With FEI points and $100,000 in prize money on the line, 34 riders representing six nations took the grass for the Canaccord Genuity CSI2*-W World Cup Qualifier.
FEI course designer Alan Wade set the verticals big and the oxers wide, narrowing the field to just five clear rounds.
Venezuela's Andres Rodriguez and his Oldenburg gelding Caballito proved to be unbeatable, earning him his second big win in as many weeks.
"The course was very well designed, there were many difficulties," noted Rodriguez. "Caballito was great and if we can repeat this at the Masters, we'll be looking good."
The first round featured a pair of 1.60-metre verticals that had rails dropping for half the riders on course, including Canada's Jonathan Asselin.
The Sydney Olympian and winner of July's Cenovus Energy Classic Derby at Spruce Meadows was having a fantastic round on his "spicy redhead" Showgirl, until the final fence came down.
Egypt's Nayel Nassar had the first a clear ride, on nineyear-old Hanoverian gelding Lordan, with Rodriguez just a few rounds later.
Alexander Grayton and Wilanka came close, but a single time fault would drop him to sixth overall.
Allyssa Hecht from San Diego, Calif. went clear to advance, along with London Olympians Rich Fellers (US) on Colgan Cruise and Mathew Williams (Australia) on his stallion, Imothep.
Nassar was first in for the jump off, setting the pace at 41.638 and posting the first double clear round.
"It's always hard to go early, especially first, so I really needed to leave all the fences up," explained Nassar. "I didn't really play it safe, I took the risks that I could without doing anything too crazy."
Rodriguez followed, getting a good rub on the SSG vertical and tapping a rail in the double combination, but everything stayed up and he was able to shave a few seconds of Nassar's time to finish at 39.356.
"I was worried about Rich Fellers because he rode an amazing first round," Rodriguez said. "It was great that I got to see Nayel go and I said to
myself, I'm going to just try to beat him."
Spectators had an extra minute to cheer for Rodriguez as he lingered in the ring after his round, but what seemed like a rider savouring the moment, was actually part of his training routine.
"It's a bad habit to jump a fence and then immediately leave the ring because it teaches the horse to anticipate it," explained Rodriguez. "Even in the ring at home I like to walk a bit and never go straight out when I'm done."
Hecht was the only other rider to go double clear, delivering for a careful ride at 45.854.
Fellers and his Irish mare Colgan Cruise were quick, but posted 12 faults to take fifth spot.
Williams and Imothep fared better, taking just four faults.
"This is my first World Cup show of the season and coming in second is a good start," noted Nassar. "My horses were in Europe all summer following the World Cup finals in April and the plan was to come back to the West Coast, so we figured we would start at T-Bird and then head south."
As the top 12 riders assembled for presentations, Rodriguez had a few words to share with the crowd.
"I want to thank the Tidball family for the special attention that we've had in the three weeks we've been here. We go to many shows during the year and this is by far where we've been treated the best."
Nassar echoed his sentiments. "I've only been coming here for two years, but I feel like I've been around for a decade."
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