Watching Authentic and Beezie Madden on course in the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa CSI-W, you would hardly believe that it was only the pairâ€™s third class this year.
But Madden had no doubt that Authentic was at the top of his game and ready to compete at the Tampa Bay Classic, March 28-April 1, in Tampa, Fla.
â€śIâ€™ve never been concerned,â€ť Madden said. â€śIâ€™ve only shown him a little this year, but what he did he won. I knew that he was in good form.â€ť
Authentic and Madden sped to the win in Tampa, just as they had in the $25,000 WEF Challenge Series Round IV on Feb. 15 in Wellington. The wins prove that theyâ€™re ready to compete at the Rolex FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas, Nev., April 19-22.
Madden praised the work of British course designer Richard Ellis, describing the course as an excellent preparation for the World Cup Final. â€śTo get ready for a small indoor like Vegas you want to have some rideability in the course, and he did that,â€ť she explained. â€śIt was a nice classical course, yet challenging. There wasnâ€™t one major trouble spot, but several spots that could cause potential problems.â€ť
Sundayâ€™s grand prix served as the last East Coast qualifying competition for the World Cup Final, and many of the top contenders came to compete.
Richard Spooner was already comfortably qualified for the Finals, seated second in the U.S. West Coast League for his consistent performances at qualifying competitions in California. He traveled to Florida in March after the conclusion of the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit (Calif.) to put some miles on three of his grand prix mounts and get some practice in before Las Vegas.
â€śAll three of the horses I brought are young. At this point they need to get into different arenas, see different water jumps, spooky jumps and walls. Itâ€™s hard to do that when you just show in one area. This way they could get a lot of experience in a short time. Plus there are a lot of great competitions out here with a lot of prize money,â€ť Spooner said.
Spooner also relished the opportunity to go head-to-head with top competitors on the East Coast. â€śItâ€™s a tough group of riders out here,â€ť admitted Spooner. â€śItâ€™s hard to get a win or a good piece of the class. Itâ€™s nice to be able to compete in that arena.â€ť
The trip paid off as he and Cristallo jumped to second in the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa. He got to add that prize money to the $6,596 he earned taking eighth in the $395,781 CN Worldwide Florida Open Grand Prix in Wellington on March 17.
Spooner set the pace with a clear round in the jump-off and a time of 43.56 seconds. Laura Kraut on Anthem and Ken Berkley on Carlos Boyâ€”the only other competitors posting clean jump-off roundsâ€”couldnâ€™t catch his time.
But Madden maintained her steadfast confidence. She was already easily qualified for the upcoming World Cup Final, so Tampaâ€™s grand prix served as a chance for her to get Authentic in the groove of showing. Madden chose to show Authentic sparingly at Wellingtonâ€™s Winter Equestrian Festival venue because of inconsistent footing.
When it was their turn to challenge the jump-off course, the pair showed the crowd exactly how prepared they were for the World Cup Final. After blazing down the first line, Madden elected a tight inside turn no one else had tried to the third fence, knowing that such a risk might allow her to beat Spooner and win the class. Her gamble paid off. The jumps stayed up and the pair posted the winning time of 42.99 seconds, knocking Cristallo and Spooner down to second place.
Maddenâ€™s win propelled her past McLain Ward in the East Coast World Cup League standings to finish on top. â€śThe World Cup is especially important this year because itâ€™s not an Olympic year,â€ť Madden explained. â€śThis is Authenticâ€™s big competition. Plus itâ€™s in Vegas, in our home country. Itâ€™s important for usâ€”not just meâ€”but for all the U.S. riders to do well.â€ť
Seven slots are reserved at the Final for the top riders from the East Coast. Madden, Ward, Lauren Hough, Margie Engle, Schuyler Riley and Molly Ashe finished at the top of the East Coast league.
Kraut on the veteran Anthem finished third in the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa, clinching the eighth spot in the East Coast World Cup League standings, but she has chosen not to travel to Vegas. Chris Kappler, who finished seventh in the league, also will not be attending. So, Christine McCrea, seated ninth, will be competing in her first World Cup Final.
Kate Levyâ€™s eighth-placed finish in Tampa earned her enough points to tie with Todd Minikus in the final East Coast League standings. Her top finishes of second and fourth bested Minikusâ€™ third and fifth, earning her the FEI wild card.
