Madden front-runner to win Nexen Cup Derby title

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Judgement day has arrived.

Going for a fourth straight Nexen Cup Derby win at the Spruce Meadows National this afternoon, Beezie Madden will be a little more motivated to help her veteran mount go out with a bang.

Actually, as few of those as possible in the show-jumping marathon that will be Judgement's second-to-last derby before retirement.

"I would really love for him to go out with a win," Madden said of the 18-year-old Dutch warmblood which will make its last ride here at next month's North American.

Chances are pretty good Judgement will claim that fourth title today.

The last rider to take the title before Beezie's incredible run was Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa aboard Richmont Park back in 2005 -- his last appearance at Spruce Meadows before this week.

Pessoa will be riding Champ 163 today but figures Judgement will make it tough for him to bookend Madden's titles.

"The horse, it's really his backyard here. He knows the track by heart," Pessoa said. "He could do it without her on his back -- almost.

"I think (Madden's) the frank favourite. That's clear to everyone. We're all going to be chasing her."

Madden doesn't dismiss the idea her horse might be able to win it without her, as Pessoa wryly suggested.

"I think you could send a first-time beginner on him -- he'd probably drag him around," Madden said with a laugh.

To make sure Judgement has his best opportunity at defending the title, Madden opted not to drag him around the circuit all year.

"He's 18 now," said Madden, who traditionally would run Judgement in both the grand prix and derby on the weekend. She rode Creme Brule instead yesterday at the CN Reliability Grand Prix, claiming eighth place for $4,300 after struggling early in the 10-horse jump-off.

In a derby-like speed event later yesterday afternoon, her mount, Prima, took a spill on the castle and sent Madden flying forward, landing painfully on her left shoulder.

But asked whether she was ready to go today, there was no hesitation.

"Oh yeah," she said excitedly. "I can move my arm and everything fine. When I got on the horse and I had to pull on the reins, it was fine. It really wasn't too bad."

Judgement had been on the sidelines for a while before taking second in the ATB Financial on opening day at the National.

"This is his first competition, actually, since November last year," said Madden. "We were thinking he's really not competition fit enough to do (the grand prix) and he's got such a good chance in the Derby. We wanted to make sure he had the best shot at that by having a couple of days off before."

Becoming such a steady derby horse seemed like a longshot initially.

Judgement had a reputation for being scared of the water jumps.

So strong was the suspicion he would fail to be brave enough for a derby, wagers were made when Madden decided to introduce Judgement to the competitive ranks.

The mother of another prominent American rider, Lauren Huff, was involved in a friendly challenge with Madden's husband, John.

"She told us we were crazy. (John) said, 'I bet you he wins one -- or he's in the top three -- within the next couple of years,'" said Madden.

"I think the first derby he did, he was third."

Hoping Creme Brule, her nine-year-old mare, can take over for Judgement in future derbies, Madden also entered the Selle Francais into the Nexen Cup.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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