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April 1, 2011

Last Call Stands First At Galway Downs

Alexandra Slusher and Last Call cruised into first place in the Galway Downs CIC***.

Temecula, Calif., April 1

Alexandra Slusher’s been competing her mare Last Call for years, but today she didn’t quite feel like she knew the horse she had on her hands.

Slusher and “Fergie,” her 12-year-old Mecklenburg mare topped the dressage phase at the Galway Downs CIC*** this morning (43.0), and despite the one rail they pulled in show jumping this afternoon, they remain at the top of the leaderboard heading into cross-country tomorrow.

The non-traditional format played a big role in the placings today. Without the taxation of a cross-country run first, many horses in the CIC divisions jumped extremely well, but others—coincidentally many of the top horses from the dressage phase—struggled with the change in the usual three-day schedule.

Even though Slusher’s horse felt different this afternoon, she said excess energy definitely wasn’t a problem she had to worry about.

“I prefer the typical format, but Fergie is very flexible. She can roll with the punches. She doesn’t get too fresh very often. Or ever,” joked Slusher, of Auburn, Calif. “But she definitely did feel different. I don’t think it was fresh. If anything, it was that she was ridden three times today, and she was a little bit heavy. She didn’t feel too tired, it was just a different feeling that I hadn’t felt before.”

Slusher’s planning to head East for the Jersey Fresh CCI*** in May, so today’s results gave her a big confidence boost.

“I’m planning on winning Jersey Fresh!” she said. “I should have ridden a little bit better on that one fence since I had a rail, but I was thrilled with my dressage today. I thought she had a good warm-up and was in a good mental state, and I thought that was the best ride I’ve ever given her.”

Bennett-Awad Doubles Her Pleasure

Double-clear rounds in the CIC*** show jumping were rare, but Slusher’s coach and mentor Hawley Bennett-Awad, of Temecula, posted one aboard Linda Paine's Gin & Juice to move into second place. The pair, who helped Canada win team silver at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, ranked fifth in the dressage on 48.2 penalties. They’re aiming for the Mitsubishi Badminton CCI**** (England) at the end of the month.

“I was really happy with ‘Ginny,’ ” said Bennett-Awad, who’s based across the road from Galway Downs at KingsWay Farm. “I always feel confident going in on her, but she is a little spicy. This format for me is very difficult because she’s a hot horse, and the cross-country usually takes the edge off her.

“I rode her four times before dressage,” she contined. “You can’t get her tired; I’ve never had one tired stride on her. It’s just a mental game with her. And hopefully when we’re on another continent at the end of this month, she won’t be thinking about her friends in a field across the street!”

Bennett-Awad is also competing Ginny’s full brother (Audio—Qtrpastree, Court Ruling), Five O’Clock Somewhere, in the CIC**. In his first outing at this level, the Thoroughbred gelding owned by Sue Church won the dressage (43.4) and dropped to second after pulling one rail in show jumping.

“He stepped up to the plate in the flatwork; it was my mistake on the show jumping,” she said.

While Bennett-Awad has long referred to Ginny as her “little sports car,” the mare’s sibling is almost her polar opposite in looks and temperament.

“They’re completely different,” Bennett-Awad continued. “He’s got this dish face that could pass as an Anglo-Arab’s, and this big booty. That’s why his nickname is ‘Chunky.’ But they can both buck the same!”

Livingstone Is Still Living It Up

Bennett-Awad’s intrepid Olympic partner Livingstone hasn’t done a one-star since 1997, but he’s back at that level this weekend. Breann Hall, a student of Bennett-Awad and Slusher, is currently in 15th place in the CIC* with the 21-year-old Thoroughbred gelding.

“I literally was trying to hold back tears in the jog,” said Bennett-Awad. “It makes me so happy. He’s got that little twinkle in his eye. He loves this, and I don’t want to take that away from him.

“I tried to retire him, and he was miserable,” she continued. “He stood with his head in the back of the stall, and he wouldn’t eat. But we put shipping boots on him, and I’m not kidding, he launches himself into the trailer. I call him the Brett Favre of eventing. Today Breann went down the centerline on him using the first bit I bought for him when he was 4 years old.”

Smith Asks And Receives 

Tamra Smith just found out on Wednesday that the ride she thought she’d have only temporarily—Leigh Mesher’s Mar de Amor—will be staying with her through the end of 2012. Smith and the 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding currently stand third (49.6) in the CIC***.

When Smith heard Mesher was pregnant (due in June), she jokingly volunteered to help her keep Mar de Amor going, thinking there wasn’t a chance she’d give up the ride, since she was planning to keep competing this spring.

“But her doctors had kind of said, ‘You can’t be competing at that level,’ so she said, ‘Sure,’ ” Smith said. “And I’m all, ‘Really?!’ Then on Wednesday Leigh came and said ‘Listen, I talked to my parents, and we want you guys to be together through the Olympics.’ So I’ll get him for a few years. I’m so grateful. She’s been so generous.”

If tomorrow goes well, Smith will consider taking her new three-star mount to the Bromont CCI*** in Quebec in June.

Rosen Eliminated

Debbie Rosen and The Alchemyst will have to go to Plan B in preparing to head back to the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** at the end of the month. They won’t get the CIC*** cross-country run Rosen was hoping for, because the pair was eliminated in show jumping today. The chestnut gelding jumped Rosen out of the tack over the first element of the triple combination, and though she scrambled to hang on, her feet eventually hit the ground. 

Collier Leads The CIC** 

Anna Collier leads the CIC** on Uppercrust D, who’s moving back up the levels after an injury put him out of commission in the spring of 2009. She’s had the 10-year-old gelding since he was 3.

“I was somewhat happy with my dressage,” Collier said with a smile. “I was amazed—I got a 9 on rider position from Wayne [Quarles, the judge at C], which I was thrilled with. And we got a 10 on our simple lead change through the walk. We used to be absolutely horrible on that—I’ve gotten so many 4s on that! You sit on him, and know you can get all 8s and 9s, so it’s nice to have it actually work out in the arena.”

Collier’s mark of 44.0 put her second in dressage, but her clear show jumping round moved her into the lead.

Olenik Opens Up A One-Star Lead

Courtney Olenik and Porto Banus lead the CIC*, having placed third in the dressage on 47.3 penalties and added nothing to their score in show jumping. Gina Miles and Sunsprite Patronus, who won the dressage (45.3) dropped to sixth place with 8 jumping faults.

Only Three In The Advanced

This year’s advanced division is looking particularly anemic, with just three entries and unimpressive dressage scores. James Alliston and Parker II lead on their dressage mark of 44.4. Brittany Lunney and Cool Dancer came out ahead in the first phase with a mark of 38.8, but they added 12 faults in show jumping to drop to third. John Michael Durr notched a 41.9 in the dressage and pulled one rail in show jumping on Iona Grey.

Looking for live scores from all the divisions at Galway Downs? Visit EventingScores.com.  

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