Search This Blog

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alltech National Horse Show $250,000 Grand Prix

I arrived in KY late Saturday afternoon, at my friend's house where I was staying. I had a little time to socialize with her and eat dinner before heading out to the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) for the Grand Prix, which was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM. By the time I slid into a seat in the Arena at about 6:50 (you could sit wherever you wanted) you could say I was pretty excited...

First of all, let me back up. Just entering KY makes me happy. The closer I get to Lexington, the happier I get: you start seeing beautiful farms several miles out. My head is on a swivel. It's like I'm playing a video game: Horse! Horse! Horse! There's another one! Horse! Horsehorsehorse! Driving past the KHP itself (my friend lives at the next exit, five miles up I-75 but only a mile as the crow flies from the actual boundary of the Park) I'm practically bouncing off my seat. I saw all the cars in the parking lot at the Alltech Arena, and could hardly wait to join them. Last year at the WEG I had no reason to go in the Arena, so I'd never even seen it.

On my way in the door, I bought this. Rarely have I been in more of a hurry to dig $5 out of my wallet. Just the sight of the program practically brought tears to my eyes: it was true, I was actually back at the National Horse Show, for the first time in some 30-odd years.
(Doesn't hurt that it's a grey horse, either)
Here's the wondrous sight that awaited me:
Many more people showed up after this. Apparently the attendance was lower than the organizers would have liked, but I thought it was a decent crowd.
It was BEAUTIFUL. By far, the very nicest horse show facility I've ever seen. I don't think there was a bad seat in the house, for starters. I mostly stayed in this area, but went to a couple different vantage points during the proceedings. The footing looked to be super as well which is always a primary consideration for riders (JB, I'm thinking of a certain show in "our book," where they simply threw down tanbark over a wooden floor...).  The jumps were all beautifully constructed and immaculate. In fact, I actually saw the jump crew wiping down the poles!

Before the class started there were a variety of introductory events. A chorale group sang the National Anthem beautifully, albeit at deafening volume (I had to put a finger in one ear and I wasn't alone. The next day I actually fled to the Ladies Room to escape their performance :-)). Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder of Alltech, gave a little speech (between the WEG and this show the company has done its level best to educate me about just what it is they do, but I profess to willfully ignoring them - sorry!). The President of the NHS, Mason Phelps, also spoke but not about his garish orange pants. And then there was George. Yes, THAT George (Morris), chef d'equipe of the US show jumping team, who talked about the importance of supporting the United States Equestrian Federation. I felt as though I'd done my part since I'd paid the full admission fee of $30, half of which was going to the USEF.

Here's the course map for the GP:
My photo above is taken from in front of Fences #2 and #7a
And here are the entrants. I think that, like me, you will see just a few names you recognize from the showjumping world:
I was psyched! I had expected a bunch of great riders to show up since it was such big money (winner got $77,000), but was elated to find Spooner, Margie, Jessica Springsteen (her dad was there, but I never saw him :-), Farrington, Laura K, Skelton, Lauren H., Charlie Jayne, Brianne Goutal, Minikus, and Rodrigo as the ones I knew of. Oh, and I assumed that Nicholas Dello Joio is the offspring of Norman, who I remember seeing as a kid at the NHS. Nice turn of the wheel! I was especially tickled to see Brianne and Jessica, past Maclay winners, since they are so young and relatively new to the showjumping scene.

This course proved to be a real heartbreaker for a bunch of the riders, especially the final fence, which quickly was dubbed "Unlucky #13" by the announcer. Many a horse navigated the rest of the jumps just fine only to bring down a rail at the last gasp. The triple combination, a traditional slayer of good jumper rounds, also brought its share of woes, and I think that having to gun the horses through that and then immediately take back for the turn to #13 was the cause of trouble at the latter. A lot of the horses looked flat over it.

I took quite a few videos, but unfortunately I discovered that due to their quality (phone records in HD, according to Spousal Tech Support, which makes a difference) it takes a looooong time for them to load on YouTube. Nonetheless, I present for your enjoyment, Richard Spooner's first round ride on Cristallo. I'm extra-glad I caught them because they were the very first pair to go clear:
I had heard he was an excellent horseman and seeing him in person did not disprove that. Cristallo appeared to be a happy and well-trained animal; you know it's a good round when they make it look "easy!" Other riders did not demonstrate such good equitation. For example, I really didn't care for the Russian woman's (#97) way of sitting down too early over fences, but the horse persevered and their only fault was for time. Others seemed rougher and not as "at one" with their mounts. On the other hand, the recent Big Eq background definitely showed in the two Maclay girls; both had lovely position in the air.

