Jennie Brannigan may have been destined to win the inaugural Galway Downs CCI*** from the start.
Considering the incredible double-clear round she pulled off in show jumping today, Nov. 7, in Temecula, Calif., it was clear that the fates were on her side. She thinks her late horse Cooper might have been pulling some strings for her as well.
Brannigan and Cambalda were in the lead heading into show jumping on their dressage score of 46.0, but they didn’t have any room for mistakes. Even though second-placed Tamra Smith had to scratch Kristi Nunnink’s Corner Street before this morning’s jog, third-placed Alexandra Slusher and Last Call had put in a flawless round and were less than a rail behind them.
So when Brannigan missed to fence 5, the CWD oxer, and Nina Gardner’s 8-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding made a magnificent leap over the fence, coming down hard on the back rail, the crowd gave a collective gasp. But the rail didn’t fall—in fact, when it was inspected just after Brannigan and “Ping” crossed the finish line right on the optimum time, it was found to be perched precariously on the edge of its cups.
“When that jump stayed up, I just knew it was Cooper,” said Brannigan of the advanced partner she had to euthanize in December after an injury, several surgeries and founder. “There was no doubt in my mind that was him looking out for me.”
Brannigan and her veterinarian David Bogenrief donated a cooler bearing Cooper’s name as one of the prizes for the inaugural CCI*** at Galway Downs, so it was only fitting that Brannigan herself was its first winner.
“[Losing Cooper] was the worst thing that’s ever happened, and I miss him so much, so to win this means everything to me," said Brannigan, who’s now based in West Grove, Pa., but calls Temecula home. "I said to Allie [Slusher] the other day, 'If you win, can I have his cooler back?' I’m not really a very emotional person, and I don’t think a lot of people usually see that side of me, but I bawled coming through the finish line."
It’s been a big year for Brannigan. This was the fourth Federation Equestre Internationale win for she and Ping in 2010, and she’s learned a lot in the process.
"I’ve always struggled with this horse in the sense that he’s always behind my leg,” she said. “On the flat and in the jumping I’d say he’s weak behind. So that miss was completely my fault. But he’s come so far. He went from being something I wanted to sell two years ago to something I don’t think you’d ever want to sell! I can’t wait to see what he ends up being like even in a year. He’s really opened my eyes to the fact that horses do change."
Slusher Stakes Her Claim
Slusher, of Auburn, Calif., was thrilled to end up second in the three-star, so winning the CCI** was just the cherry on top of her weekend. She and Juicy Couture pulled one rail but still held onto the lead they’d established in dressage, finishing on a 53.2.
Like Brannigan and Ping, Slusher and her chestnut mare took awhile to hit their stride together.
“This weekend totally came together, and she was so mature and tried so hard every day,” said Slusher. “It’s been a long journey with her, so I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Slusher’s coach Hawley Bennett spotted Juicy Couture at Buck Davidson’s barn in early 2008 and told her student she needed to buy the horse, sight unseen. So she did.
“So here I am just trusting Hawley and Buck, because I’ve always trusted them unequivocally,” Slusher said. “So when I got her I was thrilled to have her, but I didn’t expect to have so much trouble with her. She goes completely the opposite of my other horse. She's very spooky, and she’s very careful, which absolutely works for you, but it can work against you too. But she’s made me such a better rider. I ride [Last Call] and all my horses so much better because of her.”
- Jolie Wentworth’s double-clear round with GoodKnight in the CCI** boosted her to a second-placed finish. “One of the reasons [I bought him earlier this year from David Acord] was that I knew him so well,” said Wentworth. “He’s been in our barn since he was a 4-year-old. The horse is extremely bold on the cross-country and very careful in the show jumping, and that’s a very rare combination. So even though his flatwork is lacking and may always be his weakest point, he’ll always be able to move up in the jumping phases.”
- Max McManamy and Project Runway jumped to the win in the CCI* with a double-clear round. “I felt a little nervous today, because he’s my baby,” McManamy said of her 6-year-old pinto gelding. “This weekend was such a big learning curve for him. He’s grown up quite a bit, and he really proved himself to me this weekend and felt like a big horse. My goal was to finish on his dressage score [47.4], and he did that.” McManamy also won the open preliminary division on her two-star horse, Beacon Hill (32.7).
- Katherine Groesbeck cemented her one-two standing in the preliminary-level three-day event, but her two homebred Thoroughbred-Arabian crosses flip-flopped places after show jumping. With one rail down, Oz The Tin Man ended up first, while Oz Poof Of Purchase pulled three to drop to second. No one in the division posted a clear round.