Johnson: Madden-Simon combination finds its stride
American rider’s nine-month trial with new mount pays off handsomely
Astaire and Rogers weren’t tripping the light quite so fantastic before taking a few rehearsal twirls around the dance floor. Smith and Wesson didn’t forge the world’s most fabled firearm on a first try.
You just know Johnson and Johnson had to experiment on more than a few skinned knees before delivering the best-ever Band-Aid. Simon and Garfunkel, it’s fair to say, penned a few clunkers before releasing Sounds of Silence.
Collaboration, in any form, is hard. Why, even the most decorated of campaigners thrown together require a certain amount of time to fuse.
“We’re beginning to feel more like a partnership,” said Beezie Madden, her nine-month pairing with 13-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding Simon having only a half-hour earlier paid off, and rather handsomely at that, in a second-place placing at Sunday’s $1 million CN International Grand Prix. “In July it felt like it was coming together and I think it’s just continued. From here he went to Chantilly and he was second in the Global Champions Tour and the only other show he did before here was Valkenswaard and he was sixth in that grand prix with two clear rounds.
“So, yeah, he’s really becoming a partner.”
Individually, horse and rider need no introduction. Down through the years, Madden, from Cazenovia, N.Y., has indisputably been one of Spruce Meadows’ most successful athletes. Simon and his previous collaborator, Dutchman Jeron Dubbeldam, combined to claim this very CN International only two years ago.
So the talents were obviously already in place. But alchemy is a different issue entirely.
The Madden-Simon tandem began work together in November. They won their first Grand Prix together, in Wellington, Fla., and outside of a mis-step during U.S. trials enjoyed a string of great results in Palm Beach.
“It’s gone well mostly all the way. But now it’s getting to be more of a partnership. That’s normal. He was a horse that was already farther along in his career and it takes some time at this level to have a real partnership, where you say ‘Oh, I have a real chance to win.’”
After Masters Sunday, on a big, telling layout worthy of the fat $335,000 payout for first place (Madden pocketed a tidy $203,000 to finish second), everything from here on in should, in theory, be easier.
Incurring one knockdown through a characteristically tortuous Leopoldo Palacios-designed Round One course over the Meadows International Ring, the duo aced the second to finish a shade behind prodigious Belgian teenager Olivier Philippaerts and his 10-year-old warmblood stallion Cambio van de Heffinck.
Philippaerts’ dad, Ludo, rounded out the top three aboard Challenge VD Begijnakker. Top Canadian was Ian Millar aboard Starpower, in 13th position.
“I thought (Simon) was fantastic,” praised Madden. “Both rounds, actually. I was the victim of the bicycle in the first round. I don’t even think he made a bad jump at that. He made a good jump and was thinking of shortening already for B.
“He’s a good horse. He tries to do things on his own. That (the bicycle) maybe got him a little there but mostly he comes through for me.”PAGEBREAK
Heading into this calibre of class, there are invariably some misgivings.
“(Sunday) I was confident I had a chance. But anything can happen on a day like today. With courses like this it’s very difficult. I took a little risk in the first round making an inside turn that nobody did to try and be faster and make I didn’t have time fault. And that worked but it could’ve backfired, as well.”
By Madden’s lofty standards, this has been a rather spare summer. She hadn’t enjoyed the usual quota of Spruce Meadows success earlier on, and then suffered a hugely disappointing Olympics in London, exiting from the individual competition startlingly early.
But this is a lady who knows how to win, and summer malaise is predictably now giving way to a warm fall renaissance, as a first-place $26,400 paychqeque in the Suncor Energy event on her Olympic horse, Coral Reef Via Volo, Saturday was followed up by Simon’s strong effort in the CN.
“It was disappointing (in London), no question,” acknowledged Madden. “We gear our year towards that. But that’s the great thing about this sport. There’s another show, another challenge, the next week. So you can’t dwell on things, you have to get on with it.”
Off Sunday’s performance, it should be all onward and upward as the collaboration between two decorated campaigners continues to ripen.
“It doesn’t just ... happen,” she repeated. “It takes time, it takes work. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
“But, as I said before, it’s starting to feel more like a partnership. (Simon) was fantastic today. And that’s so encouraging.”
George Johnson is the Herald’ssports columnist. E-mail him email@example.com
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