39-horse field, as he and OHM de Ponthual scored the win and took home the lion’s share of the prize money.
Hurel’s victory didn’t come easy, as Leopoldo Palacios built a tough track of 14-jumping elements and designated a snug time allowed of 72 seconds. It was the tight time limit that proved to be detrimental for the majority of the entrants, with 26 contenders accruing at least a single time penalty.
Jerome Hurel trophy presentation
“The time was a problem for me because my horse jumps slowly over the fences,” said the winner with the help of a translator.
Hurel described his horse as “having a long stride, but also one who stays in the air” over top of the obstacles. Combined with the short distances and tight time allowed, he said the course proved to be plenty difficult. He wasn’t surprised that only five competitors advanced to the jump-off round.
First in to the second round, Hurel and the 10-year-old Selle Francais stallion were able to show-off their quick turn of foot, galloping to the timers in 43.74 seconds.
“Today, I had a good feeling,” he said with a smile. “But it’s only the first day. I would prefer to win on Sunday.”
Last into the jump-off was runner-up Brianne Goutal, who tried her hardest to catch the winners. The New Yorker chalked up two clean rounds and a speedy time of 43.96 seconds with her ride aboard Cloverleaf Farms’ Selle Francais stallion Nice de Prissey.
“I have a similar horse to [Hurel] – in that he has a very big stride – so when the distances are short, I very often end up leaving out strides,” said Goutal. “I was depending on trying to be fast between the fences.
“He’s a super horse and very typical of a French horse – very brave.”
Goutal has been based in France for the summer, only briefly returning to North America for the Masters tournament. On Saturday, she’s slated to don the red American jacket in the BMO Nations’ Cup. After that, she said she and her horses will return to Europe.
Ranking third was Canada’s Ian Millar, who posted the third of four double clear rounds. Riding his recent Olympic mount, Team Works’ Star Power, the Canadian fan favorite raced to the timers in 44.51.
Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher landed in fourth place for his jump-off ride aboard Embassy II, while Ireland’s Shane Breen rounded out the top-five placings with his four-fault jump-off ride with Balloon.
The acclaimed Masters tournament started off on the right foot for Richard Spooner, who topped the leaderboard in the $35,000 AKITA Drilling Cup 1.50m. Aboard the game warmblood Apache, the Californian outraced the rest of the 18 jump-off contenders, gunning to the finish in 29.98 seconds.
The pair appeared to tackle the challenging track, designed by Venezuela’s Palacios, with ease, leaving all the jumps soundly in their cups over both rounds. Despite this flawlessness, Spooner said the course didn’t exactly cater to his strengths as a rider.
“Frankly, I didn’t think it was a good jump-off for me,” said the Agua Dulce resident, who has been aptly nicknamed the Master of Faster. “It was a mad dash, then one turn, then another mad dash – so it was more like steeplechasing. But I was able to leave out a bunch of strides to the second jump and the second-to-last jump.”
The duo is fresh off of the plane from Europe, where Spooner said the Little Valley Farm’s 13-year-old gelding had been showing lightly following the Spruce Meadows Summer Series. As a result, he said the horse is feeling “fresh and fantastic.”
Also looking fresh and fantastic was Spooner’s fellow American rider, Beezie Madden, who secured the second-place spot with her two rounds aboard Coral Reef Ranch’s Coral Reef Via Volo. The pair nipped at the heels of winners, posting a double clean ride and a speedy jump-off time of 31.51 seconds – a second and a half behind the pace to beat.
Landing in third position was Harrie Smolders, of the Netherlands, with his own Zangersheide mare Regina Z. Chalking up one of the 12 double-clear rides over the course, the tandem galloped to the timers in 31.53 seconds.
The action continues at the Spruce Meadows Masters with the $80,000 Cana Cup – will Dutch duo Leon Thijssen and Tyson be defending their 2011 victory?
Jerome Hurel presentation
Richard Spooner - Trophy presentation
Apache and Richard Spooner
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PHOTOS BY: Holly Burns - Holly Burns Media