Cliffhanging finishes, a boycott that didn't matter and thriving business all contributed to the success of Toronto's Royal Winter Fair, the last horse show of any consequence this year. The cliff hangers, of course, were resolved on the last night, and the first two of them, the open jumping stake and championship, were eventually won by pretty Gail Ross on Pinnacle, a Canadian-bred horse of uncertain years but reliable heart.
Actually, when the stake began, another Ross jumper, Thunderbird, was leading for the championship (based on scoring throughout the show) by two points. Barely trailing was the Dunn brothers' Top Gallant, ridden by 26-year-old Melvin Stone, and behind him was Pinnacle. "If I make just one mistake," Gail said before the stake, "and Mel doesn't, I lose the championship."
Thunderbird, as it turned out, was the first horse to enter the ring, and for a while it looked as if neither horse nor rider would err. But at the next-to-last fence the top pole rolled off, penalizing the horse four faults. Arch-rival Top Gallant had a clean round, but so did four other horses, including Pinnacle. The jumps were raised and the five faultless horses went again, but only one was eliminated. Again the fences went up, and this time Pinnacle was the only horse with a faultless performance and became the stake winner, but the final championship award was still in doubt.
A brave comeback
Top Gallant, in second place, had earned points as well and was now tied with Pinnacle. So the two horses had to jump off again to break the deadlock. Top Gallant went first and brought down a pole for four faults. Then Pinnacle started the course, but halfway around refused. However, at the next try he cleared the gate and the remainder of the course as well, thus receiving only three faults for the refusal and winning the championship by one point.
The triumph had more than its usual meaning for Gail, a 19-year-old from Edmonton, Alta. Only five weeks before, after having been chosen to represent Canada in the international competitions in the U.S., she was badly injured in an automobile accident. The driver was killed, and Gail suffered a skull fracture, a broken nose and jaw and the loss of six teeth. Her jaw was still wired together when she came back at Toronto for her first show since the accident.
In addition to the tense final jump-off, the open classes at the Royal had other noteworthy aspects. First was the complete absence of the American jumping stables that traditionally appear in Toronto. This was caused not only by the jammed and exhausting schedule that resulted from adding the Washington, D.C. show to the circuit in recent years but also by the fact that for the first time all the Royal's open classes were held under the FEI (international) rules. These are the rules causing so much controversy in the U.S. this year (SI, July 10).
Canadian horse shows switched to the international rules in 1952, with the exception of the Royal, which is a member of both the Canadian and American horse show associations. The Royal compromised diplomatically by offering both types of classes. Now the Royal has decided that the American rules are obsolete, and this year they were dropped completely. However, the division was well filled with Canadian jumpers, and the U.S. was not missed.
Both the open and the international jumping courses had been revamped by Larry McGuinness, a onetime member of the Canadian Olympic team. Although the results of his efforts were mixed, the effect was always appealing, "Not," as one American commented, "like New York, where the courses looked like a cheap gymnasium."
The international jumping also was suspenseful. The same cast of nations (Argentina, Canada, Ireland, Mexico and the U.S.) that had competed in Harrisburg, Washington and New York was in Toronto for the last event of the year. Bill Steinkraus on Ksar d'Esprit won the spectacular puissance class for the U.S., but the Canadians led for the final team championship based, again, on points. The lead dwindled when Tom Gayford's Blue Beau got the colic and Canada withdrew from The Nations Cup, which was won by the U.S. But Canada still led until the show's final class. Frank Chapot, on San Lucas, won this for the U.S., with the only clean round on the jump-off. Second was Kathy Kusner, and Steinkraus was tied for third. This gave the Americans a last-minute point advantage and the team title.
Individual honors, however, went to 27-year-old Jim Elder of Aurora, Ont., who did most of his winning on a high-jumping but highly uncooperative young horse named O'Malley. Elder had picked up this flashy chestnut gelding at a relatively cheap price after he saw him, still unbroken, jumping in a chute. The low figure was caused by O'Malley's unlovable disposition. He turns, for example, with the reluctance of a road grader and once went straight into a wall. However, when he is aimed, he jumps. He made his international horse show debut last year as a substitute when Elder's other horses either went lame or got sick. He was so successful that Elder almost won the individual title. It was lost, as a matter of fact, by one point to the U.S.'s George Morris. After this year's victory Elder, in turn, lost O'Malley, selling him for $20,000 to the British team.
Still another international jumper changed hands. Argentina's Sheriff, owned and ridden by Carlos Damm Jr., winner of the President's Cup in Washington and the International Stake in New York, was purchased for the U.S. Equestrian Team. With this brisk business in horse sales as background, the show did its usual brisk business at the gate. There were capacity and overflow crowds on hand repeatedly to see a show run with its usual dispatch and its traditional aura of glamour.