September 5, 2013--The prestigious Spruce Meadows 'Masters' Tournament opened today with two classes in the International Ring and featured exciting competition. The victory in the $85,000 Finning Cup 1.60m went to Christian Ahlmann (GER) on Taloubet Z. Kent Farrington (USA) and Blue Angel flew to the win over a field of 17 in the jump-off of the $50,000 AKITA Drilling Cup 1.50m. The 'Masters' continues through Sunday, September 8, and features the $1 Million CN International Grand Prix, part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, on Sunday, and the $350,000 BMO Nations Cup on Saturday.
The $85,000 Finning Cup 1.60m had 39 entries, and 10 of those proceeded to the jump-off to determine who would join in the victory gallop. The courses this week are designed by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela. Ahlmann rode Taloubet Z, his 2011 FEI World Cup Finals winning partner, to victory in the competition. Riding out of the second spot in the jump-off order, they put down an all-important clear round over a course that featured a long gallop to a skinny vertical. They finished in 45.38 seconds.
The next clear round came from Daniel Bluman on Sancha LS, a 10-year-old SLS Warmblood mare by Chin Chin x Polydor. They stopped the clock in 46.26 seconds for second place. The only other clear round in the jump-off came from Daniel Deusser (GER) on Stephex Stables' Evita van de Veldbalie, who had a time of 48.32 seconds. Fourth place went to Penelope Leprevost (FRA) on Nayana, who had four faults in 45.13 seconds, while Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) and Vadetta VH Mettenhof were fifth with four faults in 45.89 seconds.
Ahlmann and Taloubet Z, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion by Galoubet A S.F. x Polydor owned by Judy Ann Melchior and Ahlmann, was Ahlmann's first choice for the 'Masters' given his success here before.
"Taloubet did an amazing job today," Ahlmann acknowledged. "He felt really, really fresh and concentrated. In the jump-off, I tried to take a little risk, but not go forward too much so we can keep the jump. In general he's a really fast horse and there were a few good turns that I could make some time. It was a really good start and I hope we can keep it like that."
Ahlmann felt that Taloubet's attribute of an adjustable stride helped in today's course, especially to the bogey skinny vertical. "To make a short stride with him is really easy because his stride is really flexible. I was hoping the jump would also be good because it's a really difficult fence especially with the long line to it. He jumped it two times really good."
Ahlmann, the World Number One rider since December 2012 until this month, was reflective when asked about losing his World Number One status. "It was a long time for me. I lost two really successful horses during the season," he pointed out. "I knew the time was coming. It's really hard to keep on top. It happened, but now the motivation is really big to get back."
For Bluman, today's competition was a huge boost to try and qualify for Sunday's grand prix. He said of his ride, "It was a good course for my mare to start the week here. In the jump-off, I didn't have the chance to see Christian go, but I imagine he turned really, really tight to the 'coins' jump. I've seen him on the TV and on the computer winning World Cup classes, so I figured he was going to turn tight! I couldn't do it as tight as him. I took two or three seconds longer in that turn. After that she kept on jumping good. I'm very satisfied being second place to Christian today."
Sancha is just 10 years old now, and Bluman feels that they are "growing together." He said, "Every time I ride better, she jumps better. I believe the responsibility is more on me. From last year until now, there's been a huge improvement with both her and me, and we hope to continue that way."
Farrington and Blue Angel Show Their Speed
Out of 53 entries and 17 in the jump-off, Kent Farrington and Robin Parsky's Blue Angel showed the speed they're known for to take the win in the $50,000 AKITA Drilling Cup 1.50m. No stranger to the winner's circle at Spruce Meadows, Farrington notched another win when he went second in the jump-off and stopped the timers in 36.13 seconds. Two horses later, new World Number One Ben Maher (GBR) and Urico, owned by Jane Clark, were just off the pace in 36.29 seconds for second place. Conor Swail (IRL) and the always quick Martha Louise were third in 36.64 seconds. Fourth place went to Lauren Hough (USA) and Ohlala in 37.35 seconds, while Daniel Deusser (GER) and Cornet D'Amour, owned by Stephex Stable and Double H Farm, was fifth with a time of 37.59 seconds.
