Things Are Jumping on the Gulf Coast -
GULFPORT, MS — MAR 9, 2008—
Another great week of jumper competition kicked off on Thursday as Andrew Ross and Electra came up winners in the Lucky Sevens Welcome Stake presented by the Farm House.
A funny thing happened to Andrew on his way out of the end gate, friends had to tell him that Electra, the 10 year-old Thoroughbred mare Ross owns, and he really were the winners of the afternoon’s main event. “Wow!” a stunned Andrew quipped.
Setting the standards for the jumpers this week was Patrick Rodes of Argyle, TX. Thursday’s 11 obstacle, 14-effort layout seemed simple enough for the field of 24 while walking it and the time allowance of 82 seconds was generous enough, yet only 10 would survive the first round. “It was a good, nice course with a lot of rider options. You had to depend on your horse”, began Andrew, “First couple of jumps were pretty straight forward, but after that it was all striding options, so you really have to know your horse.” Several horses faulted early on at the #3 oxer, which followed a sweeping right turn off the #2 vertical fence. Andrew was a bit surprised by this as well, “I don’t know exactly why. It was a ramped oxer, the first two jumps were really easy then that one [#3] got a little bigger so maybe the second one actually set you up to have a rail by letting the horse get a little too casual.” The nimble little mare wasn’t relaxed about any part of the course turning in a clean first round time of 70.32 seconds.
Right-left-right-left was the central theme of the 7-fence jump off with it’s twisty built for speed track and 46 second limit. Last week’s Welcome victor Leondor (owned by The Galloping Field) and rider Sulu Rose-Reed would feel the pressure of going first and being the pace setters. No trouble there as the duo produced a second clear round in a blazing 37.571. A short-lived lead though, as Ann Walker’s Radio Flyer with Holly Shepherd in the irons one upped them with a clear 36.959. Shepherd’s hold on the top would also be a passing one as Electra and Ross entered the ring with a no holds bar determination. A concentration that apparently blocked the reality the pair had surpassed the leader with a clean time of 36.525. “My plan wasn’t to go that fast, but she is so quick that I can’t help myself when I’m on her. She loves to compete and I feel guilty if I don’t let her try.” Ross giggled. With five riders remaining, Andrew and the enthusiastic mare trotted about the schooling area oblivious to what was unfolding on the grass field until the clock stopped on the last horse, Rio Corde with Bill Lowry, at 36.668 clean. Thinking Lowry had the win, Andrew began to trot away until friends began cheering his victory. Once convinced the afternoon was his, a smiling Ross patted the little mare, “Good job!” he whispered to her as they headed back to the barn.
As he walked the petite "girly” mare about to cool down, the day’s winner shared some history of the little horse proudly, “We [partner grand prix great Laurie Jakubauskas] learned she’s from a racing farm in Frederick, MD, had a brief unsuccessful racing stint then someone tried to make a hunter out of her.” laughing at the memory, he continued, “Pierre Joliceur [International course designer] had her and said in his great accent “this is not a hunter”. He described her best in that she really studies the jumps and is very careful. This was 3 years ago when no one wanted Thoroughbreds, we sat on her 5 minutes and said we’ll take her!” Though smaller in stature next to most of her competitors, at barely 16 hands, Electra started her jumper career in the level 2’s at the Gulfport series three years ago and has worked her way up to the open jumper levels 6-7, having acquired victories and top ribbons at some of the most prestigious shows such as Harrisburg, Devon, and was ranked 10th in the country for Amateurs in 2007. “She’s a well mannered, polite girl. She really is a special horse.” The avid Thoroughbred lover, Andrew not only appreciates “the” horse of hunter jumper days gone by, but revels in the compliments from upper echelon riders-trainers such as George Morris who take notice of his “little girl’s talent” and hopes to see more “T-Breds” returning to the higher levels of competition. In the meantime Electra will take some time off to relax and prepare for this weekend’s Grand Prix. Afterwards the dynamic pair will compete in next week’s two finale prix events.
Sunday’s $25,000 Harrison County Grand Prix, presented by Central Equine, could not have asked for more perfect conditions-sunny skies, warmer temps, and a capacity crowd of horse enthusiasts. Lebanon, OH based Wilhelm Genn teamed with Chantal gave the audience a show stopping finish to claim the win.
Course designer Patrick Rodes tested the skills of 39 horse and rider combinations with a 12 obstacle- 15-effort layout of big turns along with the usual suspect double and triple combinations, a Liverpool complete with water, and lots of height. The surprise element, which provided nearly 75% of the field with faults, was an unassuming oxer, the #5 fence. “That’s surprising! I don’t know why honestly.” Wilhelm offered an opinion to what became such a hot spot for so many horses, “Because it was just a simple oxer, but they were coming off the water jump and we have to leg them a little bit for the water jump or maybe hold them a little so they lost some of their top line. The oxer [#5] was skinny and it was squared, I don’t know maybe we just over rode them a little bit.” His first mount, Loredo, fell victim there resulting in 4-fault finish. It wasn’t until the 7th in the order of go that someone successfully navigated a clear round, owner-rider David Q Wright of Murfreesboro, TN and Allspice finished with a time of 83.03 nearly 5 seconds below the allotted 88 limit.
