Mario Deslauriers admits that his horse is bit fickle, that you never know what she’s thinking from day to day. But Bardolina 2 knows how to translate her talent in the show jumping ring and when Deslauriers needed her most at the Spruce Meadows North American tournament, she came through.

Deslauriers and his 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games mare did what no other horse-rider combination could on the Saturday of the tourney and that’s go clear – not once, but twice – in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup grand prix.

The victory was the 56-year-old Canadian’s second in the class: back in 2009, he and Ardeche Van de Zelm claimed top spot.

Mario Deslauriers and Bardolina 2. (Spruce Meadows Media, Tony Lewis photo)

It was the first win for the partnership during Deslauriers’ two weeks at the Meadows for the September Series, with a pair of fifth placings their previous high. But he purposely did not run Bardolina 2 in excess, as it was her first competition since the Tokyo Games.

“She’s been in a lot of big moments, starting at WEG (World Equestrian Games) and then she did Barcelona,” Deslauriers said of her progression. “She’s jumped here many times in the big limelight and she did Tokyo, where she was very good in the medal round, she jumped super well.

“Before she came here, she had to do three weeks’ quarantine so I jumped her one time, she got in the truck and came here. I think she’s matured a lot and I can count on her. I don’t need to practise so much anymore. I think she’ll keep getting better.”

She does have her tendencies, however, that he must constantly be on top of.

“She’s just a little trickier than some others I’ve had,” he conceded. “Sometimes, she’s not the same every day so you have to cope with the situation and she always keeps me on my toes.

“Last week, in the second round of the CP (the Masters grand prix) I made a mistake … then she went way right on me. Today, I did one class early in the week to set her up for the grand prix and it worked perfectly.”

Ben Asselin and Rowan Willis after Ben’s win in the Lafarge Grand Prix. (Spruce Meadows Media/Mike Sturk)

Ben Asselin and The Freshman Win the Lafarge Grand Prix

The fifth and final day of the Spruce Meadows ‘North American’ began with the Lafarge CSI 3* Grand Prix in the International Ring. The difficult course saw only two clear rounds from Ben Asselin (CAN) aboard The Freshman and Rowan Willis (AUS) riding Wellington Grey Goose out of the 18 starters.

Asselin took to the ring first for the jump-off and managed to keep all the rails up while laying down a fast time to beat of 41.92 seconds. Willis ended up catching a rail to land him in second place with 4 faults.

Sun Life Financial Derby

On the closing day of the North American, the Sun Life Financial derby always takes centre stage. This year, it was a leaner than typical line-up, with only seven horses up for the stern test that is the derby.

Ireland’s Jordan Coyle had a pair of rides, as did two-time defending champ Rowan Willis of Australia, whose one mount was Everse W, the 2018 and 2019 champ.

When it was all said and done, Coyle – who had more downs than ups during his September sojourn at the Meadows – put in a terrific performance with Eristov, a 12-year-old gelding. The two had a four-fault first round over the gruelling 16-obstacle track, tied with American Kyle King and Etalon.

In the two-horse jump-off, King and Etalon fashioned a quick 34.94 clear but the Irishman was equal to the task, urging Eristov in 32.97 for a much-needed confidence booster for horse and rider.

“The jump-off was pretty fast there,” Coyle conceded. “If I did it again, I don’t believe I could do it like that.

“I jumped double clear in 2019 and Rowan Willis beat me. I went to the right side of the second jump and this year I went to the left side, which is faster. The horse has a massive stride; I would say I did two or three less strides than Kyle just because my horse is so big. I was like, I’m not going to be double clear and second again.”

This was Eristov’s third derby try and first win, all of which have come at the Calgary venue.

“He loves Spruce Meadows,” said Coyle, who also finished fourth with Picador. “Before he came here, he lost a little bit of enthusiasm. The minute he came here, he started jumping again. This is his class. He’s going to get a little rest for sure. He probably won’t do much more until I take him back here next year. This is his horse show.”
Willis came in third spot, not with Everse W but with Conlando 55.

The September Series closed with some awfully fine performers shining through. One of those was Egypt’s Nayel Nassar, who won three events on three different horses. Add to that a number of other top-five finishes and he may be viewed as the rider of the three weeks.

“I have a depth in my string that I’ve never had before and to win three classes at Spruce Meadows on three different horses is something I never really expected to happen in my career,” admitted Nassar, after taking the Scotiabank Cup on the Friday. “I’m just really grateful and blessed and trying to make those horses shine because they’re the true athletes here.”

Nassar went out of his way to give big thanks to his group, Evergate Stables, owned by his fiancé, Jennifer Gates.

American Kent Farrington had a typical Spruce Meadows sojourn, bringing a bunch of horses and having success with virtually all of them. Austria 2, one of the youngsters, and Gazelle, the elder, both collected their share of hardware.

Britain’s Matthew Sampson, a first-timer at the venue, was often in the mix, all the while giving his younger horses the invaluable Spruce Meadows experience. Sampson and girlfriend Kara Chad have their own farm in England.

Ashlee Bond of Israel, who came for the two last weeks, was happy she decided to stay for the North American and why not. On two days of the third tourney, she had two wins and a second, the triumphs coming on Donatello 141, her Olympic horse, and Contefina LVF.

Results here.