Opening day at the Spruce Meadows Masters was impressive as the horse/rider combinations looked comfortable and competitive in the International Ring.
Observing the quality of horses and riders that have arrived at the Masters this year, I am betting that the level of show jumping will be at top form come the weekend.
The first 1.60-metre jumping class, the $35,000 Finning Cup, had 39 horse/rider combinations from 12 different countries tackling a tough track set by course designer Leopoldo Palacios.
Palacios was asked a lot of questions about the course, but the main one was 'Could you jump all the jumps and go fast?' Ask any rider about Palacios and the first thing out of their mouth is he makes the time allowed tight.
Only five riders managed to post a clear round and six riders settled for one time fault, which kept them out of the jumpoff.
A true international field made it through to the five-horse jumpoff.
Jerome Hurel of France, riding Premier De Falaise, was the first to return to challenge the shortened jumpoff course and he posted another clear round in a time of 43.73. The riders who followed couldn't catch him.
Ireland's Shane Breen, aboard Balloon, surprisingly stopped the clock in the same time of 43.73, but incurred four faults. Germany's Hans Dieter Dreher and his stallion, Embassy II, stopped the clock in 44.87 with a clear round.
Ian Millar of Perth, Ont., and his Olympic mount, Star Power, was clear in a time of 44.50. Last to go, American Brianne Goutal on Nice De Prissey, stopped the clock at 43.95 with zero faults.
Wednesday's win was the first for Hurel riding as an individual. Goutal was second and Millar, aka Captain Canada, picked up third place.
Hurel will be part of the French team that has returned to Spruce Meadows to defend their first-place finish in the Nations Cup, which will be held Saturday (Bold, 4 p.m. ET, CBCSports.ca, CBC local at 8 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. AT).
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