Eight more tried and failed before Genn returned with second mount Happy Z the flexible and fiery chestnut known best for speed. The little mare made quick measure of the twists and assured a jump off round with a time of 82.63. Wilhelm gave his take on the first round action, “At first I thought it was a very well designed course because you never really got a break anywhere, it started out with the line to the water jump and that skinny oxer [#5] was really square. And then the bending line that was challenging from the triple bar! It wasn’t just one spot, I think the whole course was challenging. The triple combination, when I walked it I thought, hum this looks small, it should be a hole or two higher, but you were going uphill and the distance was tight to the first oxer so the horses had to rock back for the front rail and then had to really reach for the back rail, and then they have to fire up for the C element which was an oxer, then come back again for the last jump.” Wilhelm took a breath then added, “I think it was a very good course, but you had to be focused or any spot could have gotten you.” Five more horses would duplicate this feat, including the young amateur Meagan Nusz of The Woodlands, TX who had the distinction of being the only female to take on the big boys. She qualified both of the TNT Partners owned Pikeur’s Xtatic and For Fun, with times of 81.59 and 78.60 respectively.
An interesting change for the final track found 6 of the 7 fences would be new to the competitors, only the joker jump #5 from the first round would be used in this layout of open galloping and tight cuts to be completed in 55 seconds. David Wright and Allspice would be the pair to kick off the beat the clock round, but despite a valiant effort finished with one rail down in a time of 47.491. “It was great.” began Wilhelm who returned with 3of his 4 rides, first of those was Happy Z-Wilhelm said of her run, “It wasn’t like there were a lot of fast horses in the jump off so I wanted to be conservative but stay clean plus I had two more coming.” The pair set the bar at 43.831 seconds. Ready to dial up the pressure Meagan entered the ring with first mount Pikeur’s Xtatic and pushed the envelope hard, but an unfortunate rail on the last line found them finishing with 4 faults in 44.335. Moving up in the order next came Mexico City’s Bjorn Ikast with Monte Cristo, the pair opted to go safe and clean finishing with a time of 52.951. A few moments later Wilhelm entered with Cedric, the 10 year-old up and coming gelding he co-owns with Cary Van Worner to produce another clear ride in 49.507, which also primed the possibility of a 1-2-3 finish for Genn. That probability was soon dashed as the young duo of Nusz and For Fun, the 12 year-old Hanoverian mare zigged then zagged effortlessly through the obstacles and stopped the clock at 43.405 to take the lead over from Genn. “She’s such a nice girl and she rides well.” Wilhem complimented his opponent afterwards, “And I really would have been happy for her if she had won it,” he concluded with a wink and giggle, “but then we all want to win it.”
And then there was one, only Chantal and Wilhelm were left to reclaim the win from Nusz. The 9 year-old Holsteiner gelding is known for his huge stride, but even Genn admitted not so much for sharp turns. “Yes, yes” he said of relying on the combination of big strides and speed to catch Nusz. “The hardest part for me was turning back to the yellow oxer [#16-a hard right turn coming off vertical #15], everything else for me felt pretty easy, but turning back to that oxer. They were turning towards the end gate and downhill, whenever you have to take back and make a tight turn going downhill and then back uphill again that makes it hard.” He felt that fence was where he lost a little time with Happy [his speed horse], despite her quick prowess the concern of maybe slipping or miscalculating could have cost a half to full second on their time. “With Chantal I swung out a little wider, less downhill and with Chantal he puts his toes into the ground. He runs like a sprinter, on his toes more. It’s true! He puts his toe in and pushes up, while Happy is more flat footed so she’s more likely to slip.” These are the important differences between horses that Genn says must kept in the fore front of his riding strategy for each course ridden. The “sprinter” ran clean and fast to reclaim the number one position in 39.842 seconds.
A confession of sorts from Wilhelm about Sunday’s performance, perhaps a new method to success he joked. “I almost wish this event had been tonight. I was so tired, my back hurt, and it had been chilly. I was trying to get pumped up for the Grand Prix so I walked the course, then took a 10 minute power nap on the golf cart and off we went.” The impromptu plan worked. Approaching 5 weeks in Gulfport now, Genn was eager to share his observation and opinions of the area, “We’re having a good time. It’s a great facility; really enjoying it-footing is good, good course designers, beautiful jumps. They change it up nicely every week with different sponsor jumps and such. And the people are so nice.” Summing up this week he added, “What tops it all off today is that Theo [middle son] won both the Low and High Junior-Amateur Owner Jumper Classics, and Ryan [youngest son] won the Hopeful Jumper division championship. A real family day for us.” Another topping to Genn’s day lies in the race for the $10,000 Budweiser Grand Prix rider bonus, which he was already in the lead for going into this event, another victory today pushes that comfort zone a smidge for him. “Yeah, but with two big classes next week a lot could happen.” Genn concluded with a grin.
Official results of the Grand Prix were; Wilhelm and Chantal winning time of 39.842, second place went to Meagan Nusz and For Fun with a clear time of 43.405, third to Genn and Happy Z going clean in 43.831, fourth to Genn with Cedric finishing clean in 49.507, and completing the top five was Bjorn Ikast with Monte Cristo in a clean time of 52.951.
The Gulfport Winter Classic Finale will highlight more hunter/jumper and Grand Prix action all the way to the final day March 16th. Admission is free and the public is invited to enjoy the exciting competition along with two big $25,000 Grand Prix during the finale week on Thursday and Sunday, as well as the race for the of the $10,000 Budweiser High Point Grand Prix Rider, presented to the top rider, calculated by earned points of the five-week series.
For more information or results on the 2008 Gulf Coast Winter Series, please visit www.classiccompany.com or call the show office at (228) 832-0080.