Surprise: See who didn’t win at the Royal Winter Fair

The Toronto show’s final jumper class delivered unexpected results, as Hardin Towell and an under-the-radar Canadian rider, Francois Lamontagne, topped the placings.

It seemed as if last night’s $87,000 Groupby Big Ben International Challenge would end up as a match race between Kent Farrington, the number one-ranked rider in the world and his friend, 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals winner McLain Ward, ranked number two.

But the class, which wrapped up jumper competition at the nine-day Toronto show, took a different turn when Kent, on the talented but quirky Creedance, and McLain, with the reliable HH Azur, each dropped a rail during the eight-horse tiebreaker.

Their times of 36.92 seconds and 37.58 respectively were faster than the mark of 38.37 set earlier in the eight-horse jump-off by Hardin Towell aboard Lucifer V. But the devil left the poles in place, and that’s what counts.

Hardin Towell made his debut at the Royal Winter Fair a memorable one, winning the $87,000 Groupby Big Ben International Challenge with Lucifer V. Photo copyright 2017 by Nancy Jaffer

Hardin, number 58 in the world, made his Royal debut memorable after disappointingly having a rail down at the first fence in Wednesday night’s featured Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto, which was won by Kent on Voyeur. Last weekend at the National Horse Show’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Lexington, Hardin’s bad luck streak in qualifiers began when he couldn’t finish the course because his bridle broke.

But the real jaw-dropper in the Big Ben was a second-place finish in 40.92 seconds by Francois Lamontagne, world number 453. The Canadian is, of course, a favorite with the hometown crowd, but I’m betting few others in the packed Ricoh Coliseum knew of him and his talented mare, Chanel du Calvaire.

Canada’s Francois Lamontagne was a surprise second-place finisher in the Groupby Big Ben Challenge with Chanel du Calvaire. Photo copyright 2017 by LawrenceJ. Nagy

Hardin, who wound up tying with Beezie Madden as the show’s leading rider, noted that when he started riding Lucifer as a 4-year-old, the gelding turned out to be aptly named.

“He’s a bit of a funny horse. He’s very playful, and sometimes he likes to buck and spin and rear, but once he gets going, he’s very straightforward and nice to ride,” Hardin observed. “As a young horse, he misbehaved a lot and I believed in him and we really came along together. He’s really helped me get to the next level.”

Watch this video to hear how he and the 11-year-old Westphalian by Lord Dezi came to terms. 

News and notes from the Royal:

  • Hardin is the brother of Liza Towell Boyd, the top hunter rider who won the big class at the Central Park Horse Show in September.
  • While walking the course, Francois said, “I started to sweat. I thought the verticals were tall and the oxers were wide.”
  • Francois didn’t even qualify for the international division until he was second last weekend in the Canadian championship, and wasn’t listed for the leading Canadian rider standings until he prompted officials to put his name in. He won that title, and his 9-year-old Belgian sport horse mare by Lucianno, whom he has ridden since she was five, won the leading Canadian horse trophy.
  • Francois used to own Barron, Lucy Davis’ U.S. team bronze medal mount for the 2014 World Equestrian Games and team silver ride for the 2016 Olympics. Before she bought him, the horse was named Underground des Hauts Droits.
  • The Royal doesn’t have the biggest purses, but top riders are lured by its style and atmosphere. “It’s an amazing place to show,” said Hardin. “It’s a very special place to win.”
  • Jon Garner, director of sport for Equine Canada, explained why the Royal is a draw: “What they’ve done is fight hard to keep the roots of what started the Royal in the first place: The fact that it’s all part and parcel of an agricultural fair—cows, sheep, pigs—everything you get here and the different classes. Simply put, it’s the tradition of the event. I think it’s unique.”
  • There are always interesting exhibitions at the show, with a dressage and reining pas de deux along the lines of the song “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” performed by Grand Prix rider Esther Mortimer on Diamond Geezer and reiner Loris Epis on Wimpy’s Tinseltown.
Esther Mortimer and Loris Epis teamed up for an unusual dressage/reiner pas de deux on the show’s closing night. Photo copyright 2017 by Nancy Jaffer
  • Many of the volunteers who work for the show have been a part of it for decades. Sean Dennis, a member of the ring committee involved with trophy presentation, started coming as a 5-year-old in 1950, and he’s still there, wearing a scarlet tailcoat. White tie for the men and evening gowns for the women is the uniform for the formal evenings. What has kept him in his post for 30 years? “The tradition, the joy of it all.”
Formal elegance, the type of garb worn by Sean Dennis and Lauren Boyer of the ring committee, is a big part of what makes the Royal the Royal. Photo copyright 2017 by Nancy Jaffer

The show is part of a 1 million-square foot agricultural fair and offers a variety of classes. For a sampling of what the Royal has to offer, look at this vignette. 

The Royal extends a welcome to 300,000 visitors each year, with many lured by the variety of its offerings. There’s always dressage, with regulars Jacquie Brooks and D Niro turning up the volume on the crowd, big name competitors such as McLain Ward in the jumping, social activities in the Tanbark Club for formally clad guests on the red carpet, coaches whose occupants have to duck so they don’t hit their heads on the way out of and into the “hitching ring” schooling area, lots of lights and colors and a Canadian pride theme in several of the jumps.

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