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August 31, 2014

Sunday At The Hampton Classic: Big Crowds, Fancy Tables And A Thorough Dunking

Bridgehampton, N.Y.—Aug. 31  

Kevin Babington ended his Sunday in style, but he certainly did not start out that way. Babington was the very first rider to compete in the grand prix ring Sunday morning, and he kicked off the show with a splash, literally.

“To any of you who weren’t here this morning, I was the first person in on the 8-year-olds and ended up getting dumped in the water, covered head to toe in blue water, so it was a great start to the day,” Babington said with a laugh at the press conference following his win in the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI-W. “But that’s the sport of show jumping—it’s a very humbling sport. You’re on top one minute and you’re in the water the next.”

The Irish rider's win in the class was made even more impressive by the fact the his wining mount, Shorapur, is just 9 and she was competing in her first 1.60-meter grand prix. 

“My plan actually was to do Mark Q here today,” Babington said, referring to his more experienced grand prix mount, “and then I jumped [Shorapur] on Friday, and she had two down but she was almost too brave. I thought 'OK, you’re ready to step up to the plate now. If you want to be that brave, let's step up.' ”

Kevin Babington and Shorapur show the crowd how its done in the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI-W.
Photo by Shawn McMillen

How can a show jumper be too brave? Isn’t that like saying a track star is “too fast”, or a plate of nachos is “too cheesy”? 

“Well she was strong and sort of pulling me a little deep [to the fences] on Friday,” Babington explained, “And it was a little bit my own fault—my strategy backfired. I thought OK, she’s coming off of a grand prix win [the mare won the $75,000 Agero Grand Prix, a 1.50-meter class, at the Silver Oak Jumper Tournament (Mass.) earlier in August] ,she’ll be confident, and I just underestimated how confident she would be so she was just really wanted to take over.”

(You can read more about Shorapur's $75,000 Agero Grand Prix win—including the reasoning behind Babington's choice of bit and special bridle for her—in the Sept. 1 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.)

So how did Babington handle his brave little youngster this morning to keep the rails up in the Hampton Classic Grand Prix?

“I got her a little quieter today, I worked her a little harder,” Babington said. “And the ride changed; I actually had more brakes!

"She’s a very sensitive mare,” Babington continued. “You go one hole tighter with the noseband or one hole tighter with the curb chain and if she doesn’t like it, she lets you know about it. This morning it probably took us 20 minutes to just get the right formula.”

Babington and Shorapur bested a field of 33 riders to take the top prize, with Brianne Goutal and Nice de Prissey finishing just behind in second, and third place going to $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge winner Richie Moloney (the second year in a row he’s won the bonus, awarded to the rider accumulating the most points in various open jumper classes at the classic).

Four riders made the jump-off, and Moloney went first with his mount Freestyle de Muze, and a rail down in the one-stride oxer-vertical combo kept him from contention for a higher prize. Ramiro Quintana and Whitney went next, pulling a couple of rails to end up in the fourth position.

Next was Babington, and he was not about to run around the short course with his tail on fire—Guilherme Jorge designed a jump-off for the thinking horse and rider.

“I had a chance to watch the first two riders go and they both had rails, so I was planning on going medium fast,” Babington said of his jump-off plan. “It was a careful jump-off—you had to jump all the jumps before you worried about your speed. But she's naturally a very fast mare, so I can have a fast time without even trying."

Second place finisher Goutal agreed with Babington—she may have been just a hair too careful.

“I didn’t want to go crazy in the jump-off. I could have gone a little faster but I didn’t want to risk it, and this is my horse’s first grand prix back in the States; we’ve been in Europe all summer,” Goutal explained. “So I wanted to play it a little safe, and I played it a little too safe.”

There were a decent number of press types there to cover the grand prix, but they were in the minority of the working types hefting cameras and notebooks. At almost every show I’ve been to as media, a press pass or credential is really more of a souvenir than a functional piece of identification. Hardly anyone ever asks to see them, and they’re rarely needed to access the areas of the show grounds you want to go to. Basically, it’s a free lanyard with a nametag stuck on the end.

The exception (of course) being the Hampton Classic—you can hardly go to the bathroom without showing security your pass, and it’s not surprising when you consider the masses of media at this show. Never have I ever seen so many press people at a horse show before, and they’re not here for the horses—they’re here for the celebrity sightings. The nation’s top riders soaring over massive fences are nothing more than a backdrop to the paparazzi in the VIP tent circus, and while I would like to pretend that I am an equestrian sport purist and oh so high above the celebrity hype, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a peek inside the tent between classes.

The VIP tent was jam packed from noon on, including a lot of media looking for shots of visiting celebrities.

If nothing else, I learned something from wandering through the tent—I will never be the photographer that gets that great shot of Bruce Springsteen laughing with Mayor Giulliani. I’ll be distracted over in the corner by a miniature owl.

It looks to me like this little guy's face says "I am SO over it people. Take the picture and move it along."

After getting sidetracked by the adorable aviary, I made it about 10 more feet before being stopped again, this time by the tables. Oh, the tables! Never mind that Matt Lauer just arrived—there’s a horse plant center piece!

This table took "all natural" to a whole new level

 

Hats and bows were the headliners of this table

 

Some very artistic stirrups were gracing the middle of this table


The real crops in the centerpieces are a nice homage to that horse show that's going on in the background!

 

Clean and green

 

The minimalist look—I like it!

Are you a Chronicle subscriber? Be on the look-out for in-depth coverage of the Hampton Classic—not only of the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI-W, but also of all three divisions of the Young Jumper Championships Eastern League Final and many of the equitation winners and hunter and jumper champions—in the Sept. 15 issue. You’re missing out on the stories behind the results—what bits the tip riders chose, how they get their horses' winning performances, and more. Sign up now if you don't subscribe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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