Rowan Willis wins Derby at Spruce Meadows
Source: Calgary Sun
It’s taken Rowan Willis a while to get to Spruce Meadows.
And the experience has been exhilarating.
On Sunday, he took a little time across the International Ring, and, afterward, that exhilaration was tenfold.
Willis became the first Australian rider to win the Sun Life Financial derby, with he and his mount Everse W negotiating the challenging track cleanly and incurring just a single time-fault.
That was the final event of the Spruce Meadows North American, the last tournament in the four-week summer circuit.
“I was just very happy for my horse and for the owners, Dinah and Steve Posford — they were watching back in England,” said Willis, who rides out of the U.K. “It’s the first show-jumper they’ve had. They’ve had eventers and race horses before. They’re over the moon.
“It’s been a dream to come back here and compete. I came and watched 20 years ago, and I’ve always wanted to come back and jump in an amazing arena. Finally, yeah, as you can tell, I’m a bit slow, but I finally got here. It’s been a great month and a bit, and it’ll be sad to leave.”
Andrew Kocher of Ocala, Fla., another first-timer at the Meadows, was second on Blaze of Glory II, with four faults, with his clocking putting him ahead of Ireland’s Daniel Coyle and Ridley, the other four-faulters.
This was the first attempt at a derby for Willis and Everse W, a nine-year-old who handled the quirkiness of the natural obstacles such as the Devil’s Dyke and the scary bank with great aplomb.
“We’ve done a little training for it,” pointed out Willis, 38, who pocketed $35,600. “He’s super. He’s very bold. He gives everything a go. He’s jumped two-meters-11, he’s won speeds, he’s won grand prix … so he’s very versatile.
“Super proud. He always puts in his best for me. I started show-jumping him when he was six. We’ve come a long way. It’s great for the many hours work that were put in to be paid off (Sunday), and what a great stage for it.”
Of the 700 attempts in the derby since 1984, there have been only 21 clears. He couldn’t have come closer.
“I just took my time, which was, obviously, the one fault next to my name …” Willis said with a grin. “If I rush him, he can get a little bit unsettled. I was obviously not trying to get time-faults. We took our time down the bank, too. I was slightly worried he might go down there a little quick. We just went slowly, I didn’t put any pressure on him, and he was relaxed for the Devil’s Dyke. He jumped that fantastic.
“Daniel pushed me right to the end. I was sweating a bit there. When I crossed the line, I didn’t realize I had a time-fault. But I was relieved to finish it. It was a bit disappointing, but in the end, it worked out OK.”
Kocher and the 11-year-old Blaze of Glory II are a new partnership.
“A friend of Rowan had him,” explained Kocher. “So I was asking Rowan all week, ‘Do you think he’ll jump the water?’ Because I had no idea. I called the old owner, and I said ‘Will he jump on that?’ He said, ‘I don’t know’, so that was my feeling going in. I was going to that water like, ‘Please, jump this thing’. Then I went down to that Devil’s Dyke, thinking the same thing. I thought I’m just going to sit still, and if I come off, I come off.
“My horse was amazing. It was my fault I rode a little bit slow off the bank. But I had a really good time. It was a great day for us. A new horse with a new owner, it’s kind of a new team, and we had a good result, so everybody is happy.”
Coyle, meanwhile, finished second in this derby two years ago with Ridley. He hurt his groin last week and was still suffering from the injury.
“I know he’s good at it — he enjoys it,” Coyle said of his fine 12-year-old mate. “Makes him a better horse. He’s a little disappointed (with Sunday), but one day, we’ll get it.”