Even with the last four more months of the year still to come, there will be little doubt that the CP International Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, was the toughest show jumping course of 2016.
As part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, the CP International Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows is one of three equestrian “Majors” as designated by Rolex (CHIO Aachen and CHI Geneva complete the trio.) It is not unheard of for these classes to produce unusual results. Two months ago during Round 1 of the first “Major” Grand Prix of the Grand Slam, at CHIO Aachen, no rider jumped a clear round.
But even Aachen paled in comparison to Round 1 of the CP International Grand Prix—at least, that was the opinion that quickly spread on social media and at the rail while the class was still underway. 33% of the class failed to complete the Round 1 track. Four were eliminated by a fall or multiple refusals, and nine pairs voluntarily retired.
The drama centered around a triple combination, built over a pair of permanent liverpool ditches. Six strides on a bend after a triple bar at fence 11, the triple combination at 12ABC was built of an oxer at A, one stride to a vertical over a liverpool at B, and one stride to a vertical over a liverpool at C. The combination was built entirely of plain, white rails. The approaching line put the ingate on the horse’s left, with the A element of the triple set just as the horse turned away from the ingate.
That placement, and perhaps the rainy conditions, and perhaps the opportunity to spook at the white rails or blue, solid-bottomed liverpool, and perhaps the riders’ own mounting hesitation as multiple riders had rails or refusals at the triple combination, all held their own weight as possible factors for the trouble.
See for yourself to compare the attempts by two riders who unsuccessfully navigated the triple, and one rider who did, and then read on for Palacio’s defense of this obstacle:
Was it too much to ask, even of these top international combinations? Palacios took note of the Round 1 results in terms of those who completed the track on jumping faults: “in the results of the four faulters, half were in the liverpools and the other half on other fences. Between the four faulters, the liverpool was a factor. This is part of the sport and I think the competition was beautiful except for the problems at the liverpools.”
During the press conference, Palacios further defended the decision to build the triple combination over the liverpools:
“In reality, it’s not my first time using this triple combination. I used the same materials and position in previous years,” he said. “But today is changing and history is changing.
“I think horses today have a problem jumping these [natural types of] fences. The sport is very far from its roots, and this is a problem. I believe it’s very important to maintain the roots of the sport. In Spruce Meadows we try to maintain the roots of the sport. I use that combination every year in different ways. This way, I used it before with the triple bar many years ago and didn’t have problems. I don’t know what happened today. I don’t know if it was the rain or the shadows or what.
“I’m not very happy there were that many problems in that triple combination. That was not what I was expecting, and I don’t want that to happen. I expected that the horses would jump it better. When the riders walked the course, nobody came up to me to tell me that [the combination] was too hard.”
What did the top placing riders think? CP International Grand Prix winner Scott Brash shared his thoughts:
“When we come to Spruce Meadows, we know what we’re in for. It’s the richest grand prix in the world and it should be hard, it should be difficult,” Brash said. “We know that those double ditches are going to be in there. Yes, you do still need a special horse to be able to jump that combination. Ok, the conditions didn’t help and the triple combination was at the end of the course, but it’s all very hard and you expect it to be hard. If there were so many clears, 6 or 7 in the third round I would be disappointed in the outlook of the competition. It shouldn’t be easy and it’s the same with Aachen. The course builder at Aachen got criticized because there were no clears in the first round but actually I think it was us riders’ fault for not jumping clear in the first round.”
“Nobody wants to see some spills like we saw at the triple. But we’re also having too many classes with 12, 14, 16 clears and double clears in Nations Cups. Imagine being the three riders in the Olympics that didn’t get a medal-that’s a lot of jumping,” added McLain Ward, who placed 2nd with HH Azur. “That’s always a fine line and once in a while you come across something like that triple that maybe slightly crosses the line. Maybe it had something to do with the conditions, but we’re having too many competitions where it’s a given where there’s 15 or 16 clear and the second round is the competition. That’s not at this level of sport in my opinion.”