Scott Brash, Hello Sanctos can make history at Spruce Meadows
Scottish rider, horse looking to complete show jumping's Grand Slam
In its 40 years of international show jumping, the sublime green turf of Calgary's Spruce Meadows has provided the main stage for many magic moments in equine sport.
This Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET), the potential for a dramatic and historic first exists.
The proverbial moons have aligned and the completion of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping could be the climax to the outdoor season in the shadow of the Rockies.
The protagonists here are a 29-year-old Scotsman and his 13-year-old bay gelding. The rider is Scott Brash, the son of a builder from Peebles, south of Edinburgh; the horse is the prolific Hello Sanctos.
For the last three years they've combined to win just about everything that matters in this equestrian discipline. They've been Olympic and European champions and they are each, of their own accord, ranked no. 1 in the world. Together they have proven to be almost unbeatable in what can be a capricious undertaking.
Most recently they've vaulted into a spot where they can quite literally claim legendary status while cashing in on the most luxurious payday show jumping has yet to offer.
Brash and Sanctos have, to date, won two thirds of the Rolex Grand Slam, which includes the three classic events in the sport. In December, they won the Grand Prix indoors in Geneva on the sand footing and claimed first prize money in the 500,000 euros class. They followed that up with a victory at the main event at the prestigious World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, in May. There, the lion's share of 1,000,000 euros was theirs, plus a bonus of half a million euros, as they became the first to capture successive Grand Slam events.
Now the duo ventures back to the grass and the massive International Ring at Spruce Meadows in the CP International with a chance to sweep the Slam. If they manage to complete the deal, Brash and Sanctos would win a million-euro bonus plus first prize money, making it easily a two-million-dollar day.
"If it could be done in Calgary, if I could win, it would be an absolute dream come true," Brash said in an interview before making the voyage to North America. It's an understatement because if this gargantuan triumph could be realized it would be heralded as a high water mark in 250 years of sporting history and at landmark venues which are visited annually by more than a million spectators.
No margin for error
It would be akin to American Pharoah winning horse racing's Triple Crown in 2015, the first time any horse had won it since Affirmed pulled it off back in 1978. If Brash and Sanctos rise to the occasion and land the big one on the luscious grounds at Spruce Meadows it would most certainly be regarded as a victory for the ages and not soon repeated.
That said, this is a sport with so many variables and myriad moving parts. There is room for not even a single mistake; chances are every rail must be left up and the horse cannot hesitate for a single moment. Then there's the element of time, and when it comes to a jump off the clock becomes a menacing factor. In short, perfection is called for over an extended period of 10 months, indoors and out, and with international travel thrown in for good measure.
The Grand Slam is designed to be a rare occurrence, which makes it precious indeed.
For his part, Brash knows he's only a part of the puzzle. As all great riders do, he tends to give credit to the creature he's partnered with. So it is that Sanctos becomes the star of the show and the centre of attention.
"He's a very clever horse, so I think he knows he's good," Brash reckoned from his barn back in Europe. "He knows he's the king of the stable and when he enters the arena he comes alive."
Last September at Spruce Meadows, the Masters show jumping tournament delivered a spectacular finish in just one leg of the Rolex Grand Slam. In the CP International, a 67-year-old grandfather by the name of Ian Millar, aboard a horse called Dixson, defeated 20-year-old Reed Kessler of the United States and her mount Cylana. It was a thrilling competition involving different generations and genders on the same field of play and the unexpected nature of the result in the wake of an early fall snow storm gave the proceedings a hefty measure of drama.
This year, there is the possibility of the one-in-a-million horse and his trusty rider delivering a treasured gem of sport on an emerald carpet in the majestic Canadian West.
For Scott Brash, Hello Sanctos and Spruce Meadows, the plot thickens as Sunday looms.