Rich Fellers and Flexible top Sun Life Financial ‘Reach for the Sun’ 1.55m at Spruce Meadows

3 July - The Spruce Meadows 'North American' Tournament CSI 5* kicked off on Wednesday with a big schedule in the International Ring to continue a fantastic summer series in Calgary. The $85,000 Sun Life Financial 'Reach for the Sun' 1.55m competition was the feature event of the evening with a win for Rich Fellers (USA) and Flexible. Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Fine Lady 5 got a win in the $33,500 ATCO Energy Solutions Cup 1.50m, Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Picolo won the $33,500 AON Cup 1.45m, and Will Simpson (USA) and Axl-Rose began the day with victory in the $33,500 Friends of the Meadows Cup 1.45m.

Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela is the course designer in the International Ring for this week's 'North American' competition. In Wednesday's highlight $85,000 Sun Life Financial 'Reach for the Sun' 1.55m, Palacios saw 44 entries with eight very fast horse and rider combinations advancing to the jump-off and four double clear rounds.

Pablo Barrios (VEN) and ZL Group Inc.'s Zara Leandra were the first pair to clear the short course without fault in 46.28 seconds to eventually finish second. Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Hyperion Stud LLC's Imothep jumped clear in 49.32 seconds to place fourth. Jonathan McCrea (USA) and Candy Tribble's Special Lux stopped the clock in 47.01 seconds to take third place honors. Last to go, Rich Fellers and Harry and Mollie Chapman's Flexible raced to the winning time of 45.35 seconds.

Flexible, the amazing 18-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion (Cruising x Safari) and 2012 FEI World Cup Finals Champion, proved that he has still got it. Fellers explained that the win was even more incredible as Flexible came back this year after a big set back after last summer's 'Continental' Tournament.

"I have been trying to sort out some things with him, and obviously age is not one of those things," Fellers stated. "He had a real serious problem last year with a blood clot. They said he was finished, but it has been sorted out. He had a huge blood clot in his aorta and femoral artery going to his right hind leg, and he would exercise about two and a half minutes at the trot and go crippled lame. His right hind leg would cramp up. I think that's behind him."

"The hard part is that, emotionally, it has been difficult for me to put all that behind me and just not worry," Feller admitted. "I'm very attached to the horse. I've had him a long time and the last thing I want to do is put him through any kind of pain. It's just sorting out the blood clot issue, and it took a lot of time. Then thinking about why am I even doing this? He's 18 years old, but he just loves it. He craves it; it's all he knows. Fortunately I have an incredible vet. It didn't take long to diagnose it. When he was seven, he had a blood clot in the front leg. It was a similar thing. It was pretty easy to figure out."

Flexible had excellent veterinary care and eventually, Fellers and the Chapmans opted not to perform any kind of risky surgery. The horse went on blood thinners that have gotten him back to the show ring.

"We sent him down to UC Davis, and he was there for four weeks," Fellers detailed. "They had human cardiologists involved, and we had conference calls. They basically said, 'No horse has ever recovered from this. We can lay him down and do a five-hour surgery. He could possibly retire comfortably to stand at stud. The clot won't go away. We can slow down the clotting so it doesn't get bigger, but we can't get rid of it, other than going in surgically.' They said there was no chance. I told Harry and Mollie, the owners, that I think if you lay him down for five hours, I don't think he's gonna get up. That's tough on a horse. So I said, 'Why don't we just put him on blood thinners and see what happens?' And it worked, miraculously. They still can't believe it at UC Davis. They've never seen it. 60-70% of the clotting just disappeared. They don't know where it went."

After getting Flexible back in the ring, winning Wednesday's class was very momentous for Fellers. It has also been quite a while since he won a class in Spruce Meadows' International Ring.

 "It's difficult to describe. It's almost unreal," the rider acknowledged. "You look at the history of the sport, and an 18-year-old horse at the top of the sport is so rare. You see them occasionally, but they're not usually winning those kind of classes. I just feel so fortunate. I can't even explain how lucky and fortunate I feel to have him going as well as he's going."

 Heading into the jump-off, Fellers did not get a chance to watch the leader, Pablo Barrios, over the short course. He just went with his plan. "I didn't really have any kind of feel other than experience, and I have a lot of that," Fellers smiled. "My wife said Pablo was fast everywhere, so I just went fast everywhere. Flexible is fast. There's just no getting around it. If I let him gallop and I don't mess things up for him, he is fast across the ground and he is fast in the air and he turns very quickly. He's easy to ride at speed because he likes to go fast. There weren't a lot of options in that jump-off course. To the last fence, you could have cut inside and angled to it, but I had enough momentum over the yellow oxer that I just didn't feel like it was fair to 18-year-old Flexible to crank him to the right to get inside there, so I just let him sweep around."

 The pair galloped down to the last fence and cleared it to the cheer of the crowd. With Flexible back in winning form, Fellers looks forward to Saturday's $210,000 ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup, which the pair finished second in, in both 2011 and 2012. As a good omen for the weekend, they also won this same class leading up to the grand prix both years as well. Fellers plans to stay with the winning formula.

 Final Results: $85,000 Sun Life Financial 'Reach for the Sun' 1.55m

1 FLEXIBLE: Irish Sport Horse / S / 18 Cruising x Safari

RICH FELLERS (USA), Harry & Mollie Chapman: 0/0/45.35

2 ZARA LEANDRA: Dutch Warmblood / M / 10 Metropole x Ahorn

PABLO BARRIOS (VEN), ZL Group Inc: 0/0/46.28

3 SPECIAL LUX: Irish Sport Horse / G / 10 Lux x Coille Mor Hill

JONATHAN MCCREA (USA), Candy Tribble: 0/0/47.01

4 IMOTHEP: Dutch Warmblood / S / 11 Indoctro x Calvados

DARRAGH KENNY (IRL), Hyperion Stud LLC: 0/0/49.32

5 CRISTALLO: Holstein / G / 16 Caretino x Cicero

RICHARD SPOONER (USA), Show Jumping Syndication Intl: 0/4/46.20

6 SKOVLUNDEGAARDS CASSIUS: Warmblood / G / 11 Casir Ask x Waldstern

SANTIAGO LAMBRE (MEX), Santiago Lambre: 0/4/49.27

7 MARK Q: Irish Sport Horse / G / 12 OBOS Quality 004 x Positively

KEVIN BABINGTON (IRL), Kevin Babington: 0/8/48.17

8 SOUTHWIND VDL: Dutch Warmblood / G / 15 Baloubet de Rouet x Ahorn

TIFFANY FOSTER (CAN), Tiffany Foster & Artisan Farms LLC: 0/10/57.94

9 SHOWGIRL: Selle Francais / M / 14 Gold de Becourt x Elf III

YANN CANDELE (CAN), Watermark Group: 1/77.21

10 VOYEUR: Dutch Warmblood / G / 12 Tolaro Vant Riethof x Goodwill

KENT FARRINGTON (USA), Amalya Investments: 1/77.41

11 QUIN CHIN: Holstein / G / 16 Quantum x Gambiona

JUAN CARLOS FRANCO (MEX), Juan Carlos Franco: 1/77.99

12 HH COPIN VAN DE BROY: Belgian Warmblood / S / 12 Darco x Brown Boy

QUENTIN JUDGE (USA), Double H Farm: 1/78.59

Source: Press release from Jennifer Wood Media Inc.

photo: rich Fellers with Flexible, by © Spruce Meadows Media Services.