Kroon Gravin Is Back
To the average spectator, there was nothing special about Molly Ashe and Kroon Gravinâ€™s fifth place in the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa CSI-W. But for Ashe, it was the fruition of years of struggling.
In 2000, Ashe and Kroon Gravin splashed onto the international show jumping scene, winning the $54,538 Banco Herrero Grand Prix (Spain), the $60,336 Grand Prix of Berlin (Germany), and the $72,901 Audi Grand Prix (the Netherlands), as well as having remarkable results in the United States.
And in 2001, they won their first $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational (Fla.) together, and were eighth at the FEI World Cup Final (Sweden). But then â€śKroonâ€ť developed problems with her ovaries. Ashe and the veterinarians struggled with the issue for eight months, but finally resolved it using an ovarian implant.
In April 2002, after not having shown for almost a year, Kroon returned to win her second consecutive $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational. And later that summer, she won the selection trials for the U.S. team for the World Equestrian Games. Ashe and Kroon traveled to Jerez, Spain, for the WEG, but withdrew prior to the competition due to soundness issues.
And then, in 2003, Ashe and Kroonâ€™s owner, Sandra Oâ€™Donnell, began struggling with legal issues. â€śWe each owned half of the horse, and the agreement we had had was that she was not for sale,â€ť said Ashe. â€śWe had many big offers, and we didnâ€™t take them. It was guaranteed by me to her, and by her to me, that the horse was mine foreverâ€”that she would never be sold and her life would never change. But we started to go in different directions. Sandy and I went our separate ways, and there was a dispute over where the horse should be.â€ť
Legal struggles over her ownership kept Kroon out of the ring for the next year. In 2005, she showed lightly over the summer at Spruce Meadows (Alta.), and then won the $40,000 Lexington CSI-W (Ky.) and the $50,000 Ariat Congressional Cup CSI-W (Md.). But legal wrangling put a stop to Ashe showing Kroon again after that.
But in October of 2006, Ashe and Oâ€™Donnell reached a settlement in mediation, and now Kroon is solely owned by Ashe. â€śYou have no idea how it feels. Itâ€™s a huge weight off my chest,â€ť said Ashe.
Her fierce determination to keep Kroon in her barn had little to do with the mareâ€™s competitive success. Kroon has long been known as a very quirky horse, and Ashe has brought out the best in her as sheâ€™s forged a strong bond with her.
â€śFor me, if Kroon never jumped again, it doesnâ€™t matter. I feel like I owe it to her to give her the life she loves as long as sheâ€™s able to live it,â€ť said Ashe. â€śMy incentive in the whole thing wasnâ€™t to show her again, but to protect her.
â€śRiders lose their horses. It happens to everybody who doesnâ€™t own the horses. Itâ€™s terrible, and you feel bad for the animal, because they lose all their people and what theyâ€™ve known. But, usually, it all works out OK. But Kroon, I think, is one of the exceptions to that. I wouldnâ€™t begin to know how to do that to her. You could give someone a list of instructions 10 pages long about her. Itâ€™s a relationship weâ€™ve developed over a long time period, and I know how to keep her happy.â€ť
Ashe will point her toward the $200,000 Budwesier American Invitational yet again, and then to the Rolex FEI World Cup Final (Nev.) on April 18-22. But Ashe is taking time out on April 9 to get married to Chris Cawley.
Kroon showed twice during the Wellington, Fla., portion of the Winter Equestrian Festival, putting in four-fault rounds in the $75,000 Bainbridge Idle Dice Classic CSI-W and the $100,000 Zada Masters Cup CSI-W. â€śIn [Wellington], she was a mad-dash runaway; she was a little over-enthusiastic, I think. She felt a little rusty and excited to be showing, but she feels really great,â€ť Ashe said.
â€śIt was a lot of fun to have her go so well and jump great in Tampa. Itâ€™s like she was in the fall of â€™05, when she won those two World Cups [qualifiers]. She felt fantastic in those shows. I wasnâ€™t sure if we could get her back to that fitness level again, but she seems to be there now. Itâ€™s one day at a time, but itâ€™s just so nice to have her back in the ring,â€ť she said. â€śAnd now I know that her life is not going to change. Itâ€™s in my control to make sure that she lives as long and happy a life as possible.â€ť