Brian Morton (CAN) scored a popular hometown win Sunday afternoon at Thunderbird Show Park, riding Spruce Meadows' Cadillac to the top of the $73,000 ATCO Cup Grand Prix CSI2* at the Harvest Welcome.
The Harvest Welcome was the first FEI competition in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic brought global competition to a temporary halt this spring. The event featured more than $180,000 in prize money, including a $20,000 U25 division.
Morton, a Langley native, has had his fair share of memorable moments at tbird, having grown up at the venue, but his latest win might just rank among some of his best. The 34-year-old relocated to Calgary this year to ride for the prestigious Spruce Meadows operation, and the Harvest Welcome was his first international competition for his new employer. Needless to say, he made a strong impression.
Riding the talented 10-year-old Hanoverian Cadillac, Morton, returning first of 10 to contest Peter Holmes' (CAN) 1.45m jump-off track, set a standard that could not be topped, even by the likes of Olympian Tiffany Foster (CAN), reigning Canadian Champion Beth Underhill (CAN) or Katie Laurie (AUS), who claimed both the $37,000 Artisan Farms Welcome CSI2* and the Volvo Canada 1.45m under the lights earlier in the week.
Morton's winning time was 40.66 seconds. Rachel Cornacchia (CAN) and Valkyrie de Talma came closest, finishing second (40.99 seconds), while Tiffany Foster (CAN) and Brighton finished third with 4 faults (40.29). The win also secured Morton a $2,500 bonus as FEI divisional champion for the competition.
"It’s always an interesting position to go first in the jump-off. It’s almost advantageous if you end up pulling off your plan," Morton said. "My plan was to try to be fast and smart at the same time. I think there were two pretty difficult right turns—one to the second jump in the jump-off and one, a hard inside line to the combination.
"[In] both of those places, I really took a shot at it," he continued. "They weren’t places where you could totally make it easy for your horse. You had to give your horse the best shot you could and trust them to help you out, and that’s exactly what Cadillac did, and it paid off for us today."
While a healthy number advanced to Holmes' jump-off, the shortened track claimed many more rails, with only the top two able to execute a double-clear performance. Morton set himself apart with a sharp turn back to the combination midway through the course. Meeting the obstacle at a daring angle, his mount gave a brilliant effort, and despite the rail rolling a bit in its cups, the fence remained in tact. The pair continued on a strong rhythm the rest of the way through, and no other pair could match the effort.
"It ended up being a hard jump-off, and you could see that, because not many jumped clean again in the jump-off," Morton said. "To be honest, when I came out of the ring, I thought I had been too slow. These jump-offs have gotten so fast with all these great riders and a lot of fast riders, too. I thought I would be placed, but I didn’t think, right out of the gate, that I would end up winning it.
"It was just a long, nail-biting wait. As it started to get deep into the field and I saw all these good riders have a fault, that’s when I actually started to think that today might be my day."
Even in the immediate moments following his win, Morton was reflective, recognizing the significance in recording his first FEI win with Cadillac at the venue that jump-started his show jumping career.
"It’s kind of cool that I’ve gotten to see Thunderbird evolve into what’s now a really top-class international show jumping venue," he said. "At the same time, I’ve been on this parallel journey of trying to [work my way] up in international sport. There's something that just seems very fitting on a day like today, where I get to win in my hometown and get to go home and have a glass of wine with my parents and celebrate the journey."