Spruce Meadows opener features familiar faces, Canadian favourites
Lamaze, Farrington, Ward highlight North American talent competing in Calgary
North America's show jumping heavyweights will be on display as the 2017 Spruce Meadows summer series opens with the National from June 7-11 in Calgary.
CBC TV and CBCSports.ca will have live coverage of the weekend's marquee events, continuing with Sunday's ATCO Classic and CNOOC Nexen Cup starting at 2 p.m. ET.
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Canadians are sure to see some familiar faces with Eric Lamaze, Tiffany Foster, Yann Candele and Amy Millar slated to compete. The quartet just missed reaching the podium in the team event at the 2016 Rio Olympics after a thrilling jump-off for bronze with Germany.
Captain Canada, Ian Millar, will also be back after missing last summer's Olympics.
Aside from homegrown talent, the crowd in Calgary will be treated to the world's top two-ranked riders in Americans Kent Farrington and McLain Ward.
World No. 1 Farrington is a perennial favourite in Saturday's 1.60-metre Grand Prix. Farrington has won the event three times in the past five years, including back-to-back victories in 2012 and 2013.
While his Olympic mount, Voyeur, has had some middling results recently, Farrington won two Grand Prix events in May with two others horses he's bringing to Calgary. He triumphed in Madrid aboard Gazelle and claimed a victory at Windsor's Grand Prix with Sherkan D'amaury in Great Britain.
He'll have some competition from Lamaze, who is currently ranked fourth in the world. Lamaze, of Schomberg, Ont., was runner-up in last year's Grand Prix with his Olympic mount, Fine Lady 5. The pair, who won individual bronze in Rio, is coming off a sixth-place finish in Madrid last month.
Ward may also have some extra motivation. The second-ranked rider has competed in various places in the United States this year and only lost his No. 1 world ranking to Farrington in April.
He's bringing four horses to compete in Calgary, including one of his top mounts, Hh Azur. Ward and the 11-year-old mare finished sixth in a Grand Prix event in Wellington, Fla., in March.
Mexico's Jaime Azcarraga could be one of a few riders to watch. Azcarraga won with his gelding Anton in 2014 and finished third the following year.
Although past performance isn't always an indicator for future success, the absence of some of the strong European talent may bode well for any rider that's aiming to add another victory to their resumé. Azcarraga and Anton also finished second at a Nation's Cup Grand Prix event in Coapexpan, Mexico in early May.
Another rider that is sure to draw interest will be Millar. While he's not accustomed to being categorized as any competition's dark horse, Millar hasn't seen as much action recently.
The 70-year-old from Perth, Ont., missed out on the chance to make his 11th Olympic appearance at the 2016 Rio Games when his top horse, Dixson, required surgery over the winter. However, the 14-year-old gelding is now healthy and has stayed active with several top-10 results in Caledon, Ont., and Wellington, Fla., over the past few months.
Millar hasn't had a top-three result at Spruce Meadows since 2011 but he should never be counted out while competing on home soil.