Title defence

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

Nobody but nobody was more surprised than Schuyler Riley.

Here was Riley, in a two-rider jump-off with the seemingly unbeatable Rodrigo Pessoa, waiting outside the International Ring with four faults from knocking down a rail.

On course was Pessoa, the best in the world, winner of anything and everything. Everybody, including Riley herself, would jump at the chance to call a bookie and put some coin on Pessoa at that moment.

Then came the shocker, Pessoa didn't just knock down one rail, he dropped two. Making it even more astounding is the fact it happened in the first four jumps, which caused the great Brazilian to throw in the towel and retire.

And that meant Riley had successfully defended her crown in the $175,000 Chrysler Classic derby, the finale to the Spruce Meadows North American tournament.

"I thought for sure I'd be second," said Riley, who hails from Wellington, Fla. "When you go with one down, you think Rodrigo will go with a clear and win.

"I was talking to him and he said he couldn't decide whether to go for a slow clear or go fast."

Riley, who also rode Opus Sept to last year's win, became the first rider to defend in the incredibly difficult class since Ian Millar won it four straight years from 1986 through 1989.

"That's fantastic. I love it," said Riley, who won $58,000. "Spruce Meadows is what's made it all possible for me. I've grown up here and learned so much by coming here.

"It's really introduced me to the international scene.

"I feel I have a good chance out there."

But the 14-year-old Belgium warmblood gelding doesn't come off as the surest bet for the top horse.

In fact, Riley has to talk to him throughout the ride.

"He's actually a bit of a big chicken, believe it or not, I don't know why he seems to like this," she said. "But outside of the ring, a lot of stuff scares him and I know when I talk to him, he calms down a lot."

Pessoa, who claimed $35,000 with Richmont Park, said he was indecisive and his horse was still spent having gone so late in the first round.

"The horse jumped perfect in the first round. He needed a couple more minutes before the jump-off, he was a little out of breath," he said. "It's an odd situation when you go into a jump-off like that. As I was going to number one, I didn't know if I was going to go for clear or go for four faults and be faster."

Third went to Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont., with Special Ed. She was more than seven seconds faster than any other rider with four faults.

"You could see my plan, no time faults," said Henselwood, who won $21,500. "There was no way I was having a time fault, I'd rather fall down."

The result also earned Henselwood her second straight North American overall championship, an honour based on the results of four events in which a rider must use the same horse.

For that, she wins a one-year lease of a car from Chrysler, $5,000 worth of gas from Esso and $15,000 from CN.


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