Farrington knew he could not rest easy despite his very quick ride. "I don't know if you ever expect to hold the lead when you have a bunch of the best riders in the world coming after you. I think that would be a false sense of security," he admitted. "I thought the horse went really well and put up a good round, so it was going to take some beating. You never sit comfortable in that situation."
Blue Angel, an 11-year-old AES mare by Luidam x Ascendant, last showed at the Dublin CSIO a month ago, but Farrington said she was fit and ready for the 'Masters.' He noted of her and his top horse Uceko, "They're used to traveling all the time; it's just another day at the office for them. They feel really good and comfortable here."
He concluded, "It always feels good to win the first class out of the box and have the momentum for the week. We have a lot more work to do here, but it's a good way to start our week."
Maher knew he would have his work cut out for him to beat Farrington's time. "I'm a trier. I always try and win. I knew Kent would be fast. That's a really fast horse and Kent's one of the fastest riders in the world," he said.
While he was "pretty quick" from the first to second fences, he did adjust later on in the course. He explained, "There was an option back to the Rolex oxer which I didn't take. It was perhaps the winning turn if I took one less stride, but I decided to play a little safer today. I didn't see it and it wasn't quite there. It cost me a fraction of a second, but I'm very happy. Urico has had a slightly quieter summer. I've been doing a lot with the other horses and it's his time to move up and help the team out."
Maher found out that he jumped from #19 to #1 in the world this morning, which he remarked was a "big surprise." Maher recently finished as a team gold and individual silver medalist at the P.S.I. FEI European Jumping Championships. He added, "It's always been an ambition of mine and it's great to be able to achieve that. I think it's always a great feeling to win a big grand prix anywhere in the world, but I think the way the ranking works, it does prove consistency. It proves I have a great team around me, great owners, and great horses at the moment, which I'm very grateful for. It takes the whole package to give me the chance to be where I am right now and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Final Results: $50,000 AKITA Drilling Cup 1.50m
1. BLUE ANGEL: 2002 AES mare by Luidam x Ascendant
KENT FARRINGTON (USA), Robin Parsky: 0/0/36.13
2. URICO: 2001 KWPN gelding by Zandor Z x Fedor
BEN MAHER (GBR), Jane F. Clark: 0/0/36.29
3. MARTHA LOUISE: 2004 Swedish Warmblood mare by Maloubet de Pleville 1039 x Wolfgang
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Chinook Valley, Inc: 0/0/36.64
4. OHLALA: 2003 Swedish Warmblood mare by Orlando x Cardento
LAUREN HOUGH (USA), Lauren Hough: 0/0/37.35
5. CORNET D'AMOUR: 2003 Westphalian gelding by Cornet Obolensky x Damiani
DANIEL DEUSSER (GER), Stephex Stables & Double H Farm: 0/0/37.59
6. EARLY MORNING MIST: 2004 Warmblood mare by Lancaster V x Kannan
NICOLA PHILIPPAERTS (BEL), Ludo Philippaerts Horse Trading bvba: 0/0/38.69
7. DAME BLANCHE VAN ARENBERG: 2003 Belgian Sport Horse mare by Clinton x Codexco
PENELOPE LEPREVOST (FRA), Megret Genevieve: 0/0/40.18
8. POWERPLAY: 2004 Holsteiner gelding by Casall x Limbus
ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Artisan Farms LLC: 0/0/41.26
9. QUINTENDER 2: 2000 Hanoverian stallion by Quinar x Contender
LUDO PHILIPPAERTS (BEL), EM Horses: 0/4/38.16
10. EQUIPHARMA DAX VAN DABIJHOEVE: 2003 Belgian Sport Horse gelding by Desir du Chateau x Clinton
PIETER DEVOS (BEL), Stal Devos DV: 0/4/38.89