Four and a half hours before 65,000 people packed into the International Arena at Spruce Meadows, one rider was walking the course all-alone, his only company on the field a few ring officials making final checks. A light rain was falling and the rider held a black umbrella, twirling it a little as he paced out the lines.
That twirl of an umbrella gave a lot away about Scott Brash at 8:30 in the morning on the biggest day of his career. The first Rolex Grand Slam contender in the history of show jumping was ready to tackle the $1.5 Million CP International Grand Prix, presented by Rolex. Actually, he was more than ready. He was relaxed.
In winning the 2015 CP International Grand Prix, and becoming the first rider to achieve the Rolex Grand Slam of show jumping, Brash has firmly cemented his legend status, along with the simply brilliant Hello Sanctos. From beginning to end, the day belonged to this pair from Great Britain, and the two rounds of jumping over a 1.60m track that hit all the right notes played directly into Brash’s hands.
“When you target something for so long, and your whole team is behind you, and yourself you put so much work and hard effort in, I mean to actually come and achieve that dream, and to have it all pay off, it’s just a wonderful feeling,” 29-year-old Brash said. “I don’t think words can describe how I felt. I don’t think it’s sunk in just yet.”
Forty entries started in Round One, with the top 12 progressing to a shorter Round Two. Every rider on the entry list had a healthy chance of standing in Brash’s way today, and when Ian Millar and Dixson, McLain Ward and HH Azur, Richard Spooner and Cristallo, and up and coming Pedro Veniss with Quabri de Lisle all went clear in Round One, for a moment it seemed like anything could happen.
But then Brash took a deep breath at the ingate and walked Hello Sanctos into the arena on a loose rein. The tall, bay SBS gelding (Quasimodo x Nabab de Reve) owned by Lord and Lady Kirkham and Lady Harris (who were present and anxiously watching from the stands) looked around with a bright expression before cantering away to the first fence. Brash swiftly added his name to the list of clears and let a little relief show in his face.
Course designer Leopaldo Palacios set up plenty of interesting questions in Round One, including a triple of verticals that rode directly after the open water. Anyone who was watching the HITS $1 Million Grand Prix in New York one week ago knows that such a combination can create carnage, but here at Spruce Meadows the horses tackled the challenge well, and Hello Sanctos simply bounded up and over.
“I must say, Leopoldo has done an absolutely fantastic job,” Brash commented. “It’s easy for me to say it as the winner, but I think Spruce Meadows has a reputation of being a tough course, and they always try to get just one double clear. To get it is very, very difficult and Leopoldo seems to deliver that year after year.”
And so it was on to Round Two. The aforementioned horses and riders all had their fair chance to force a jumpoff with Brash. But the USA’s Ward lost rhythm on the way to the final oxer and HH Azur couldn’t find her way across it. Canadian hero Millar faulted at a massive double combination that rode from a bright white wall of plank verticals. And Veniss, who this weekend showed just how bright of a star he is for Brazilian show jumping, guided Quabri de Lisle around clear, but racked up a time fault. 2013 CP Million winner Pieter Devos of Belgium also jumped clear in round two with Dylano, but also on a time fault. Devos would finish 2nd, and Veniss 3rd. Spooner had just one down to finish 4th, and Ward was 5th.
“Just behind Scott, it’s not a shame I think,” Devos said. “I came out of the ring with one time fault and then there were a few people who were telling me ok, you have to go for the jumpoff [with Veniss], but really inside I knew it wouldn’t come to a jumpoff because Scott still had to go.”
With Devos leading on a time fault, by the time Brash and Hello Sanctos came back for Round Two as the final pair of the day, their job was crystal clear: jump 11 fences without fault and Brash would be several hundred thousand Euros richer.
It was, again, one of those moments in sport when anything could have happened. After all, in show jumping (for most of us mere mortals), you lose more days than you win. A low hanging hoof or a misjudged distance, and all would be lost.
But then Brash rode into the middle of the arena and paused. He saluted, looked around, and let himself smile a little. It was easy to tell that he was still as relaxed as he’d been that morning. And right then it became as sure a bet as any that he knew his horse was about to jump 11 fences clear.
There were perhaps a few seconds when our hearts leapt into our throats; a double of liverpool verticals preceded the final fence, and Sanctos chipped in to the first one and proceeded to crawl over A and then B in agonizingly slow motion. But as the audience began to scream he cleared them both, and raced on home over that final oxer and straight into history.
“It’s incredible that we met each other, and that I’ve been given such an opportunity to ride this amazing horse by incredible owners. I’m sure he’ll be with us for the rest of his life.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with such a horse as Sanctos,” Brash added. “It’s incredible that we met each other, and that I’ve been given such an opportunity to ride this amazing horse by incredible owners. We’re going to try our best to look after him, and have him for as long as we can. I’m sure he’ll be with us for the rest of his life.”
In becoming the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam trio of CSI5* grand prixs at Geneva, Switzerland, Aachen, Germany and Calgary, Canada, Brash earned 1 million Euros in bonus money. That, on top of his 1st place CP International prize check of $500,000 makes the $1.6 million he won today the highest pay day, ever, in the sport of show jumping.
Oh and one last thing. Brash confirmed that he and his team plan to gun for the Rolex Grand Slam all over again.
“We were told it was impossible,” Brash said of the Grand Slam. “But I must say, Sanctos feels better than ever. We’ve got high hopes for next year!”
See the complete results list of the $1.5 Million CP International Grand Prix presented by Rolex at this link.