Ward and Lauren Hough Achieve Big Wins During Opening Week
The opening week of the 2008 Jacksonville Winter Series got off with a warm welcome to exhibitors, especially McLain Ward of Brewster, NY, with new mount Phillipa, who won the $24,777 Lucky Sevens Welcome Jumper Classic sponsored by Privett and Associates.
McLain and the 10-year-old flashy chestnut Phillipa are no strangers to winning, despite their young partnership of nine months. “The last two and half months she’s really come on strong!” an exuberant Ward said of the Warmblood mare. Strong indeed, winning the $75,000 Syracuse Budweiser CSI-W Prix and most recently the $100,000 National Show Jumping Championship CSI-W in Wellington. “She’s still a little green,” McLain quipped, “but she’s figuring it out quite quickly!” Taking on a field of 26 world-class athletes, Ward was one of only eight to make the final jump-off round.
Dave Ballard of Ontario, Canada, returned as course designer for the opening week events. His resume includes being one of the few O class designers in the world; he assisted Linda Allen at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA, was the designer for the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Canada, and was assistant designer for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
The course for the January 18th event was a first-round technical layout of 13 obstacles at regulation 1.45 meters (maximum height 4’9”) with a time allowance of 89 seconds. “I created a course that’s testing enough when taking into consideration it’s early in the season and expecting many of the horses to be fresh after the December time most had off,” Ballard explained. The tracks were a little long with sweeping turns. A triple [oxer to vertical to vertical] set practically in the audience’s lap turned out to be far less a threat to the competitors than the seemingly simple #4 oxer that cost many a rider their invite to the last round. “The triple wasn’t too big, but it had a spooky panel under B [the first vertical in],” Ward said of the first-round layout.
Phillipa, owned by Sagamore Farms, had no trouble passing the first-round test in nearly four seconds below the allotted 89 with a clear time of 85.145. “The course was big enough; it’s very early in the season so it’s a very hard time for us because we’ve rested for a while now. So everything looks big when you come back!” McLain began about his journey around the arena. “It was very fair, we had eight clear, which I think that’s a perfect numbe,r and you set up for a nice class tomorrow,” he said referencing the huge $75,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W Grand Prix on Saturday evening.
Going into the final round of six obstacles—seven efforts—proved to be a challenge of speed versus strategy. The question for most of the competitors became whether to go for it or ride smarter and save the speed for the next day's bigger purse. “Despite being a scopey horse she’s very quick. I knew the others would be conservative too, but I let her gallop along to take off a little bit of the edge,” McLain explained his choices. “I never really opened her up anywhere, just turned in tight to the combination. I actually added [strides] up to the last two fences,” he chuckled, and added, “Besides I’ve gotta earn a paycheck.” Neither rider nor horse were winded or worn after posting a clear winning time of 38.287 seconds as they headed back for a comfortable night in the barn.
Rounding out the top five positions for the Welcome Classic were: in second place Casadora ridden by Lauren Hough for owner Meredith Mateo with a clear round time of 38.672. Third place went to Rodrigo Pessoa with Rufus for owner Double H Farm in a clean 39.204 seconds. The fourth position went to Todd Minikus on board Ultimo Van Ter Monde for owner Todd Minikus, Ltd., with a clear time of 39.906, and completing the fifth spot was Kimberly Prince aboard Marlou for owner Windmill Ranch in a clear time of 39.920.
Presenting awards were the president of the North Florida Hunter Jumper Association, Tony Weight, along with Robin Stoney of Classic Company. Weight said of the evening, “We’re very pleased with the caliber of horses the show attracts. The riders are the best in the world...in and out of the saddle. Saturday night is going to be thrilling to watch.”
And on Saturday, it was Sydney Olympics veteran Lauren Hough of Wellington, FL, partnered with Casadora to take on a field of 25 best of the best in the show jumping world to claim victory as the only double-clear pair, winning the $75,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W Grand Prix presented by Glen Kernan Golf & Country Club.
Nearly 3,500 spectators were treated to an all-star event with riders representing the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, Pan Am Games, Samsung Super League and of course World Cup championships. All taking on last year’s defending champion Olympic veteran Margie Goldstein Engle and the technical challenge presented by course designer Dave Ballard in the hope of moving one step closer to the FEI World Cup finals in Sweden this April.
