September 2—Bridgehampton, N.Y.
Course designer Guillherme Jorge put a lot of thought into the number of fences he would include for the $250,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix CSI-W at the Hampton Classic Horse Show. In fact, it wasn’t until he saw the final list of entries on the morning of the class that he made his final decision.
“At this level of competition, it’s always a very fine line between an easy course and a difficult course,” he explained. “But this is a very important class and very important prize money.”
With a star-studded lineup of Olympians and top international talent, Jorge went ahead and added the extra challenge he had been considering: a tall skinny vertical at the end of the course.
For winner Kent Farrington, that fence was a question answered successfully with Voyeur, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Amalaya Investments. But for a full third of the class, it was an insurmountable challenge that kept them out of the jump-off and away from top prize money.
All eyes were on McLain Ward to be the pathfinder when he drew first in the order with Antares F. Ward had already won four major jumper classes with other mounts during the week, including Friday’s $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix qualifier and Saturday’s $30,000 Open Jumper Challenge. But Ward got too close to that final fence, becoming the first to have it down, and from there clear rounds were hard to come by.
“I anticipated more going clear. There were some strong riders and some very good horses coming at the end,” commented Farrington, Chicago. “McLain’s a tremendous competitor, so when he had that rail it made it a little easier for the rest of us.”
Three riders jumped clear with just 1 time fault, but only two others besides Farrington were able to qualify for the jump-off: Shane Sweetnam and Molly Ashe-Cawley.
Sweetnam partnered up with his longtime mount Amaretto D’Arco, with whom he’s competed all over the world in Nations Cups and international grand prixs for Ireland.
And veteran rider Molly Ashe-Cawley, Wellington, Fla., laid down a smooth clear round to move on to the jump-off with Carissimo, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding that she first paired up with earlier this year.
Farrington, 31, swept around the shortened track for a foot-perfect clear in the jump-off, finishing in 47.53 seconds. Voyeur, who jumped his first grand prix in Wellington over the winter, has quickly become one of Farrington’s top horses. Careful to a fault, Farrington’s main goal with the light-boned bay is to improve rideability.
“He gets very strong, but he has so much quality he can get away with it right now,” Farrington explained. “I think if his rideability gets a little bit better he could really be one of the top horses in the world.”
Sweetnam, 31, watched Farrington jump off and knew he had to be fast to have a chance of catching him. But after the turn off a combination of spooky double liverpools, Sweetnam misjudged the distance to a wide oxer and pulled the rail.
“He just tickled it, and it fell,” he said. “I came back quick on it after the double, and I thought I was OK, but obviously I wasn’t. But I had to give it a go when I saw how Kent was, so I gave it a go, and it didn’t happen.”
But Ashe-Cawley, 41, had the most dramatic jump-off ride; a pulled right front shoe early on course later explained why Carissimo slipped and slid around the same corner that Sweetnam had trouble with.
With their distance lost, Carissimo swam through the oxer and nearly broke to a trot on the other side. But Ashe-Cawley picked him up again and reorganized to jump the remaining fences clean. Their four faults and time of 55.519 were good enough for third.
After the American Invitational (Fla.) in April, in which Ashe-Cawley placed second with Carissimo, she hoped against hope that owner Marteen Hyugens wouldn’t find a buyer for the gelding, who was imported from Belgium in 2011. In a bittersweet twist, Hyugens did find a buyer over the summer, and it was one in Ashe-Cawley’s barn. But with amateur rider Olivia Jack out of the country for a few months, Ashe-Cawley temporarily regained the ride on Carissimo.
“I’m happy for her. He’s a great, great horse,” Ashe-Cawley said. “We all know how I feel about him. He’s a phenomenal horse, and I’m sad to not have him, but at least I get to still sort of have him.”
Carissimo went clear with Jack in the grand prix at Horse Shows by the Bay in Michigan earlier this summer, and the pair plans to spend the winter of 2013 competing in Wellington.
Farrington, who was second to Ward in Friday’s grand prix and second to him in the 2011 $250,000 FTI Grand Prix, was overjoyed to have finally won this prestigious grand prix.
“I’ve been coming here forever, and I’ve never won it, although I’ve come very close a few times, second, third, fourth,” commented Farrington. “I think I probably had every single ribbon except winning it, so I completed the challenge!”