North Salem, N.Y.—Sept. 16
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen that trophy up close,” Peter Leone quipped as he nudged Lincourt Gino up to the table holding the historic American Gold Cup trophy.
In fact, it’s been more than 20 years since Leone last hoisted that trophy—he won in 1988 on Threes And Sevens. This year, he guided a horse in just his first year of grand prix competition to the top prize. He and Lincourt Gino topped a star-studded field to take the top check in the $200,000 American Gold Cup CSI-W. They turned in the only clear round of a jump-off that featured Olympic gold medalists McLain Ward and Beezie Madden and Pan American Games gold medalist Kent Farrington. “I’m humbled to have been in the jump-off with three of the best riders in America, three of the best riders in the world,” Leone said.
This was the first year that Old Salem Farm has hosted the American Gold Cup. The historic class has been held in Ohio, Florida, Philadelphia, and Devon, Pa., but last year, it was canceled, and looking for a home. Management at Stadium Jumping Inc., chose Old Salem Farm as a setting, and the expansive grass grand prix field showcased the class beautifully. Crowds lined the hillside overlooking the ring. “It’s a fantastic location for it,” said Madden, who won the class in 2010 in Ohio.
Madden set the stage for the four-horse jump-off that concluded the class by having a rail down on Cortes C. “I could have gone a little wider and made a little more room [to that jump], because he kind of got underneath it there. He has such a big stride,” Madden said.
Farrington knew he’d have to hurry, but still keep the rails in the cups. Unfortunately, at the third jump, a combination, Voyeur’s hind feet caught the back rail of the oxer at B. “I took a risk; I did one less stride into that double. I thought my horse covered the distance OK, but he jumped so high coming out that he just didn’t get to the back rail. In hindsight, it was probably too extreme [a risk] and maybe unnecessary. That was my error,” Farrington said.
That combination had wreaked havoc on the first-round field, causing a few eliminations and many faults. Coming early in the course, as the third effort, it sat on a distinct downhill slope, and was headed at a direct angle toward the in-gate. To add to its difficulty, the A element was a wall jump, with a hole cut out at the base. “That’s something you don’t see every day in regular classes, a wall to an oxer, or even a wall in a combination, especially a really airy wall like that.” Farrington said. “Then it was a one-stride, right by the in-gate, downhill to an oxer. There was a lot going on there.”
Leone and Gino made quick work of the combination, and motored around the course without incident to record the first clear jump-off round. “I watched Beezie and Kent very closely, and they had rails, so I switched my game from poker to chess,” Leone said. “I knew I had a fantastic rider [Ward] behind me, but there weren’t any clear rounds yet. So, I went quite fast, but I went around to the liverpool, the second-to-last jump, to maximize the probability of going clear. I wanted to put just enough pressure on McLain to force him to go inside there and make a mistake.”
And that’s just what happened. Ward and Antares F, fresh off their win in the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix just a week before, looked primed to seize another title as they cantered into the ring as the last to jump-off. But Antares slipped hard, almost falling on his side, on the turn after 3AB. “It threw my clock off a little bit,” Ward said. “I didn’t exactly know [how fast] I was, and I think I took too risky a turn on the [one jump] and got there a little bit unbalanced. You take those risks and a lot of times you win because of them, and once in a while you lose because of them.” Antares clipped the rail, and Ward ended up third, behind Leone and Farrington.
All week long at the American Gold Cup, course designer Steve Stephens had used the rolling hills of the grand prix ring at Old Salem Farm to challenge riders. The Gold Cup course was no different, and included not only the tricky 3AB, but also a combination of verticals set on the side of the hill and an imposing oxer set on an uphill approach as the last fence. “That was at a bit of an awkward lie on the hill and you needed a horse with a bit of experience to handle that,” Ward said. “The last jump was 2 meters wide, and you don’t see that too often. It was an old-fashioned fence, and it caused some problems.”
Given the stiffness of the course and Gino’s greenness at the level, Leone might have been happy with just a ribbon. But as he’s brought Gino from the 1.40-meter level to grand prix this year, he’s been impressed with the horse’s talent. “He is probably the most careful horse I’ve ever ridden. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve shown him and not gotten a ribbon this whole year, which is unbelieveable. Every time he goes in the ring, he’s bringing home a check,” Leone said.
Leone has an Olympic medal all his own—he was on the silver-medal team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But in recent years, his string of grand prix horses has been sparse. Little did he know when Monica Carrera brought Gino to train with him last August, his next star walked into the barn.
Carrera, a junior at Endicott College (Mass.), was showing Gino in the amateur-owner ring. But an injury early this year took her out of the saddle for six months. “She gave me the opportunity to see what Gino could do. I started in the 1.40-meter classes in Wellington, and by the time I’d finished, we were jumping clear in a big 1.50-meter grand prix,” Leone said. Leone carefully picked and chose Gino’s outings, and the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding blossomed.
“He is a pretty typical Irish horse. He has a huge heart and he loves the game. But he does it his own way,” Leone continued. “He doesn’t go around like a regular working hunter. He jumps every jump a little bit different, but he loves going out there and doing it. I’m so grateful to the Carrera family for giving me the opportunity to continue forward with Gino.”
Taking the win was even more rewarding for Leone because it was Gino’s last show of the year. He plans to rest the big bay, and then he and Carrera will decide where Gino’s future lies—in the grand prix ring or back in the amateurs. “The script is unwritten,” Leone said.