On Sunday, September 11th, Scott Brash and Ursula XII claimed the second Major of the year, the $3,000,000 CP ‘International’ Grand Prix presented by Rolex at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament.
Originally a two million dollar class, an additional million was added to the prize money shortly before the class began by sponsor CP International. Show organizers made no official announcement or explanation about the sudden jump in prize money, instead keeping the increase a surprise to be revealed after the class.
Instead, Brash was simply presented with a check that read in bold black letters: “one million dollars.” He thus became the happy recipient of the biggest prize check in show jumping history.
This is only the second time in Spruce Meadows history that a rider has won the CP Grand Prix two years in a row.
“I’m actually so happy for my horse, Ursula,” said Brash of the 15-year old Warmblood mare (Ahorn x Papageno). “It’s been a long road with her. She’s always been an unbelievable horse but probably never had the recognition she deserves. She was the No. 1 horse in the world but had never actually won a grand prix. She’s been second so many times in so many big grand prixs but never actually won one. To go through two years of injury now to finally have her back at the top end of this sport and to win the biggest grand prix in the world. I’m absolutely over the moon for the horse.”
Second place went to USA’s McLain Ward and HH Azur (Thunder Van de Zwohoeve x Sir Lui), with 3rd place awarded to Italian rider Lorenzo de Luca and Ensor De Litrange LXII (Nabab de Reve x Mr Blue).
Forty riders qualified for the ‘Masters’ Tournament’s highlight event, all vying for their share of the generous prize money in one of the sport’s toughest competitions.
In true Calgary fashion, after a week of glorious conditions, rain clouds rolled in early Sunday evening, drenching the International Ring just in time for the week’s highlight class. Rain fell throughout most of the day, but the grass footing held up well considering the damp conditions.
Course designer Leopoldo Palacios set a track that saw riders facing 14, 1.60m obstacles spread throughout Spruce Meadow’s sprawling International Ring.
The triple combination with natural liverpool ditches underneath the B and C elements were the cause of many problems for an unusually high amount of riders. A total of 12 paired suffered refusals at the treacherous combination, and at one point, four riders in a row failed to get through without a stop.
A total of 15 riders failed to complete the round one track, with some of the day’s biggest disappointments the retirement at the triple of both World No 1, Christian Ahlmann and Epleaser Van T Heike (For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve), and hometown favourites, Tiffany Foster with Tripple X III (Namelus R x Catango Z).
The first clear round did not come until 30th in the order with the USA’s Kent Farrington aboard his Rio Olympic Games Bronze Medal mount, Voyeur (Tolaro Vant Riethof x Goodwill). As the American took to the ring, light showers turned to heavy rain, adding to the drama of Farrington’s stellar performance.
Farrington would soon be joined by his USA teammate Ward, who also produced a clear round aboard the always-impressive HH Azur. A few rides later, De Luca and Ensor De Litrange LXII also managed a clear round.
While a large chunk of the field fell victim to Palacios’s first round track, Brash and Ursula navigated the course with relative ease. “I think the first round went well. To start off two to three I actually found she was a bit keen there but she jumped the next lines good,” Brash described. “I did find after the water jump that it was going to be a bit tight for me—she has a massive stride. After the water I found it really short so I feel I was lucky there at the planks. I thought I was too deep but she jumped fantastic and did everything she could to jump the plank. Then the combination, she didn’t even look at the ditches—she jumped it really well. I was very happy with the first round.”
The top 12 riders progressed to the second round, with faults carrying over from round one.
Notably missing for Round two were both riders in contention for the Rolex Grand Slam bonus, Philip Weishaupt and Steve Guerdat. Weishaupt and the striking grey stallion LB Convall (Colman x Cascavelle), knocked a rail on each obstacle of the triple combination. Guerdat too, aboard Corbinian (Cornet Obolensky x Pilot), picked up multiple faults on course.
Brash was the first of those sitting on a clean scorecard to contest over the shortened track, and after another clear performance, he opened up the possibility for a jump off. At first it looked that the class had been decided, with Farrington and De Luca each having a rail in the second round, however a clear performance from Ward ensured the tie breaking round.
“The second round I thought she was perfect really-absolutely spot on,” noted Brash. “I felt even better than the first round.”