Ballard explained how a new mandate from the FEI called for a closer relationship in degree of difficulty around the world in all the competition [World Cup] classes affected this evening’s layout. “I have built a higher and wider course than I have in the past,” he said pointedly. With a time allowance of 78 seconds to navigate tight rollbacks, combinations and the often-feared triple bars, all set between 1.45 m and 1.60 m (maximum width 5’3”) the biggest hurdle was making it through clean. “I have done this class for the last three years, and I have to tell you that tonight, without question, we have the best field of riders and horses that this competition has ever presented to you,” he concluded.
The first horse to take on Ballard’s test did fall victim to the predicted trouble of the triple combination. Hough and Casadora were only the fifth out of the starters to make it clear in a time of 75.47. “You know, always in the beginning of the year things look a little more difficult than maybe they are,” a smiling Hough went on to say of the first round. “This mare has had almost two months off on holiday but she performed well last night (finishing second). I felt quite confident, but it was a tougher course tonight, as it should be for a World Cup qualifier. The triple caught quite a few, but going towards the end of the order helped,” she added with a grin.
From the starting field only six made it back to compete in the exciting dash for the cash jump-off round. An abbreviated course of six jumps and seven efforts and a time limit of 45 seconds made Round Two all about the need for speed. Among those returning was the defending champion Margie Goldstein Engle and Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold, whose first round finished in a time of 74.97 seconds. With precious points and a nice paycheck on the line, the pressure mounted a bit more for the others who knew Engle and her horse would give 200% of their talent to win.
First to return was Danielle Torano aboard the Sir Ruly, Inc.-owned Vancouver D’Auvrey setting the pace in a quick 39.83, but with an unfortunate rail coming down costing them four faults. Next in were the returning champions Engle and Quervo (owned by Hidden Creek Farm) who despite valiant efforts suffered a disappointing 12 faults in a time of 42.03 seconds. Three-time World Cup Finals Champion Rodrigo Pessoa entered the arena to a host of cheers with the Double H Farm owned Rufus, returning with the fastest first-round time of 71.11, the question soon became would one rail thudding the ground despite a wicked time of 36.09 be enough to win. Canadian great Mac Cone riding Ole for owners Sara Houstown and Larry Evoy looked poised to be the first double-clear ride of the night until the top rail of the last jump dropped as the timer stopped on 38.41 seconds.
“With only one behind me, certainly a very good one too, I felt I needed to go fast but still be a bit cautious to get a clear round,” Hough shared while crossing the end gate. The 12-year-old mare owned by Meredith and Laura Mateo did not disappoint her partner of four years; she crossed the timers clear in 38.41 seconds.
Last man standing in wait was Cedric piloted by Olympic veteran Laura Kraut for owners Happy Hill Farm. The pair appeared flawless until their approach to the last line, be it a little spook or a refusal, even Kraut isn’t sure, but it sadly cost a penalty, giving them a final time of 43.70 with four faults.
Hough and Casadora are hoping to go on to the World Cup Finals, so this win may be just the boost in the standings to help fulfill their wish. When asked about Casadora, Hough beamed and said, “I love her! I’m so lucky to have her! She always steps right up to the plate!” And what’s next for this winning duo? Traveling to Wellington in order to prep for the World Cup trials there in late February. Hough is working to qualify both Casadora and nine-year-old Quick Study for the finals. “He’s young but I believe he’s got what it takes,” she said of the scopey gelding.
Official results for top five of the premiere event were as follows: in second place Rodrigo Pessoa with Rufus finishing with four faults in 36.09, third place went to Mac Cone and Ole also with four faults in a time of 38.20, fourth place went to Danielle Torano aboard Vancouver D’Auvrey with four faults in 39.83 and in the fifth position Laura Kraut riding Cedric to a four-fault finish in 43.70 seconds.
The Jacksonville Winter Series continues through February 10 with classes Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. until about 5 p.m. and grand prix excitement each Saturday evening. Admission to the shows are free, a $5 donation is requested for special events, which in turn is given to various local charities.
For more information or results on the 2008 Jacksonville Winter Series please visit www.classiccompany.com or call the show office at 904-284-9492.