March 4—Gulfport, Miss.
When Frances Land exited the ring after her victory gallop, her father, Jay Land, was right there to help with her horse and congratulate his daughter on her win.
“Not bad,” he said. “Three out of four!”
Frances’ win with her British Warmblood gelding, Merlin, in the $35,000 Johnson Horse Transportation Grand Prix at the Gulf Coast Magnolia Classic IV was not only the anniversary of her first grand prix win—here last year in the $25,000 Equifit Grand Prix—but it meant that between her and her father, the Lands had won three out of the four grand prix events held during the Gulfport winter circuit. Jay and Nepal took top honors during Weeks 1 and 3. However, Jay and Nepal knocked one rail during the preliminary round, thus nixing the chance of a Land jump-off.
Twenty-four horse-and-rider combinations set out to jump around Allen Rheinheimer’s course, which Frances liked because it allowed her to start “Merly” off in a “big, open canter” and keep going with that same rhythm. Plus, despite two days of on-and-off rain, the footing held up nicely.
“He also jumps fantastic on this grass,” said Frances, 17. “This footing is so good. It’s so springy, and [Merlin] likes a little cushion off the ground.”
Watch Frances’ first round here:
Six horses left all the rails in the cups, but only five advanced to the jump-off because Holly Shepherd and Triompf—the winners of Friday’s $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby—accrued 2 time faults. Wilhelm Genn brought two horses back to jump off—L’Etoile and Happy Z—and Bryn Sadler with Bon Giorno and Theo Genn on Winchester rounded out the five.
Looking to set the standard, Sadler led off in the second round, but Bon Giorno pulled the final rail. Wilhelm’s first ride, L’Etoile, brought down a rail at the second fence, an oxer after a tight left hand turn from fence 1. Frances and Merlin blazed through their jump-off in 35.92 seconds, but knowing that Wilhelm and Happy Z were still to come, she wasn’t quite ready to celebrate.
“Whenever Wilhelm is behind you with Happy Z, it’s never a good feeling!” Frances said. “You know he’s going to chase you.”
Theo and Winchester followed Frances’ round with another clear, but several seconds behind, finishing in 38.36. Wilhelm and Happy Z clipped around the first four fences looking like they were going to catch Frances’ time, but they took down the oxer jumping out of a two-stride combination. Happy Z’s time (35.18 seconds) would have been able to top Merlin’s, but the pair ended up third.
“We were the fastest 4-fault round last week,” said Frances, “so I was excited to actually step it up this week and win one!”