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Electric Crowd Treated To Spectacular Sport Tonight, As American Leslie Howard Captures The $75,000 Ricoh Big Ben Challenge At The Royal Horse Show

A year ago, runner-up Beth Underhill could not have imagined being in this position tonight. Her horse Viggo had been sidelined, his future unknown. She only began competing him again this summer, progressing through the ranks slowly, to ensure his healing would not come undone. Her patience has obviously paid off.

"I've been a spectator myself for the last two years at this level, so I can't tell you how good it feels to be back," said Underhill. "I'm so grateful to have Viggo jumping at this level. He still doesn't have a lot of experience at it, so for him to come out and show such strength in his power, his jump and also in his mentality tonight - it was a big step forward in this horse's career."

"You feel the electricity in the crowd. It was standing-room only tonight," Underhill explained.  "That's something we don't get the opportunity to experience very often in our sport. To have a Canadian contingent in those seats feels very special and definitely raised the bar in our performance tonight. Having so many Canadians in the jump-off speaks really well to our horse power and the quality of our riders. We have a big three-year cycle coming up with the World Equestrian Games next year, followed by the Pan-American Games here in Toronto and then the Olympic Games. It really augers well for our sport."

The Ricoh Big Ben Challenge was named in honour of Ian Millar's world famous mount Big Ben, and tonight Millar received the Lt. Col. Stuart C. Bate Memorial Trophy and was named the Leading Canadian Rider of the competition.

"The Royal Winter Fair is the best, most prestigious show in North America and one of the best in the world. And so to have any success here is particularly gratifying, especially being the leading Canadian rider in front of this hometown crowd."

The "Braeburn Farms" Leading International Rider Award went to Ireland's Conor Swail, who was unfortunately unable to compete in the class tonight following an injury he sustained during Friday night's Weston Canadian Open.

"I think I have pulled my Achilles tendon," said Swail following the ceremonies tonight. "Game Ready is one of those horses that even when you are fully able to ride, you must do so very well. So tonight was out of the picture."

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