Ten-time Olympian Ian Millar of Perth, ON, added yet another title to his long list of accomplishments by winning the $1.5 million CP International, presented by Rolex, on September 14 to close out the CSIO5* Spruce Meadows “Masters” tournament in Calgary, AB.
It was the second day in a row that the Canadian anthem rang out across the International Ring. Millar’s win came one day after Canada claimed victory in the $300,000 BMO Nations’ Cup. The Canadian Show Jumping Team comprised of Ben Asselin, Tiffany Foster, Eric Lamaze and Millar clinched only the second Canadian win in the event’s 38-year history, having won in 2006.
On Sunday, Millar stepped into the spotlight solo. Riding Dixson, owned by Susan Grange and her daughter, Aerial, Millar produced two faultless rounds over the diabolical tracks crafted by two-time Olympic mastermind, course designer Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela.
As the day unfolded, the stage was set for a face-off between youth and experience. When Millar, 67, produced a second clear round, it forced a jump-off with 20-year-old Reed Kessler of the United States. Riding her 2012 Olympic mount, Cylana, Kessler returned with guns blazing, jumping clear in a time of 49.50 seconds to put the pressure firmly on Millar’s shoulders. As he has done so many times in the past, Millar rose to the occasion, guiding Dixson to a clear round in 47.33 seconds to take the win in front of 89,539 fans.
“I can honestly tell you that I never thought I would win this grand prix again,” said Millar, who claimed victory in 1987 and 1991 with the legendary Big Ben. “It was a long time ago, and the sport has changed so much. I’m a little more mature than I was, and these young people go plenty fast and they know all the tricks. They are really, really good. I have the greatest admiration for my fellow riders. To go up against them is no easy task.”
Never at a loss for words, Millar reflected on the significance of his win, not to mention the first place prize money of $500,000 from the total purse of $1.5 million on offer.
“The afternoon just seems to fly by,” said Millar, who is ranked third on the all-time money won list at Spruce Meadows behind Eric Lamaze and Beezie Madden with career earnings totaling more than $3.5 million. “It’s like a blur, it happens so fast. The tension is incredible. To me, it is the most prestigious grand prix in the world. It’s a heck of a payday! It’s just a thrill. It is beyond words.”
In a twist of fate, Millar’s mount, Dixson, is related to the great Big Ben, carrying similar bloodlines.
“Dixson knows when to rise to the occasion, as Big Ben always did,” said Millar, who began riding the 11-year-old bay Belgian Warmblood gelding (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Olisco) at the beginning of 2013. Dixson’s sire, Vigo d’Arsouilles, was the 2010 World Champion under Belgium’s Philippe Lejeune.
“It has to be a harmony between horse and rider, you can’t solve these courses without it, and that’s what’s taken the time, to really develop that partnership,” said Millar. “He really, really wants to be a good horse. It’s always thrilling when you hope a horse is going to do this, and then they do it. It’s certainly nice when they work out. We are very fortunate to have him.”
When asked how this win compared to his previous victories in 1987 and 1991, Millar said, “The difference is the perspective of time. I’ve had other horses during those years. Sometimes I walk the course and I look up at the sky and say ‘Big Ben, where are you when I need you?’ because I know he would do it for fun. When you have had a great horse, it can sometimes be a bad thing for a rider because the next one doesn’t quite measure up. I’ve had a lot of really good horses, but the good ones are elusive. Dixson; I really think he is the real thing for me.”
As the winner of the $1.5 million CP International, presented by Rolex, Millar is now the live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping which brings together three of the greatest events in the world – CHIO Aachen, CSIO Calgary and CHI Geneva. An unprecedented €1 million in bonus money is on offer to any rider who can win all three Grand Prix events in succession.
A true show jumping legend, Millar, who was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, has no plans for retirement. At 67 years of age, he has his sights set firmly on the 2015 Pan American Games to be hosted in Toronto, ON, as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Photo by Cealy Tetley