Temecula, Calif., April 2
Alexandra Slusher knew she was pretty tight on the time when she crossed the finish line aboard Last Call, but when she looked at the CIC*** scoreboard afterward and saw 2 time penalties by her name, which dropped her out of the winning position, she knew it had to have been a mistake.
“I knew what time I had to get, and I knew I could jump all those fences out there, so I knew my fate was in my own hands, and I was going to go get it,” said Slusher. “I came out and rode aggressively. I’d looked at my watch, and I thought I came in seconds under.”
What Slusher didn’t know was that the starter had recorded her as having a false start, and officials had therefore added 5 seconds to her time, according to U.S. Equestrian Federation rules for eventing. That tacked on 2 time faults to her score and gave the win to her coach, Hawley Bennett-Awad, with Gin & Juice.
But by the time Slusher made it to the show office to inquire about the penalties, officials had already realized that there’s no Federation Equestre Internationale rule that mimics the USEF’s. The 2 penalties were removed from her score (47.0), and she’ll now head home to Auburn, Calif., with her first CIC*** blue.
“If I made a mistake, I’ll be more careful about that next time. But I was thrilled with my horse,” said Slusher. “The water I was worried about with the Normandy bank ended up riding great. She was athletic and did me a favor over the skinny on the way out.
“That’s why I love her,” she continued. “She tried her heart out for me. I feel like I helped her out a lot over the course, and she helped me.”
Slusher and “Fergie” won the 2008 Galway Downs CIC** and placed second in the inaugural CCI*** here in November. Their win this weekend was “the perfect set up for Jersey Fresh [CCI*** in New Jersey in May],” according to Slusher.
“The aura about this place very much suits us,” she said. “Fergie and I work very well off confidence. If we do bad, it’s not so easy to come back and do better next time. But in years past I’ve done well here, so I always drive in the driveway with confidence. I think I really ride her to the best of my ability here.
“Minus that rail in show jumping, which I’m still slightly perturbed about, because we could have been clean, I’m just thrilled,” Slusher continued. “I think she came away today feeling really confident, and I was really happy with her temp and respiration and fitness.”
Bennett-Awad Narrowly Misses Double Wins
Bennett-Awad was on the unlucky side of that time penalty call, but she’d done all she could to win with Gin & Juice, her 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games mount. Their double-clear round clinched second place (48.2) in the CIC***.
“We’re both competitive, but it’s not like we’re always like, ‘Oooh, I’d better cross my fingers hoping she had time penalties,’ ” Bennett-Awad said. “Allie deserves to win—she had a great weekend. I’m so proud of her. And I don’t want to win on a technicality anyway.”
There was no technicality to Bennett-Awad’s win in the CIC**. She rode Gin & Juice’s full sibling, 5 O’Clock Somewhere, to a double-clear round and victory in the 9-year-old gelding’s first two-star outing.
“Ginny,” who’s owned by Linda Paine, and “Chunky” were both bred by Paine, out of her Thoroughbred mare Qtrpastree, by her now deceased stallion Audio. Sue Church now owns Chunky, but she’s allowing Bennett-Awad to take him as far as he’ll go up the levels.
“It’s exciting. It shows our program over at KingsWay [Farm, Paine’s facility across the road from Galway Downs, where Bennett-Awad is based] is a good one,” she said. “A good horse is a good horse, but the fact that they’re brother and sister is great. I’m thrilled. That two-star course was a big track for him, and he stepped up to the plate.”
Slusher will run Chunky in a preliminary horse trial while Bennett-Awad and Ginny are in England for the Mitsubishi Badminton CCI**** later this month, and then Bennett-Awad plans to take him to the Jersey Fresh CCI** in May.
A Solid Course
Ian Stark’s courses didn’t ride flawlessly for everyone, however. In the three-star, fence 9AB, the Sunsprite Warmbloods Moat, tripped up three pairs. Tamra Smith and Mar de Amor (formerly in third, dropping to sixth), Jennifer Wooten-DaFoe and The Good Witch (dropping from a tie for sixth to 10th) and Jolie Wentworth and GoodKnight (dropping from eighth to 11th).
Gina Miles’ mount Chanel had a runout at fence 18, the corner.
There was a brief hold on course while emergency personnel checked out John Michael Durr, who fell from Warrick at fence 16, the Narrow Coop. Durr came away with a mangled earlobe, but he wasn’t seriously injured otherwise.
“He just thought the long one was there and asked but it didn’t happen,” said Stark. “He put a bandage on his ear and then decided he was going to go on and ride in the one-star, but he needed a bigger hat so it would fit!”
Durr did withdraw his later ride.
James Alliston and Jumbo’s Jake were the only other pair on course at the time, but the hold didn’t affect their rhythm. They posted a double-clear round to move from a tie for sixth place into third.
“I heard over the loudspeaker that he’d fallen, so I wasn’t surprised to see them come out,” said Alliston. “I got held before the trade stand area [Stark’s new galloping lane through the trade fair along the venue’s main berm]. I did have one galloping fence before that but, that was an intense part of the course right there. But it was good. The horse was very honest and straight.”
In another scoring kerfluffle, Alliston was initially marked as having 110 time penalties. Communication problems plagued the officials, as radios failed to reach from one end of the course to the other. Eventually the assistant technical delegate had to be stationed up on the berm in the middle of the course to relay communications, as officials in the infield tower couldn’t hear reports from many of the fence judges on the opposite end of the course.
Anna Collier and Uppercrust D, the overnight leaders in the CIC**, incurred 4.8 time faults to drop to second place. But third-placed Stacey Winter and Stella Brava dropped much farther down the leaderboard after their stop at the Point Two Air Water Complex halfway through the course. They also added 15.6 time faults to their score to finish 12th.
Max McManamy, who’d been in fourth place after show jumping, found her two-star first-timer Project Runway quite a handful. They posted 14.4 time faults to drop to eighth place.
“He kind of thinks of himself a King Kong a little bit,” said McManamy, who also finished fourth in the CIC*** aboard Beacon Hill. “Right now he needs to learn that he’s not invincible. He’ll jump anything from any distance or any angle, but he needs to learn to jump the jumps correctly so that in a year or two he can gallop up to four-star jumps and just fly over them. He’s not even 7 yet. I wanted to make time, but he really needed to just learn not to run away with me!”
Lindsay Connors, who’d been in seventh place with Ballingowan Pizzaz, had a stop at 13AB, the Step Up To Brush, and she was technically eliminated later in the course for jumping the wrong fence.
The Step Up To Brush caused stops for two other rides: Jennifer Taxay Kelly on Taboo and Shannon Lilley and Forgotten Emblem. The latter pair later retired after another stop at 15AB, the Equine Insurance Hanging Logs.
Looking for final results for the Galway Downs CIC divisions and the provisional scores for the national divisions, which will wrap up tomorrow, April 3. Visit EventingScores.com.