With the world's top-two riders in the field, Belgium's Jos Lansink barely made it onto the radar as a potential winner of one of show jumping's top Grand Prixs. World No. 1 Rodrigo Pessoa and No. 2 Ludger Beerbaum were the money favourites, so Lansink likely didn't make the top of anyone's list to capture the $1-million CN International yesterday but that's exactly what the veteran did in front of 46,280 spectators.
Lansink, ranked 19th in the world, closed the 2004 "Masters" in fine form, capturing the title that comes with a huge reward of $325,000, the biggest payday in the sport of show jumping.
"It's always nice to win this kind of money and every rider dreams of a chance to win at Spruce Meadows. And today the dream came true," said the elated 43-year-old, who used to ride for the Netherlands.
Lansink, who won team gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, went clear through two rounds on his 11-year-old Holsteiner stallion, Cumano, and his only blemish was a single time fault on what was a very tough track.
He had to use all of his experience garnered through five Summer Games, three world championships and nine World Cup finals to master the Olympic-like circuit in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows.
"The course was as difficult as an Olympic course -- there was no jump-off and that says enough," said Lansink, a gold-medal winner at the 1994 World Cup final.
Germany's Christian Ahlmann finished second on Coester, followed by Robert Smith of Great Britain and his mount, Mr. Springfield.
"It's very difficult to win these competitions and you're taking everything to the maximum. There were only two double-clears, so it's very similar to the Olympics," said Smith, who takes home $100,000.
Beerbaum finished fourth, while Pessoa was seventh.
Ian Millar of Perth, Ont., was two seconds too slow to make the second round.
Pessoa, with Baloubet Du Rouet, had the best first run, going clear in 91.89 seconds, but the 2004 Olympic silver medallist took down two fences in the final round.
The hardest part of the Leopoldo Palacios-designed course through the opening round proved to be the latter half, beginning with a water jump -- spanning 4.1 metres -- leading directly into a triple combination, where 18 rails hit the dirt.
Riders also had trouble with the last of 14 obstacles, the famous red and white Canada planks which came down seven times. Only nine of 43 entries were clear through the first run.
Germany's Otto Becker, the defending champion, did not compete this week while American Lauren Hough missed out on a $450,000 bonus.
Hough, who won two of three Grand Prix events in the $1-million CN Precision Series at Spruce Meadows, would have claimed the big bonus if she'd won yesterday but she had four faults in the first round and didn't qualify for the final.
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MOLSON MASTERY: Beezie Madden wasn't about to quaff the entire beer stein full of Molson Canadian but she'll gladly take the first-place cheque for $26,000.
The American rider, ranked No. 4 in the world, claimed her second title at the Masters this week, winning yesterday's inaugural $75,000 Molson Cup.
Unlike compatriot Richard Spooner, who downed the entire stein after winning an earlier Molson leg this summer, Madden, who is from Cazenovia, N.Y., opted for just a sip during the ribbon presentation as she sat on her horse, Conquest II.
It was a speed class and Madden won in 80.59 seconds, nearly two ticks faster than second-place finisher, Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts (Tauber Vh Kapelhof). American Rich Fellers (McGuinness) was third in 82.77.
Hugh Graham (Promise) was the top Canadian in fifth place.