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August 15, 2006

Margie Engle Makes It Three In A Row At Cleveland Grand Prix

Margie Engle may make her home in Wellington, Fla., but she might have to start thinking of Moreland Hills, Ohio, as a second home.

There, she piloted Hidden Creek's Wapino to win the $65,000 Cleveland Grand Prix. It was Wapino and Engle's third consecutive win in the class, held during the Merrill Lynch Hunter Jumper Classic, July 12-16.

Engle is no stranger to winning at the venue--she's won the class eight times, and this year's victory was her fourth consecutive one as a rider. Each time Engle entered the ring aboard the three mounts she rode in the first round, the crowd was equally enthusiastic and cheered her on. She turned in clean rides on each mount.

"You never know what's going to happen," Engle said. "I really enjoy this show, and I enjoy coming here. This show always draws a great, enthusiastic crowd, and it is inspiring. It motivates me when I'm in the ring."

Engle's first trip around the jump-off track--on Calippo--left her with a fast time (41.94 seconds) but also 8 faults. She wasn't about to make mistakes on Wapino, an 11-year-old, chestnut gelding. The duo gracefully sped through the course, ultimately turning in the only fault-free round of the jump-off with a time of 44.62 seconds.

"Wapino is a lovely horse--he's very scopy and easy, and he rides beautifully," Engle said. "He's a little quirky getting on and off of him, but in the ring when he's by himself he's very comfortable, and he's getting better."

Before Engle entered the ring for her second attempt, it looked as if McLain Ward of Brewster, N.Y., was going to win, as he turned in the fastest time (41.68 seconds) aboard Arwen Show Stables' and his own Halbi D'Ariane, but as he approached the finish line, a rail down at the last obstacle cost him the win, landing him in third place.

"The jump-off was long with eight jumps--I could have used seven," Ward chuckled. "[Halbi D'Ariane] went pretty well, but Margie is hard to beat, and she had the deck stacked going into the jump-off."

Engle, the seven-time American Grand Prix rider of the year and Olympic veteran, had the final ride in the jump-off aboard Hidden Creek's Oscar. Knowing she had already clinched the title aboard Wapino, she elected to trade speed for accuracy in order to get a second clear ride. The strategy worked, but it ultimately cost them 3 time faults, placing the pair in second with a score of 49.66.

"I've only had Oscar for a month and a half, and I'm still getting used to him," Engle said. "I didn't want to put too much pressure on him."

Earlier in the week, Engle won the NAL Open Jumper Speed Stake aboard Wyndhurst Stables' Calippo, who finished fifth in the grand prix.

Engle also won the Welcome Stake aboard Hidden Creek's Alibi, a mount she was slated to ride in the grand prix, but scratched just before the competition due to the sweltering heat. She piloted Calippo for the second-placed finish as well.

While the prize money was increased from $40,000 to $65,000 for this year's grand prix, one thing that remained the same was the unpredictable and often impeding weather in the Chagrin Valley. The Cleveland Grand Prix has often been plagued by inclement weather since its inception.

Many riders remember watching the skies as a hired helicopter flew above the field to accelerate the drying time of the course during the early years of the show. This year's weather was no different, as Friday evening brought torrential rains, and the surrounding area experienced flash flooding.

While poor weather may be common to many horse shows, the efforts of the Chagrin Valley Professional Horseman's Association (CVPHA) to install the all-weather ring--with RISO Horse 2000 footing--last year earned big dividends from the undertaking just one year after its installation. The show had installed an all-weather hunter ring several years ago, but the quality of the grass footing in the jumper ring wasn't always suitable or safe.

"The ring's footing was particularly important for the grand prix," explained Gail Tobin, CVPHA co-chairman. "The riders couldn't have been happier with the footing."

The horse show's future may have been in jeopardy before the installation of the all-weather ring, but the course now presents new opportunities for the Cleveland show grounds. This year the Wachovia Securities American Gold Cup will be held in Cleveland, Sept. 13-17. The World Cup-qualifying event is expected to attract top international and national show jumpers to the grounds and bring a boost of $2 million to the Cleveland economy.

"We're very excited about this move," said Michael Morrisey of Stadium Show Jumping, Inc., organizers of the American Gold Cup, which had been held at the Devon show grounds (Pa). "We had a great run at Devon and it's sad to leave that historic show grounds. However, we're moving to another historic grounds as we bring this event back to where it began 36 years ago."

The first American Gold Cup, in 1970, was held in Cleveland. The class then moved to Tampa, Fla., for two years, then spent seven years at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pa., before moving to Devon in 1980.
 
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