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September 7, 2010

Sapphire Does It Again!

Sapphire is always happy to say hello to her fans! Erica McKeever Photo

The first round of the show jumping at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is just four weeks away—how exciting! 

McLain and Sapphire’s preparation continued at the Hampton Classic this week—our plan was to show her on Friday in the World Cup-qualifier, and then the big grand prix on Sunday. Hurricane Earl meddled a bit with our plans, since the show organizers moved the qualifying grand prix to Thursday instead of Friday, so our departure from Castle Hill happened early Wednesday morning.

When we arrived at the horse show, it was over 90 degrees and very humid—not Sara’s favorite weather. We decided not to ride her that day. McLain was having a good show. All the horses were jumping great, and Rothchild won a nice class on Wednesday. All of the young horses were jumping clear rounds qualifying them for the finals at the weekend.

On Thursday, before the qualifying grand prix, it was still hot and humid, so we worked her lightly in the morning. She was very excited to show—I think maybe a little too much! McLain said in the schooling area she felt strong, but she was jumping great. They went in the ring, and she had C of the triple down. She kicked back at it and it fell late. McLain said he was distracted and let her cut left and she toed the vertical in front, then she knocked down the last jump.

The score of 12 faults didn’t reflect how well she actually jumped, especially since she hadn't shown for three months. Mario won the class on Urico, also a member of the WEG team, so that was exciting to see him in such good form. 

The horse show management said we could take the horses out of the tents to more secure stabling, so this was a huge relief to me, as I was still worried about the hurricane. Back to Castle Hill we came. Friday morning’s news said the hurricane had downgraded but was still going to brush eastern Long Island, and I was never so happy to be home!

We left to return early Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day, and the horse show looked great with barely even a puddle. The footing was great, there was no humidity, and it was the perfect weekend for a horse show. Things were looking up. 

McLain had decided to change the bit on Sara, as she felt a little strong in the twisted snaffle, so he decided on a corkscrew. McLain was second in the open classic on Saturday, on PJ. He was also third in the 6-year-old Young Jumper Championships final on Apple, another lovely chestnut mare. In the evening they had an exhibitor party, with Just World’s horseless jumping for the children. It was amazing the number of children that do that. It was really fun to watch, and all of the kids had a great time.

Sunday arrived, and even though we've been doing this for 20-something years, grand prix day is always different and especially on the days Sara is showing. It was another perfect day, even a little chilly in the morning. I went to see Sara early, but she looked a little cranky, so I left her alone and went to watch her half-brother Domino show in the 7-year-old YJC finals. He's a big, scopey, chestnut stallion. He jumped really well but was totally shocked by the scary water jump and had to take a look at it first before jumping it! Hopefully it was a learning experience. A little disappointing but he'll be back next year!

After that it was back to Sara for the rest of the day. After I rode her, her chiropractor went over her and thought everything felt great. The cooler weather definitely had picked her up.

There were 36 starters in the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix. The field looked beautiful, as it always does, the stands and tents were full, and it’s a fabulous atmosphere. Getting Sara ready for the ring is really easy—the only thing she doesn’t like are her ear plugs, but it was decided she was going without, so that made life easy.

When Sara was 15 trips away from her place in the order, we left the barn. Nobody knows how nervous we get, as we want so much for her to do well. As soon as McLain gets on her, it’s a little relief, as hopefully we've done everything we can.

Their warm-up is usually the same, but for some reason I was really nervous and felt a lot of pressure on them both. But McLain was all business, and Sara was jumping beautifully. When she was standing at the in-gate, she was alert and staring at the crowd with her eyes popping out. Usually she whinnies, but she didn't this day. After they canter in, it’s hard for me to watch. She's the only horse I can ever say I am too nervous to watch. I occasionally glanced up at the big screen and saw a few jumps, and she looked incredible. There were only three clear, and she made it four. Nobody else went clear, so we would come back fourth in the jump-off.

There isn't really time to get nervous before the jump-off as it’s all about making Sara comfortable and ready to go again. Darragh Kenny went first, and he was clear. McLain watched him go, then picked up the canter. He had his plan for the jump-off. Margie Engle had one rail with Indigo, then Jimmy Torano went clear and into the lead. Sara jumped one more perfect schooling fence and in they went.

I really can't watch the jump-off. When they finished there was a huge roar from the crowd, but I never believe it until I hear the announcer say it. And I heard it—Sara won again for the second year in a row! McLain was smiling and waving his hat in the air. He’s won almost 200 grand prix classes, but he was definitely excited.

Later, in his press conference, he said he owed Sapphire his career. The prize giving at the Hampton Classic is really special; they bring all of the owners and sponsors into the ring. McLain rode Sara to the side so the fans could get up close, and he always gives his ribbon to somebody standing by. I love to watch the faces of all Sara’s fans.

Then it's back to the barn. Sara knows she’s special! She was in a great mood and got loads of treats. After she was drug tested, there were lots of children waiting to pet her. She loves all of the attention. 

Then we shipped off back to Castle Hill, where she had a real day off, new shoes, lots of grass and more treats. We’re off to Saugerties on Wednesday for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, the last class before the WEG. Only 23 days until we leave!

Thank you McLain and Sara—you are the best!

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