Here's a nice photo of Jessica taking the Keeneland fence, #1:
Photo by Shawn McMillen
Unfortunately, Brianne Goutal was one of the two fallers in this class. She seemed to struggle a bit throughout and when she and Ralvesther were approaching the triple I knew things weren't looking good. Sure enough, the horse stopped in front of 12c and Brianne came off. But what a graceful exit - it was like she merely stepped down, landing perfectly on her feet with zero drama and still holding the reins. Interestingly, the only other fall, by a US rider named Sarah Tredennick, also came at 12c. She attempted the whole combo again after a refusal. The second time, with another refusal, she fell and landed hard on her back. I was rather dismayed to see her Charles Owen GR8 helmet pop right off her head and roll away. Ugh... for that much money I want the darn thing to at least stay on. She did get right up and she and horse appeared to be okay, so that was good.

As far as the other "name" riders, here's how they fared in Round 1:
- Margie Engle: Went clear on her pretty grey named Indigo :-)
- Kent Farrington: I LOOOOOVED his horse, a stunning dapple grey who was also a gorgeous jumper, so lofty and careful; sadly, they had rails at first and last for 8 faults
- Nicholas Dello Joio: Probably a green horse, 15 faults, but perfect through the triple on second attempt
- Laura Kraut: This pair positively ripped around the arena, and he had his knees up to his eyeballs, but 8 faults
- Nick Skelton: Yet another nice-looking and acting grey who went clear in excellent form
- Lauren Hough: A very hot horse. Lauren sensibly retired after just a couple jumps, having had a bad "sit-down" during a turn
- Charlie Jayne: LOVED this little bay mare (I think), Athena, who reminded me of Touch of Class and did great until #13 - 4 faults
- Todd Minikus: Not their night, 8 faults
- Rodrigo Pessoa: He and Let's Fly had a rail at fence #2, I believe, and then after a few more jumps and another rail, Rodrigo pulled up and exited the ring. I was very disappointed as I'd especially wanted to see him, but I guess he knew what was best for the horse and I certainly admire him for that
-  McLain Ward: CRAZY hot horse (not even going to try and type his name, hah!), 4 faults

Other rounds of note were Paulo Santana of Brazil, riding Taloubet (clearly of the Baloubet line, I would think) and Christine McCrea of the US, riding Avenir. The former horse had an unbelievable kick in his hind end. They only scored four faults but I guarantee I'd be off between his ears over a tiny fence. Unbeknownst to me until this night, Christine was the Individual Gold Medalist at the recent Pan American games (our team also won Gold) on this horse, and I could sure see why: they are a beautiful, beautiful pair. All went well for them until, you guessed it, Unlucky #13. That completely stunk.

Five riders made it back for the jumpoff: Spooner, Margie, Jessica, a guy (!) named Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands, and Skelton. Here's Richard Spooner, not nicknamed the "Master of Faster" for nothing:
Photo by Molly Sorge, Chronicle of the Horse
And here's Nick Skelton, on Carlo 273:
Photo by Molly Sorge, Chronicle of the Horse
In the end, only these two went clear again... but Spooner won by just fractions of a second: 37.97 seconds versus 38.33. Skelton said afterwards he added one stride where he shouldn't have and that made the difference. Jessica had four faults, as did the other two second-round qualifiers, but was fastest of that group so she placed third. She was delighted to keep such good company and her mare seemingly was excited, too, judging by the number of rears she put in during the awards ceremony! :-) I'm sure that $40,000 or so that they won will come in handy for her college tuition (she's at Duke, I was pleased to learn), LOL.

Here's my whole score sheet (the "V" meant I took video, by the way, and I'm going to try and get some more up on YouTube):

Some notes about tack/attire during this event:
- I saw the usual assortment of interesting head gear on these jumpers; mechanical hacks with/without bits, complicated bits, etc. On the other hand, I also saw at least a couple in plain snaffles.
- Spooner appeared for the awards presentation with Cristallo wearing draw reins, of all things. They certainly weren't on during the jumping so I guess he thought he needed more control at that point? I really don't know. All the horses were spooky during the awards, presumably because of the TV lights/cameras, but I thought this tack change quite interesting.
- Some of the riders sported show coats with shiny brass buttons front and back. This amused me because I have a show coat, ca. 1978, with similar buttons, and I thought those had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
- All/most of the riders were wearing navy blue sashes and I never could figure out why. I must need a new prescription because during this event and especially during the Maclay I had a tough time reading numbers, never mind if there was writing on the sashes.

Watching this Grand Prix was terrifically exciting and I was just so darn glad to be there. Certainly our Grand Prix held here in St. Louis is nowhere near the same scale: these were top-notch horses, largely capable of competing at the highest level of the sport. Only a couple horses really demolished the course (23 and 20 faults), and I thought it was tough but fair. I will be looking for some of these at the next Olympics, that's for sure!

Next Up: Behind The Scenes At The National

1 comment:

Thank you for your comment!