Toronto, Ontario â€“ The international show jumping division of The Royal Horse Show opens on Tuesday, November 6, and will once again feature the biggest names in the sport. The Royal Horse Show is held as part of The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair which is celebrating its 85th anniversary in Toronto, ON, from November 2-11, 2007.
Several international show jumping riders are such big fans of The Royal Horse Show that they return year after year. Great Britain’s Nick Skelton and Michael Whitaker are two such examples, and this year they are bringing Whitaker’s 18-year-old nephew, William Whitaker, with them. While Skelton and Michael Whitaker, currently ranked number nine in the world, have resumes as long as the Thames, young William Whitaker already has a Gold Medal from the 2007 European Young Riders’ Championship to his credit.
Geir Gulliksen, 47, and Stein Endresen, 48, are both making the journey from Norway to Toronto. Gulliksen enjoyed his first visit to the Royal in 2005 and is returning this year with Endresen in tow. Both gentlemen are veterans of the Norwegian Show Jumping Team and most recently competed together at the 2007 European Championships where Norway placed sixth to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Three Dutchmen round out the international field. Dutch veteran Piet Raijmakers, Team Gold and Individual Silver Medalist at the 1992 Olympic Games riding Ratina, returns to the Royal, having last competed in 2005 when he suffered a broken wrist early in the competition. This time, he is doubling the chances of victory for the Raijmakers family by bringing his 25-year-old son, Piet Raijmakers, Jr. Another young Dutchman, Harrie Smolders, 27, is returning to The Royal following a successful debut in 2006.
The United States is sending a large contingent of its best riders to The Royal. A total of eight Americans will make the trip north of the border including many familiar faces to Royal audiences. McLain Ward, who has won the $100,000 CN World Cup Grand Prix for the past two years in a row, will be looking to complete the hat trick on Wednesday night. Hot off a win in the World Cup Grand Prix on November 3 in Syracuse, NY, Ward comes into The Royal as a strong favourite. He will be joined by Olympic Gold Medalist Beezie Madden, currently ranked number six in the world, as well as such famous names as Georgina Bloomberg, Margie Engle, Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut, Schuyler Riley and California’s Richard Spooner.
At the 2006 Royal Horse Show, the Canadians were extremely strong and have spent the past year building on that momentum. The top six Canadian riders in the world rankings are automatically invited to contest the international division of The Royal Horse, with an additional two riders qualifying through the Canadian Show Jumping Championships presented by Greenhawk on Opening Weekend. Ranked number seven in the world, Eric Lamaze’s spot at The Royal was assured, as was Pan Am Gold Medalist’s Jill Henselwood. Mario Deslauriers, who closed out the 2006 Royal Horse Show with a victory in the $75,000 Ricoh Big Ben International Challenge, will be back to defend his title as will eight-time Olympian and newly crowned Canadian Champion, Ian Millar, who, last year, claimed Friday night’s $50,000 Weston Canadian Open. Canadian Olympian John Pearce and Frankie Chesler-Ortiz, the youngest rider to ever compete on a Canadian Nations’ Cup team, will also be among the Canadian challengers given their current world status.
Earning their starting spots through their performances in the Canadian Championships are Kim Farlinger of Annan, ON, and Amy Millar of Perth, ON. Jonathon Millar had originally claimed the right to move forward to the international division by finishing second to his father in the Canadian Championships but his decision to withdraw meant his invitation went to the next rider in line – his sister.
The international show jumping division opens on Tuesday, November 6, featuring the $30,000 Jolera Gambler’s Choice and closes on Saturday, November 10, with the sold-out $75,000 Ricoh Big Ben International Challenge, named in memory of Canada’s most famous show jumping horse.
In addition to show jumping, the horse sports of eventing, dressage and driving will all be on The Royal Horse Show schedule. In total, $745,000 in prize money is offered during the 10-day Royal Horse Show, making it one of the richest equestrian events in the world. For more information on The Royal Horse Show and The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, please visit www.royalfair.org.