The highlight event of the Spruce Meadows ‘National’ Tournament, presented by Rolex, featured some of the best show jumping athletes in the world in the exciting $400,000 RBC Grand Prix, presented by Rolex. Leading that field was Jaime Azcarraga of Mexico on Anton, who was victorious over Jonathan McCrea (USA) with Special Lux and Enrique Gonzalez (MEX) riding Quilebo du Tillard. In the $60,000 TransCanada Parcours de Chasse, Shane Sweetnam and Fineman were fastest for the win.

Thirty-seven combinations attempted the first round course set by Guilherme Jorge of Brazil, and just five were able to find the clear path to the jump-off. Jorge noted, “The level of horses and riders was very high. I had in mind to have a difficult course. It’s a five-star and $400,000, so I built the course thinking about that. In the morning I really had to worry about the shades on the course. I think the footing was amazing. We had a lot of four-faulters, so we could easily have had eight or nine clear rounds. Jaime and Enrique were both here at seven o’clock in the morning, so I had to say the ring’s not ready yet! It shows that it pays off to be early. It was a day of great sport.”

Riding in the first phase of 13 horses in the morning, Azcarraga and Anton, his 10-year-old Warmblood gelding by Marlone x Orville, were the first to go in the jump-off. The big bay horse set an unbeatable time of 46.48 seconds with no faults for victory.

“It was a long day,” Azcarraga said with a smile. “To start at nine o’clock, you have to maintain your concentration for a long period of time. It was good because he got a long rest, more than four hours. He was fresh and ready. I just waited here, watched the Parcours de Chasse and tried to maintain calm. It always hard to be the first one, but I tried to set the pace. I had some fast riders behind me, so I knew I had to leave it all as the first round.”

Following Azcarraga was fellow Mexican rider Enrique Gonzalez on Quilebo du Tillard, who were also clear and quick in 48.90 seconds, which would slot them in third place at the end of the class.

Kirsten Coe and Baronez, owned by Ilan Ferder, Lovsta Stuteri, and Tal Milstein, were close to the winning time in 46.73 seconds, but a rail at the last oxer left them in fifth place.

Now riding for the United States, Jonathan McCrea and Candy Tribble’s Special Lux cleared all the jumps on course with ease, but were just off the pace in 46.55 seconds for second place.

In the first round, McCrea and Special Lux had a bobble on course. McCrea explained, “When I went in, I didn’t show him the wall. I didn’t expect him to spook, and he held off it a little bit. And then I was like, ‘Oh boy, I’m in trouble here.’ The triple bar wasn’t so pretty. For the grace of God the rail stayed there. Then I had to go Irish, back to my roots. I had to change my plan to the liverpool in-and-out. Originally I planned nine (strides), but I was going up and not across, so I figured we’d better go forward. After that, he was normal.”

Last in the jump-off was Kent Farrington (USA), the winner of this class for the past two years, on Voyeur, owned by Amalaya Investments. Farrington was fast enough in 44.50 seconds, but they had four faults at the triple bar on course for fourth place.

McCrea and Special Lux, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Lux x Collie Mor Hill, haven’t even been together for a year, but the talented horse has moved up from the 1.40m classes last year after winning the Five-Year-Old and Six-Year-Old championships in Ireland and placing third as a seven-year-old in Aachen. When asked to describe Special Lux, McCrea said, “He’s Irish! He’s been a winner his whole life. His jumping style is definitely a little different. He’s so careful; he doesn’t want to hit a rail. He’s still green at this level.”

Gonzalez has worked with Quilebo du Tillard, his 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding by For Pleasure x Quat Sous, since he was coming seven years old and had to work on rideability. “For the first couple years, he was quite difficult,” he revealed. “He was strong and he has, like we say in the horse world, a ‘French mouth.’ He was a little bit tough. Last year I did the 1.50m classes here and he loved the ring, he loved the place. He jumped really good last year, so I was pretty comfortable this week. I trusted him. I just jumped him in one class before the grand prix, and he was really, really good. I was very happy with the way he jumped today.”

It is believed that this is the first time two riders from Mexico were in the medals in a grand prix at Spruce Meadows. “We have some super riders and really nice wins, but I think this is the first time,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an honor to perform this way against the best riders of the world, and to be able to be sitting here.”

Azcarraga competed at the CSIO in Xalapa, Mexico, before coming to Spruce Meadows, and he has had Anton for two years. With a solid effort in Xalapa, he felt that he was ready, but noted that coming to a five-star at Spruce Meadows was different, especially considering this was Anton’s first international show. “Since I jumped the first day, I felt like [he] liked the course here. The footing was unbelievable, and the conditions were perfect,” he said. “It was a bit shocking when I walked the course, the height. In the morning I was saying to Guilherme, ‘Oh my God, I hope he can jump this.’ He has the heart of a champion, and he likes to fight.”

Azcarraga hasn’t been to Spruce Meadows since 2009, but he started his 2014 season with a bang after winning last night’s $35,000 RBC Capital Markets Cup 1.50m Winning Round class with Matador and now taking the biggest class of the ‘National’ Tournament. Azcarraga was second in this grand prix in 2008 with Presley Boy. He smiled, “It was the best week of my life, unbelievable.”

The ‘National’ Tournament, presented by ROLEX, is the first of five tournaments in the Summer Series and concludes Sunday, June 8, with the 210,000 CNOOC Nexen Cup 1.50m Derby.

Final Results: $400,000 RBC Grand Prix, presented by Rolex

1 ANTON: Warmblood / G / 10 Marlone x Orville
JAIME AZCARRAGA (MEX), Jaime Azcarraga: 0/0/46.48

2 SPECIAL LUX: Irish Sport Horse / G / 10 Lux x Coille Mor Hill
JONATHAN MCCREA (USA), Candy Tribble: 0/0/46.55

3 QUILEBO DU TILLARD: Selle Francais / G / 10 For Pleasure x Quat Sous
ENRIQUE GONZALEZ (MEX), Enrique Gonzalez: 0/0/48.90

4 VOYEUR: Dutch Warmblood / G / 12 Tolaro Vant Riethof x Goodwill
KENT FARRINGTON (USA), Amalaya Investments: 0/4/44.50

5 BARONEZ: Belgian Warmblood / M / 13 Heartbreaker x Unknown
KIRSTEN COE (USA), Ilan Ferder, Lovsta Stuteri & Tal Milstein: 0/4/46.73

6 JONKHEER Z: Zangersheide / S / 12 Jetset D x Skippy II
KARL COOK (USA), Signe Ostb: 1/90.00

7 ROMANTOVICH TAKE ONE: Dutch Warmblood / G / 14 Numero Uno x Karandasj
CHRISTINE MCCREA (USA), Candy Tribble: 4/82.66

8 TIC TAC: Belgian Sport Horse / S / 11 Clinton x Darco
LESLIE HOWARD (USA), Jane Clark: 4/83.47

9 HH COPIN VAN DE BROY: Belgian Warmblood / S / 12 Darco x Brown Boy
QUENTIN JUDGE (USA), Double H Farm: 4/84.16

10 IMOTHEP: Dutch Warmblood / S / 11 Indoctro x Calvados
DARRAGH KENNY (IRL), Hyperion Stud LLC: 4/84.49

11 POWER PLAY: Holstein / G / 10 Casall x Limbus
ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Artisan Farms, LLC: 4/84.60

12 FLEXIBLE: Irish bred / S / 18 Cruising x Safari
RICH FELLERS (USA), Harry & Mollie Chapman: 4/84.66