Calgary, Canada - September 6, 2012 - - He was the last competitor to enter the ring, and Michael Whitaker sure made it worth the wait, as he scored the win in the $80,000 Cana Cup, held Thursday afternoon at the Spruce Meadows Masters tournament.
Mounted aboard the Miss M Braybrooke’s Dutch warmblood gelding Viking, Whitaker proved that the event wasn’t over until he’d had his turn in the ring. And, last into the jump-off, the British rider made it count. All the obstacles were left standing, as he piloted the flashy chestnut through the second round in a speedy 37.27 seconds – shaving just moments off the pace to beat.
“He’s a good horse and he’s naturally quick, so I tried to keep it tight,” said Whitaker of his jump-off strategy. “There are two or three turns where I turned very tightly, and I think that’s probably where I did it. I only saw Christian (Ahlmann) go, but he was obviously a good marker [of the pace].
“Viking jumped really good today – he likes it out there. So, I think I have a good chance – no, I definitely have a chance [for the rest of the week].”
Since the 2011 Masters tournament, Whitaker said the Dutch warmblood gelding has really come into his own. Earlier this year, the pair garnered a couple of second-place grand-prix finishes – in Estoril, Portugal, and Valencia, Spain.
“I had to figure him out a little bit – he’s like a cheeky kid,” he said about his mount. “You don’t want to get that out of him…. You have to compromise, but not too much. But now he has more experience and he’s working with me more.”
Expect to see the pair back in the ring for Saturday’s Nations’ Cup, where they will suit up for Team Great Britain. Then, it’s on to Sunday’s $1,000,000 class, the CN International. “It’s nice to get a few quid before we start,” joked the legendary rider.
Whitaker was the only contender to overtake the time set by German rider Christian Ahlmann, who was aboard the warmblood stallion, Taloubet Z. Eighth to go in the nine-horse jump-off, the pair racked up two clean trips around the challenging course, set by Leopoldo Palacios. They achieved a jump-off time of 37.62 seconds.
Ranking third was Jerome Hurel of France, who chalked up a double clean ride with his mount, the bay stallion OHM de Ponthual. The rider turned his horse’s big stride loose, crossing between the timers in 38.27 seconds. The duo started their tournament off right, winning Wednesday’s $35,000 Finning Cup.
Irish rider Shane Breen landed in fourth place for his two clear rounds aboard the game Oldenburg stallion Balloon, and Ian Millar rounded out the top-five placings for his double clear ride with his most recent Olympic mount, Star Power.
Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo were the only American competitors to advance into the jump-off, but an unfortunate rail had the pair finishing the event in ninth position.
Ahlmann had his turn earlier in the afternoon, as he dominated the $40,000 ATCO Structures & Logistics Cup 1.50m aboard his relatively new partner, Aragon.
The new father and the 11-year-old warmblood made short work of the tricky track, set by Palacios. As is the style of the Venezuelan builder, the time allowed was tight at 71 seconds, and quickly the entrants narrowed from 42 to a small jump-off crowd of five.
But Ahlmann and the big grey gelding took it all in stride, posting one of only two double clear rides and a jump-off time of 36.79 seconds. Not a bad result for the inexperienced horse.
“I was surprised,” said the German rider with a smile.
“He’s 11 years old, but doesn’t have a lot of experience for this kind of ring,” he added. “This is a really difficult ring, so I didn’t expect I’d have a chance to win. I was a lucky man today.”
The duo has only been paired up for about two months, but Ahlmann said the gelding is quickly getting into fighting shape. This was proven earlier this summer, when the pair won the Prix Massimo Dutti in Estoril, Portugal.
“From the first moment, he did a great job,” said the rider, who is sitting in sixth spot on the current Rolex Rankings. “Every week it’s a big surprise how [well] he does. This ring today was another big step for him, so I’m completely happy with [the result].”
Abdullah Al Sharbatly ranked second for his two clean rounds with Nabeel Zahid’s Irish sport horse gelding, Larkhill Cruiser. Third to go in the jump-off, the pair seemed determined to post a clear round, and crossed the wire in a relatively pokey 40.93 seconds.
Landing in the third spot was Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts, who was mounted on EM Horses’ Quintender 2. The last pairing into the second round, they pulled a single rail and galloped to the finish in 39.03 seconds.
Madden, once again, kept the American contingent in the ribbons as the fastest of the single-fault performances. She and Simon finished the first round in 71.76 seconds, ending the class in sixth place.
The Masters tournament continues at Spruce Meadows Friday night with the popular “Evening of the Horse.” Not only will international contenders compete in the $100,000 Encana Cup, but they will also try their hand in the $50,000 ATCO Electric ‘Circuit’ Six Bar. Always a spectator favorite, the night caps off with fireworks over the International Ring.
Christian Ahlmann with Aragon
Andrew Bourns and Roundthorn Madios
Tina Fletcher and Hello Sailor
Olivier Philippaerts and Cabrio Van de Heffinck
Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo
Jur Vrieling and VDL Emmerton
Daniel Deuser and Lilly Fee
PHOTOS BY: Holly Burns - Holly Burns Media