Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 2
“I thought about running and being crazy, and then I remembered, 'You know what, let's just try to be clean,' “ Hardin Towell recounted about his winning jump-off ride aboard Man In Black.
Discretion proved to be the better part of valor for Towell in the $50,000 Ariat Grand Prix held on the grass derby field at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center during week 4 of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.
"With him in the past year, I was really close in a lot of classes and I would go too fast," Towell said of his partnership with Man In Black. "[In the WEF Challenge Cup on Jan. 31] I was quite close to winning. I knew I should slow down, and I just kept running down the last line [and had two rails down].
"It feels very good (to win), and especially since I just started showing him," Towell noted of the 12-year-old black gelding. He’s had the ride on him for a year. "He's a little bit strong. I have had a lot of trouble the last six months finding the right bit. I have changed a lot of bits and probably made a lot of mistakes using the wrong bits, but I think we have kind of figured it out. He's a really sweet horse. He is very brave, very scopey, and this is a great venue out in this grass field. He is always good at places like that. He is so brave that he is a little bit impressed out here sometimes, so today he jumped unbelievably. I could not ask for any more; he was fantastic."
Owner Jennifer Gates showed Man In Black, a Dutch Warmblood (Gentleman—Silvana, Calvados) in the junior jumper division before Towell took over the ride. Sunday's win was the biggest of Towell's career—his second grand prix victory and his first major win at the FTI WEF. Towell is 26 and from Camden, S,C., but has expanded his horizons by taking a job training and riding for Gates.
"I went to different places and competed against different people [in the past year],” Towell said. “My whole life I have kind of stayed in the Southeast. I have never had that opportunity, so I met a lot of new people, and it was nice showing at Spruce Meadows and everywhere we went. I have had a great last year; it has been very lucky. Jennifer has been great the whole year. We just have a very good team."
Towell had to use quite a bit of willpower to temper his need for speed with a bit of caution in the jump-off. He was up against seven other speedy riders. "I thought in the jump-off I was a little bit smarter. I landed and I actually saw a leave-out [stride] to the last jump. Maybe six months ago or Thursday I would have done and knocked it down, but I decided to [add the stride], cut it close and win by just a little bit,” he said.
The strategy paid off as Towell relegated Andres Rodriguez of Venezuela and Caballito into second and the winner of the $34,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 4 http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/lauren-hough-steps-wef-week-4-win, Lauren Hough aboard Ohlala, into third.
"I really enjoy this venue," Rodriguez stated. "This open field is a great change from the main stage. I think the horses appreciate the change and not jumping the same jumps in the same ring all the time.
“When we went to the jump-off there were a lot of really fast horses," Rodriguez pointed out. "I think five horses in the jump-off have won international classes, so I knew it was going to be fast. It started with the first two having two jumps down, so that started to make me think, but then Lauren went and had a fast round so I went back to the first plan. I only saw the last line of Hardin’s round. I thought he was going to take the six strides, which I was kind of hoping he would, and he didn't. It was his turn to win, and I am happy for him. He's been too close too many times, and this was his day."
Third place finisher, Hough, had a great week with Ohlala, including a win in Friday's $34,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 4. Hough was very happy with Sunday's conclusion to the week and in addition to the third place prize, was named the Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for Week 4.
Commenting on her jump-off round with Ohlala, Hough explained, "I have to stick to my plan with that mare. She doesn't have a huge stride, but she jumped fantastic. This is a huge field, so I just had to hope that maybe I would get a little lucky today, but unfortunately these two young men with big horses and big canters went just a little bit faster than me.
"I went as fast as I thought I could go," Hough acknowledged. "I don't know if I could have gotten them, to be honest. She is who she is, and she wins a lot of classes, but they got me today. She was fantastic the whole week and one of her owners is here today, so I'm thrilled that she was able to see her."
Final Results: $50,000 Ariat® Grand Prix CSI 2*
1. MAN IN BLACK: 2002 KWPN gelding by Gentleman x Calvados, JACK HARDIN TOWELL (USA), Jennifer Gates: 0/0/42.47
2. CABALLITO: 2002 Holsteiner gelding by Contendro x Argentinus, ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (VEN), Arao Enterprises LLC: 0/0/42.94
3. OHLALA: 2003 Swedish Warmblood mare by Orlando x Cardento, LAUREN HOUGH (USA), The Ohlala Group: 0/0/43.24
4. SRI ALADDIN: 2005 KWPN gelding, Quasimodo Z x Burggraaf, ROOSJE BROUWER (NED), Stal Heijligers & A. Vogels: 0/0/49.56
5. CAPALL ZIDANE: 2004 KWPN gelding by Concorde x Baloubet du Rouet, RONAN MCGUIGAN (IRL), Ronan McGuigan: 0/4/44.50
6. Z CANTA: 2004 KWPN mare by Casantos x Abantos, CATHERINE PASMORE (USA), Pasmore Stables LLC: 0/4/45.07
7. LAGRAN: 1999 Oldenburg gelding by Lancer II x Grannus, MARK BLUMAN (COL), Mark Bluman: 0/8/42.89
8. SOLERINA: 1999 Irish Sport Horse mare by Cruising x Diamond Lad, SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL), Sweet Oak & Spy Coast Farms: 0/8/43.94
9. G&C FLASH: 2002 Hanoverian gelding by Forrester x Grannus, LUIS LARRAZABAL (VEN), Gustavo Mirabal: 1/86.17
10. NEVER SAY NEVER: 2001 KWPN gelding by Heartbreaker x Jus de Pomme, THOMAS DRESLER (DEN), Thomas Dresler: 1/86.71
11. LISONA: 2001 Irish Sporthorse mare OBOS Quality 004 x Porsch, LAURA KRAUT (USA), Stone Hill Farm: 1/88.42
12. CONTINO 14: 1997 Holsteiner gelding by Contender x Calypso I, JONATHON MILLAR (CAN), Millar Brooke Farm: 1/88.99