Brash was first to contest over the shortened track, successfully navigating each of the jumps to finish on a clear. But he was unsure whether his performance would hold up against one of the world’s best. “When you’ve got the likes of McLain and Azur coming behind you, you feel like you’re at a touch of a disadvantage,” admitted Brash. “I knew I had to do more than [keep the poles up] to beat him so I took a few risks and a few chances and she jumped amazing.”
When Ward took to the ring, he had his eyes on the prize, but an uncharacteristic rail at the second fence saw him having to settle for the runner up prize, which came with an impressive payout of $600,000.
“If you’re going to be second to anybody, Scott is a good choice,” spoke Ward. “He is brilliant and probably the most consistent rider over the last several years. I’m not disappointed, the horse was spectacular. [The fence in the last round] was the only fence she touched all day. I thought she jumped in great form. She’s still a little bit of a young horse and still learning against the clock in the jump free rounds and that gets better with maturity. I think that as amazing as she is that the future looks even brighter for her. It was a little sentimental. I would’ve loved to win for Mr. Harrison—it was his last year as the head of CP here. I was really trying to finish that job but he appreciates myself and the horse’s performance and he was pleased. So we’re very pleased today.”
Third place finisher, De Luca, didn’t let his four fault performance dampen his sprits or his top performance. “I had a great week so I can’t complain about a pole at all,” De Luca explained. “It’s one of the best courses I’ve [ridden] ever. This show is amazing and my horses jumped great. Now is the first time for me, if I can come again next year for sure I will come. It’s the best show ever. [There’s] proper sport, big classes, good jump off and it’s fantastic to be here.”
At last year’s CP Grand Prix, Brash and Sanctos were the favourites to win, coming off of unprecedented wins at both Geneva and Aachen. This year, Brash admitted there was less pressure on him to pull through with a top performance. “I don’t think I was just expected to win the grand prix this year,” admitted Brash. “[In 2015,] all eyes were on Sanctos; he was in great form. He’d won Geneva and won Aachen so all eyes were on him and everyone was talking about him in the lead up to Spruce.”
Though not favored to win, Brash had utmost confidence in the mare heading into the grand prix. “Ursula first jumped back here in Calgary with Tina Fletcher some years ago and she jumped quite good,” explained Brash. “I was always really confident; I know her quite well. I always thought she’d be quite good in this ring but never had the opportunity to bring her here. I was just so happy to get her here in good form and in good shape to give us a chance at the grand prix. She sure delivered today.”
The victory comes out of what has been a difficult year for Brash and his team. “Sanctos picked up a small injury at the start of the year and that put him out all year really,” he explained. “When horses are older it does take them a little bit longer to come back into shape. The good thing is, he’s coming back now and he feels great. So he was off, then Hello M’Lady went off with a small injury and Ursula was just coming back. It kind of put us off the top stage for most of the season really. We couldn’t go to the Olympics and things like that. It’s been a bit of a tough season but its back on track again now.
With an extra million to spend, Brash did not have to think twice about how he’ll use his money. “A bonus like this always goes back to help my horses,” said Brash. “I just bought a yard in England near London which, trust me, costs a lot of money. I’ve been building facilities for my horses; an indoor school and outdoor school. Now I’m actually going to build them a canter track for them now—we’ll call it the CP International canter track!”
Next up for Brash is the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, but it won’t be long before he has his sights set on Geneva to take on the third of this year’s Majors. When asked if he’ll be out to chase another Rolex Grand Slam, Brash admitted that’s quite unlikely.
“I’m a dead realist. I understand [how challenging it is] to win the three biggest grands prix in the world– Geneva, Aachen and Calgary. To win three in a row in your lifetime, I feel pretty privileged to have done that. You can have the best horse in the world and it’s still really difficult… We could go twenty or thirty years before it’s done again.“
Humble to a fault, Brash may play down his chances to capture another Rolex Grand Slam all he likes, but once again, he has caught the attention of the world with his unreal ability to bring the best out of a horse, and be the best during an epic day of sport. Can he win it all again? We’ll meet you in Geneva this December to find out just how possible a Rolex Grand Slam double might be.
View the full results of the $3,000,000 CP International Grand Prix presented by Rolex at this link.