So happy together

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:39 AM ET

Rodrigo Pessoa's time with Richmont Park has been short.

And now it has become very sweet.

Wet after the deluge that fell during yesterday's finale at the Spruce Meadows National but still very sweet.

It's only been a few weeks since Pessoa -- the multiple world champion from Brazil -- and the 12-year-old Irish-bred gelding joined forces.

However, they've already put a major crown under their belt, besting all comers amidst incredibly soggy and sloppy conditions in the $170,000 Shell Cup at Spruce Meadows yesterday.

"The owner gave the horse to me to sell, so we'll see how long we can keep him," said Pessoa. "I would like to keep him but it's not really my decision."

Pessoa, No. 2 on the Spruce Meadows all-time money list, added $60,000 to his total to surpass $1.4 million over his career.

In brutal conditions -- a torrential shower and hailstorm preceded the event and rain fell constantly throughout it -- Pessoa edged American Beezie Madden (Judgement) by half a second in the jump-off.

Michael Whitaker of Great Britain, the only other rider to advance to the second-round, placed third aboard Laconda 25.

Pessoa, the final competitor in the jump-off, allowed himself an uncharacteristic celebration immediately after posting the win, pumping his fist in the air before the crowd.

"When you have a big win like this with a horse you've had a short time, it's really exciting," he explained. "And, when you're last to go, you know nobody can beat you so it's not often you can show your emotions."

It was only by the slimmest of margins the event even went to a jump-off.

In the previous 14 years of the Shell Cup Derby, only 12 riders have gone clear through the 18-jump course. A knocked-down rail on the final jump prevented Pessoa from becoming lucky No. 13.

"He jumped really beautifully into the combination and I forgot the combination was so close," Pessoa said. "I should have been a little more careful in there. It was really a pity because he jumped so, so good.

"But he was really good in the jump-off."

The top Canadian was Jill Henselwood, who placed fourth with Special Ed to win $16,000. Ian Millar and Promise Me were eighth and won $3,600.

Madden, who won the event two years ago with Innocence, said the storm was the worst she'd ever seen in all her years here.

"It's the most rain," Madden said. "But the footing really was amazing. When you walked the course and saw how wet it was, I wanted to see the first couple go and make sure it was possible to jump in. But it really was stable footing."

Stable enough for her to have a real chance of winning.

Unfortunately, it was close but no cigar.

"With Judgement, there wasn't a lot of places I could leave out strides, so I knew he could be faster," she said. "But how many clear rounds can there be in a jump-off?

"I thought I had a chance to win but you can almost expect Rodrigo to win."

As if the event didn't have enough excitement, there was also a small controversy when Great Britain's Nick Skelton had his horse Russel refuse on the third jump in the Devil's Dyke but kept on going without waiting for the jump to be rebuilt before trying a second time.

Skelton argued his cause for several minutes on the course but was disqualified. He refused to comment afterwards.


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