By Erin Gilmore for noellefloyd.com

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With the anxious eyes of riders from two nations following his every stride, Rodrigo Pessoa guided Status around the second round of the $300,000 BMO Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows. One rail down, and victory would belong to France. Jump clear, and Pessoa’s teammates would experience a dream come true.

If anyone can handle that kind of pressure, it’s Pessoa, and he held his horse together over the airy vertical at fence 6, to the open water at 7, and over a patriotic Canadian plank vertical directly thereafter. And on through the rest of the course, finally clearing a huge oxer at the far end of the arena on zero faults. Across the International Arena at the ingate, Brazilian chef d’equipe Jean-Maurice Bonneau took a running leap to join the cluster of embraces between teammates Felipe Amaral, Pedro Veniss and Eduardo Menezes, Team Brazil had just taken on a mighty challenge, and won. In those first few moments, the team was overcome with joyous disbelief.

In Spruce Meadows’ 40-year history, Brazil has never had the depth of riders to enter a Nations Cup. But that is a thing of the past now, as 2015 marked their first-ever Nations Cup competition in Calgary, and now marks their first team victory at the epic venue, as well.

“You never know how the class is going to unfold,” Pessoa said. “We started really well, then had two bad rounds. You just have to keep it together and perform well. We had some mishaps, but we could pull the clears together when we needed to, and that was crucial.”

Pessoa, the veteran of the team who has competed at Spruce Meadows for many years but always as an individual, ranked Saturday’s victory as one of his top career moments.

“Riding as an individual is one thing, but when you ride for the team, and ride for Brazil it’s a different story,” he said. “When you are able to share the win with your three teammates and the chef, it ranks all the way up there with the good ones.”

Leopoldo Palacios’s notoriously tough course took a heavy toll today. Warm sunshine created ideal conditions for the class, but the track, jumped twice by the top six teams, required a special combination of talent, scope and luck. Pedro Veniss and Quabri de Lisle smoothly completed the only double clear of the day, while 2nd-placed France pulled off three clears in Round 2.

“Today here in Spruce Meadows, it was a dream come true for me,” said Veniss.

That the home team of Canada secured 3rd place despite none of their riders going clear over two rounds was a testament to the difficulty of the questions asked over the 1.60m track.

“I believed I had spread the faults,” Palacios commented. “Someplaces I had more, I was surprised the number of faults at the water jump. I didn’t build it bigger than other days, but it happened. But having Rodrigo at the end and winning on a clear at the very end was good.”

For chef d’equipe Bonneau, the result was a big indicator of how far the team has come since he took it over five years ago. Back then, his goal was to create the same conditions for his riders as powerhouse nations such as France and Germany, but it took them awhile to progress past the three star level as a team, and begin to get invited to five star shows.

But now, the tide is changing, and it’s well timed with the Rio Olympics less than one year away.

“Today, I think this team represents what we are doing,” Bonneau commented. “The youngest rider, Felipe Amaral is 23 years old, and Rodrigo is the experienced one at 43. The picture is representative with what we are doing as a nation.”

For Eduardo Menezes, who is based in California but has had a steady presence in international competition for years, the day had big ups and downs. After his horse fell apart in Round One and picked up 28 faults, he told himself to pull it together for his teammates, and in Round Two his scored four faults with Quintol helped Brazil keep its lead over France.

Team USA placed 4th and could have edged in front of Canada after Beezie Madden and Simon jumped a clear Round 2, if not for the team’s failure put together a single clear round in Round 1. Switzerland placed 5th and Belgium rounded out the top six nations. Great Britain and The Netherlands did not qualify to return for Round 2.

Spruce Meadows enjoyed a record-breaking crowd of over 85,000 spectators on this picture perfect day. The attendance was in no small part due to anticipation for Sunday’s $1.5 Million Rolex Grand Prix. The hype surrounding this year’s Masters finale class has been unprecedented with the presence of World No. 1 Scott Brash, and the possibility that he might secure the Rolex Grand Slam trio of “Majors” Grand Prix classes. Stay tuned until tomorrow to see if that dream is realized as well. . .

For complete results of the $300,000 BMO Nations Cup 1.60m visit this link