March 6, 2011 is likely to hold a special meaning for Frances Land from now on as the date she won her first Grand Prix. Land, 16, and her Merlin topped the $25,000 Equifit Grand Prix at Gulf Coast Magnolia Classic IV today after jumping two clear rounds.
“It’s all a little surreal right now!” she said.
But it was a victory that almost wasn’t. In the jump-off, Merlin clipped the top of a vertical—the second-to-last fence—and the rail bounced up out of its cups before settling back down.
“I got very lucky,” said Land. “I thought the rail had fallen. Sometimes it’s your lucky day, and today was mine.”
Wilhelm Genn on Happy Z experienced almost the exact same scenario, but he wasn’t quite as fortunate. Though Happy Z had the fastest time, the rail fell, and Genn had to settle for fifth with four faults. Genn also took home second on Copyright 3, who jumped the short course clear but a hair slower than Merlin.
“I knew I couldn’t beat Wilhelm on Happy Z,” Land admitted. “He was so fast, but he got unlucky on the same jump I got lucky on.”
Six out of the 23-horse field made it into the jump-off, including Land’s father Jay. One rail relegated him and Nepal to sixth. But he might have been fifth if he’d won the argument he had with his daughter earlier today.
“I actually had to fight my dad this week to let me do it,” Frances said. “This morning he was threatening to take me out of the Grand Prix. He wanted me to do the high juniors, and I begged him, and he finally was like, ‘OK, you can do it.’ It turned out to be perfect because it was a little softer than last week, but it was a great step up from the highs for me. It worked out really well.”
Frances, Alpharetta, Ga., went into the jump-off with the intention of getting a smooth, clear round and not worrying about speed. Her plan changed one jump in, however.
“I was not planning to go that fast,” she said. “I jumped the first jump and knew he was with me and ready, and I knew we could open up. He has such a big stride—I knew I could go forward and use his big stride to help me and not run crazily.”
Frances and Merlin have been a team for exactly a year now. Merlin, an 11-year-old British Warmblood (Magic Darco—Tarantella), was the 2010 USEF Junior Jumper Horse Of The Year and 2011 is shaping up to be an even more successful year for him.
“We were planning on him being at least a high junior horse for me,” Frances said. “He had done some small Grand Prix classes in Europe, so we knew he had the ability to jump that big with a professional. We just didn’t know if he could do that with a junior. He’s proved he doesn’t care what you do.”
While gaining her first Grand Prix win was a huge milestone for Frances, getting to show on the spacious grass ring in Gulfport also gave her some needed mileage on that kind of surface for later in the year.
“We came here last year just to go on the grass because we were going to Spruce Meadows [Alta.] for the first time,” she said. “We went last year, and this field prepared us perfectly for it. This field is amazing. We knew we had to come back this year and practice again.”
Top 10 Results: Horse/Rider/Owner
1. Merlin/Frances Land/Frances Land (0-0, 43.691)
2. Copyright 3/Wilhelm Genn/Wilhelm Genn (0-0, 43.834)
3. Cincinnati/Vicky Miller/Showcase 81 LLC (0-0, 47.244)
4. Boudicca/Vick Russell/Vick Russell (0-0, 48.682)
5. Happy Z/Wilhelm Genn/Wilhelm Genn (0-4, 43.292)
6. Nepal/Jay Land/Jay Land (0-4, 44.483)
7. Indian Creek’s Coraggi/Christian Rogge/Jessica Nilsen (4)
8. Ultaire/Maggie Sarmiento/Janet McCarroll (4)
9. Michael/Ivy Regent/Ivy Regent (8)
10. Ariado/Theo Genn/Abby Albritton (8)
Full horse show results available at Horse Shows Online.