Well, he just won again. Hillary Simpson piloted the 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding to victory in the $30,000 Mount Equinox Grand Prix on July 27 at the Vermont Summer Festival.
Simpson was only one of two double clear rounds, the other being Danielle Torano and Temptation, who stopped the timers in 42.43 seconds. Simpson entered the ring two rounds later with Arkansas, owned by Robert Kogen and Palmyra Partners LLC, and proceeded to slice 4 seconds off of Torano’s time, finishing on top of the class in 38.36 seconds. Julie Welles rounded out the top three with Bazooka de Muze with the fastest four-fault round.
Simpson, based in Southern Pines, N.C., out of Palmyra Partners, also qualified for the jump-off with Quiet Hill Farm’s Nopus du gue Joubert. The pair produced the second clear first round early in the order, giving Simpson a blueprint for her return later on with Arkansas. “They’re a little bit different to ride. Nopus is big and French and Arkansas is a smaller Thoroughbred. Usually, I choose a little bit different striding and add in a few different places, but the course actually rode about the same for them today,” Simpson described. Nopus was on pace to win the class before incurring from 12 faults over the short course.
“I’ve started going quite a bit faster on Nopus recently. I was fast on Thursday ([n the $10,000 Overland Sheepskin Company Welcome Stake] but I got a little overzealous and had a rail early. Today, I tried to put on the pressure but had a couple unlucky rails,” Simpson acknowledged.
Arkansas’ tendency to go full throttle in the ring means Simpson has to carefully manage his pace. “I’ve been working on trying to slow down in the middle bit of the course because he gets so rambunctious and really gets going. I had a nice breather today between the diagonal line and the triple combination that worked out really well,” Simpson recalled.
She continued, “Going into the jump-off I certainly wanted to be fast, but I couldn’t overpressure myself with him since he’s naturally fast. I was trying to have a nice, neat track with a nice pace and leave the jumps up.” Simpson’s plan was perfectly executed as the pair dashed to a speedy yet fault-free clear round.
While Arkansas clearly has the talent and skill for show jumping, it wasn’t until he was united with Simpson that he found his niche. Now, Simpson has turned her focus to the gelding’s technique over fences. “He won a bunch of the 1.30-meter classes there and we moved him up [to grand prix level] last year. He returned to the same horse show where I tried to start him as a hunter and he won the grand prix. This year, we’ve been working on moving him up to some bigger classes and working on his technique to make it a little more rideable,” Simpson described.
Simpson predicts a bright future for the two of them, especially now that Arkansas is off the market thanks to his recent success. “Originally, Arkansas was brought in to be a fun project. I like having a few Thoroughbreds in the barn to work with. Since we’ve had so much success with him, his owner isn’t really worried about selling him anymore,” she smiled.
“He’s a really good match for me and I think he’s going to be a really special horse for me for a very long time," Simpson said. "We’re working on doing the right thing and taking it slowly as we move him up to some of the bigger national grand prix to see what we have.”
Arkansas isn’t the first off-the-track Thoroughbred Simpson has taken in, and he certainly won’t be the last. “I like to work with all of them. It doesn’t matter to me where they are in their career as long as we see something that we like in their talent and their mind and their jumping ability,” Simpson commented.
What stood out about Arkansas stands out to Simpson with most Thoroughbreds. “He has a good brain. Yes, he has plenty of power and speed but he has a great mind. He doesn’t believe he can’t do anything. You can put him in the ring and the jumps are bigger, the course is more technical, more difficult, it doesn’t matter. He will still give you 110% every time you go in the ring,” she expressed. “As long as you give [Thoroughbreds] what they need and let them do their own thing and bring them along at their pace, they will always give you everything they can,” Simpson concluded.
Saturday’s victory also springboards Simpson into third place in the $10,000 Sir Ruly, Inc., Open Jumper Awards standings. The award is generously sponsored by Maria Teresa Torano in her husband Raul “Ruly” Torano’s memory. Jimmy Torano, Ruly and Maria Teresa’s nephew, has earned a portion of the prize money five of the six years it has been awarded at the Vermont Summer Festival. He currently stands in fourth place.
Sitting atop the Sir Ruly rankings is Penny Brennan with 119 points, followed by Michael Dorman with 87. Simpson is in third with 80 while Jimmy Torano is hot on her heels with 74 points. The top five is rounded out by Olympian Peter Wylde, who currently has 73 points. The $10,000 of prize money will be awarded to the top three finishers at the conclusion of the six-week show on Aug. 11.
The Vermont Summer Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary in its current Manchester location, will continue through its six-week circuit through August 11 at Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, Vt.