A Magical Time in the Gulf for Frances Land and Merlin -
GULFPORT, MS.—MAR 7, 2011—
“It’s a little surreal!” an amazed 16 year-old Frances Land said as the realization of her first national prix victory began to sink in. The duo bested a field of 22 prominent competitors in Sunday afternoon’s featured event, the $25,000 EquiFit Grand Prix.
The audience’s excitement combined with the level of competitiveness among the starters was the perfect recipe for a thrilling afternoon. Course designer Allen Rheinheimer’s 12 obstacle [15 efforts] test on the vast grass field had all the action spectators expected, including two sets of combinations, one being the triple at 4abc, an oxer into a vertical and out over another oxer that caught several riders early in the course. Rheinheimer created a layout that had fences set at maximum heights ranging from meter 1.45 to 1.50 all to be completed within the 85-second time allowance.
First through the gate were Wilhelm Genn of Lebanon, OH and Copyright 3, neither being strangers to victory, they set the pace with a blazing time of 78.472 and a clear round. The next clear ride came from veteran pro Vick Russell of Columbus, NC with mount Boudicca- the pair announced to Genn he’s was in for some serious competition with a time of 83.970 and a guaranteed jump off. Following onto the field was Jay Land of Alpharetta, GA, also the very proud father of Frances, with his mount Nepal who also went clear with a time of 80.171.
Six horses later it would be Frances and Merlin to score the next clean round with a blistering time of 76.794. “He’s [Merlin] been amazing! I’ve been riding him for exactly one year. I’ve done him in a few small grand prix but mostly in the high juniors and last year he was Horse of the Year, so this is a great start!” Frances heaped praise on her 11 year-old British Warmblood partner. Originally purchased as a high junior/amateur jumper Land believed Merlin had the ability to compete at the meter 1.50 level with a professional, but there had been questions whether a junior rider could bring him to the upper prix levels, “Now he’s proved it!”
Having taken a week off from showing Land laughingly confessed, “Last week I didn’t even do the grand prix because it was huge and I actually had to fight this week with my dad, this morning he was threatening to take me out of the prix because he wanted me to do the highs and so I begged and begged him until finally he gave in.” Frances felt confident it was the right decision, “It turned out to be perfect for us, a little softer than last week and a step up from the highs for me.” Listening to her instinct did indeed prove the way to go for Land and Merlin.
Only six horses qualified for the infamous “Dash for the Cash” abbreviated course of 8 fences proved to be where things would get technical quickly, the time allowed dropped to 50 seconds and the strides got dicey. Genn and Copyright 3 were first to return and set the pace at a clear and quick 43.834. Following them was Russell and Boudicca who made a clean run in 48.682. “Papa” Land and Nepal had a great run, but an unfortunate rail on the last fence cost them 4 faults with a time of 44.483.
After a whisper of advice and good luck, Jay Land would stay near the in gate to watch his daughter and Merlin cast their own spell of luck. Her dad’s advice, “Take a breath, think about the jump off and organize Merlin- do a little trot and get him to focus on you, forget everything else.” Frances took it to heart, “I was not planning to go that fast! Actually I was going for a smooth forward clear.” then chuckling Frances added, “And then I jumped the first jump and I knew he [Merlin] was with me, he was ready- I just knew we could open up. He has such a big stride that I knew I could go forward and use his big stride to help me and not really have to run crazily…I did run a little bit.” In what probably should have been a certain 4 faults, the rail of vertical #11 headed to home bounced up and then down perfectly back into the cups.
The pair’s skill and magic resulted in a clean time of 43.691seconds, but with two speedsters left- Happy Z with Genn and local favorite Vicky Miller aboard the Showcase 81, LLC entry Cincinnati. “I took a BIG chance turning back on the vertical and thankfully it didn’t fall! I got so lucky there.” Frances said of the final line to the timers.
Genn and Happy Z turned on their expected powerhouse speed and expertise, but the #11 vertical’s magic was gone and cost the pair 4 faults. Only Miller and Cincinnati stood between Land and her first prix triumph- Miller had a clear ride but the time fell short and guaranteed the win to Land. “It’s surreal, but still a great feeling!” Frances concluded as she and Merlin headed back to the barn.
Official Results of the $25,000 EquiFit Grand Prix:
Merlin with owner-rider Frances Land 0 43.691
Among other big jumper action on Sunday was another win for Ryan Genn and mount Marlo in the $10,000 High Junior-Amateur Owner Jumper Classic. In the NAL/WIHS Adult Jumper Classic it was show veterinarian Dr. Juan Gamboa and Partizan taking the top call and for the NAL/WIHS Children’s Jumper Classic it was Emma Hass riding the Apt Equidae, LLC entry Braunston’s Playboy to the win. Stephanie Dove paired with the Jaclyn Ruocco owned Lemon Drop were named Division Champs in the Children’s Jumper and Heather Bessey rode Zillon Zee for owner Brittany Hartl to the Division Championship in the Adult Jumpers.
“This week was the largest week that we have ever had in Gulfport. The Celebration of Hunters was a giant success and our Grand Prix was thrilling to watch! I would like to thank all the exhibitors who were part of this show. The weather did not want to work with us on Friday or Saturday, but it all worked out fine on Sunday due to great exhibitors and trainers.” Co-Chairman Bob Bell said of the fourth week of competition on the Gulf Coast.
The Gulfport Winter Classics continues with more hunter/jumper action through March 13th . Admission is free and the public is invited to enjoy the exciting competition throughout the week along with another $25,000 Grand Prix each Sunday afternoon.
For more information or results on the 2011 Gulf Coast Winter Classics please visit www.classiccompany.com or www.horseshowsonline.com or call the show office at 228-832-2745.