Coast Winter Classics Finale Boasts Action-Packed Weekend
GULFPORT, MS—MARCH 20, 2008—
Steven Spielberg couldn’t have scripted a more white-knuckle plot. As some of the circuit’s best riders prepared for the Gulf Coast Winter series’ final competition—the $25,000 Budweiser Grand Prix, held Sunday March 16—the series’ $10,000 rider bonus still hung in the balance with Mexico City’s Bjorn Ikast and Ohio’s Wilhelm Genn neck and neck for the check.
Prior to the start of Sunday’s prix it was announced that while Genn lead the point standings, were he to finish below 6th place today the door was open for Ikast to swoop in and lay claim to the hefty five-figure prize.
Blue skies and warm temps brought scores of spectators back to the bleachers at The Harrison County Equestrian. Many came to bid fond farewells to the riders and horses they’ve had the opportunity to come to know over the five-week run of the winter series.
More than 25 of those teams gathered at the grass arena to confront the course designed by internationally renowned designer Michel Vaillancourt, including Ikast with three horses and Genn with four, among the string his “little red mare that can”, Happy Z.
When the final horse left the ring following a seven rider jump off, the spoils were split: Ikast captured the Grand Prix with his 12-year-old Warmblood Gelding Brave Heart by riding two clean rounds and a earning a jump-off time nearly two seconds faster than Genn and Happy Z, who fell into 2nd place. Genn was 3rd aboard the Laura Ryan-Barnaclo-owned Chantal, thus cinching the $10,000 windfall, which is based on points earned throughout the five-week season.
Both riders agreed that Vaillancourt’s contest was nothing less than challenging. “When I walked the course, I thought to myself “only four will go clean.” Said Ikast following his victory gallop. “It was a very difficult, but it was very fair. And really, I had hoped—because I have very scopey horses—that they would build it big and difficult. Michel builds a little bit technical. But with the horses I have, and the way we ride in Europe, it suits my horses well the way he built today.”
Genn agreed: “It was a little bigger, which is good. After all, this is the last week and it should be a little harder. I always lean toward making it a harder course because it is a grand prix and it should keep the standards up. And it was a very exciting jump off.” Genn admits that throughout the class he couldn’t help but ponder the bonus. “It was a little in the back of my mind, especially after my first horses in round one had rails,” he said, referring to the Micaela Kennedy-owned Loredo and the Cary Van Worner/Genn co-owned Cedric. “But that was consistent for those horses, who are still a little bit green.”
This marks the second consecutive year the Lebanon, OH-based rider has won the final award. “It’s been awesome, we had a great time here,” said Genn. “This is one of my favorite grass rings in the country and I look forward to being in Gulfport each year.” As for that extra cash, he adds: “I want take the whole family back to Cancun for a nice vacation. We [wife Patty and husband only] went there last year, and I said if I win the money I want to take the whole family back.”
Rounding out the GP results were Sulu Rose Reed in 4th place with the Galloping Fields’s Leondor and Ikast in 5th with his horse Monte Cristo.
But that wasn’t the end of the action. The swan song week also found exhibitors in hot contention for the Circuit Champion titles.
The first crowns were issued Thursday in the Hunter Divisions. Leading off the honorees were Canton, GA resident Terry Brown and Tasty as the 2008 Gulf Coast Classics Conformation Hunter circuit champion.
Interestingly, it appears Terry and partner Tim Sweat enjoy more than one kind of horsepower. Each Wednesday and Friday during the five-week circuit, Sweat could be found racing his sublime green 1970 Shaker Hood Dodge Challenger at the local drag strip, speeding upward of 140 miles per hour to the cheers of horse-show comrades. “I’ve gotten so hooked on this,” Brown exclaimed. “And Tim’s in heaven behind the wheel. We’ve even been talking to one of the show managers about partnering on an official race car for the circuit here!”
The Murfreesboro, TN-based David Q Wright also had a stellar end to the series with the South Point Farm-owned Renaissance. After capturing the Hunter Derby during week four, the duo closed out the event as circuit champs in the Regular Working Hunter division.
the hunter champions were:
–Holly Shepherd of Grand Bay, AL. who snapped up the 2nd Year Green Working Hunter title riding Ashbury for owner Mary Walker;
–Phoebe Sheets, one of the busiest riders of the winter series, who claimed the Pre-Green 3-foot division riding the Cheryl Rubenstein-owned Casino;
–Rubenstein herself and Casino earned Reserve Champion in the Adult Amateur Hunters (36-45), while sister Mindy was champion aboard her mount Overseas;
–and Keith Hastings rode the Karen Hedrick entry Vidalia to top status in the Pre-Green 3-foot-3-section.
In the Jumper arena, Laurie Jakubauskas kicked off the big titles, earning the Young Jumper Division Championship for the winter circuit with the Lee Miller-owned Vixen.
–Up and coming Prix level rider Denise Wilson and Chapultepec won the Low Junior Amateur Owner Circuit title;
–Virginia McNeil rode Azucar, owned by her mother Martha, to champion bragging rights in the High Junior Amateur Owner Jumpers;
–and New Orleans’s recently retired police horse, South of the Border, ridden by Sean Steffee for owner Leslie Kramer won the Circuit Championship in the Hopeful Jumper division.
An overjoyed Sean Steffee shared: “We got [barn name] Taco for next to nothing because as a police horse he had one small problem…he was frighten of crowds! Not the best attribute for a French Quarter patrol horse.” Laughed Steffee. “This was his first real show experience and we couldn’t be prouder. Circuit Champion! We’re taking a photo of his win back to the police department so they can see how well he’s doing now. He’s such a sweet natured boy, so they were concerned as to what he might be able to accomplish, guess that won’t be an issue any longer.”
Lastly, the special awards decided this week was the Bosley Sportsmanship Award, voted on throughout the series by exhibitors to honor industry-ites that embody willingness to help and show a good-natured attitude towards all. This year’s recipients were trainer John Mastriano and rider Audrey Winzager.
A complete listing of all 2008 Circuit Champions can be found on the Classic Company web site, www.classiccompany.com.
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.