Australia’s Rowan Willis topped the $50,000 Canadian Open International Challenge, presented by 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, on Friday evening, November 8, at the Royal Horse Show, held as part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, in Toronto, ON.
The best was saved for last when Willis, 39, and his 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) mount, Blue Movie, and showcased their foot speed over course designer Michel Vaillancourt’s one-round test. The final pair in the Coca-Cola Coliseum, Willis and his 13-year-old Anglo-European Mare (Chacco Blue x Pilot) broke the timers in 54.60 seconds, shaving only hundredths of a second off the seemingly unbeatable time of Canadian Olympic individual gold medalist Eric Lamaze. After taking the lead from the second position in the order, Lamaze, 51, and Fine Lady 5 ultimately settled for runner-up in 54.66 seconds.
“I got a little bit of luck to get ahead of him,” admitted Willis, who will also pilot Blue Movie in the $210,000 Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM Toronto on Saturday evening. “My mare’s naturally very fast so that helps. I tried not to do too wild, but obviously we managed to do just enough.
“When you’re last to go, the competitive spirit comes out,” continued Willis, who made his debut at the Royal Horse Show in 2018. “This is a great show, and it’s nice to ride in that atmosphere every night against some of the best riders in the world. When you have a crowd as fantastic as tonight, it’s hard not to give it your all!”
Of the mare that carried him to victory, Willis touted, “She’s very special. It has taken a long time [to get here], but she’s paid me back for all those years of patience. She seems to be growing up a bit, getting more mature, and she knows her job, so hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Rounding out the podium, Ireland’s Daniel Coyle, 24, took third in 55.35 seconds riding Legacy for owner Ariel Grange. Five different nations were represented in the top-five with Andy Kocher (USA) taking fourth riding Coldplay 31 and Belgium’s Jos Verlooy claiming fifth with Varoune.
With four podium finishes in three days, Lamaze maintains a commanding lead in both the GroupBy Leading International Rider and Leading Canadian Rider standings. Great Britain’s Ben Maher is still within striking distance after a win in the $85,000 Big Ben International Challenge, on Thursday, November 7, with Willis sitting third in the current standings.
$50,000 Canadian Open, presented by 1-800-GOT-JUNK? – Final Results
Friday evening, November 8
Rider Nation Horse Faults Time
1. Rowan Willis Australia Blue Movie 0 54.60
2. Eric Lamaze Canada Fine Lady 5 0 54.66
3. Daniel Coyle Ireland Legacy 0 55.35
4. Andy Kocher United States Coldplay 31 0 55.88
5. Jos Verlooy Belgium Varoune 0 56.89
6. Sam Walker Canada Coralissa 0 62.74
7. Sean Jobin Canada Darius 0 69.98
8. Erynn Ballard Canada Fellini S 4 58.70
9. Conor Swail Ireland Gamble 4 61.36
10. Beezie Madden United States Garant 4 67.15