After two years as runner up, McLain Ward finally took home the blue in the $200,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte, the April 15 feature event of the Charlotte Jumper Classic in Charlotte, N.C.
“I’ve been so very close to winning over the last two years, and this year I felt ready,” said Ward. “Larioso has been knocking on the door to win a big class, I’m very happy he broke through and won.”
Of the 26 riders in the class, only three negotiated Steve Stephens’ technical course without penalty. “It
was a hard course,” Ward admitted. “Charlotte is one of the smallest rings anywhere, so every jump was three or four strides apart, making the course very careful and complicated.”
The course proved challenging enough that none of the jump-off challengers went clean. The same fence, a wide oxer off a tight rollback, fell for all three riders.
First to face the jump-off, Ward and Larioso caught their rail at that second fence. The pair blazed through the remainder of the winding course to set the pace at 37.62 seconds, but the fallen jump left the door open for challengers.
The same fence came down for Eric Lamaze and Narcotique de Muze II, who finished in a slower 43.62 seconds, which would end up third.
When his turn came, Kent Farrington knew that he and his mount Up Chiqui stood a chance. The pair had placed sixth in the $50,000 Charlotte Welcome Stakes the previous day and had scored a great win in Tampa, Fla., at the $30,000 WEF Challenge Series X on April 4.
“I didn’t see McLain go, but I knew he was fast,” said Farrington. “My plan was just to go clean. When that didn’t happen, I tried to catch him.”
When a rail fell from the troublesome second fence, Farrington and Up Chiqui turned on the speed in an effort to catch the leader’s quick time. The pair tripped the timers at 37.83 seconds, just .21 seconds over the winning time.
Despite falling just short of the blue, Farrington was thrilled with his horse’s performance. “He tries his heart out every time he goes,” Farrington said. “This is Up Chiqui’s first year stepping up to the bigger grand prix classes, and he’s handled it very well. He’s really coming into his own.”
As for Ward, he considers the long-awaited win a big achievement for his mount. This is Larioso’s second season at grand prix.
Ward had good success with him at the medium level, and he was building confidence slowly. But when his seasoned mount Goldika 559 was injured at the start of the winter show season, Ward asked Larioso to step up and show in bigger classes.
Larioso responded to the challenge, winning grand prix ribbons at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), including top honors at the $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round V.
A Prince Of A Welcome
Kim Prince and Marlou are no strangers to victory in the Charlotte Bobcats Arena—the duo won the $150,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte here two years ago.
“Marlou loves to compete here,” said Prince. “She’s such a good horse indoors because she’s small and maneuvers beautifully. Plus she really enjoys the crowd—she thinks that everyone is there just to watch her!”
And while the big class escaped them—they finished out of the money in the $200,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte—they did win the $50,000 Welcome Stakes on April 14.
The first of three to compete in the jump-off, Prince knew going in that the pressure was on. “I knew that Darvin Garbo was a very nice horse and that Laura Kraut and Anthem are always so fast. I figured that I had nothing to lose, so I should go in and go as fast as I could,” she said.
Prince’s tactic paid off. The jumps stayed up, and she sped through the timers in 34.79 seconds. Henrik Gundersen and Darvin Garbo were unable to catch her, finishing with no faults in 37.23 seconds. After a rail fell at the second fence, Kraut elected to pull up Anthem, as the faults guaranteed her third place.
Prince was especially pleased with the win, as the pair had been coming off an unlucky season. In 2005 Prince and Marlou were the highest-placed U.S. combination at the FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas, in fifth overall, and Prince had hoped to qualify for the competition again this year. Unfortunately, the pair pulled one rail in each qualifying class entered, thwarting Prince’s plans to attend the Final.
Prince hopes that this win signals the beginning of a luckier streak as she turns her attention to the upcoming summer grand prix season. The highlight of her calendar is the $100,000 Budweiser Upperville Jumper Classic (Va.), near her hometown of Hume, Va. “Marlou has been going so well,” said Prince. “She’s fit, happy to be jumping and ready to compete.”
Brodkin Has The Right Chemistry
Heather Brodkin wasn’t expecting to win any classes at the Charlotte Jumper Classic, so when she and her horse Nathalie took the blue in the $25,000 Adult Amateur Classic on April 15 she was ecstatic.
“I’ve never won anything like this. I’ve never even won a cooler before!” exclaimed Brodkin.
Charlotte got off to a rocky start for Brodkin after a slip up in the ring led to a fall the day before the classic. “I tried to take a tight inside turn, and I just slid off,” Brodkin explained.
The bobble didn’t shake her confidence, however, and Brodkin and Nathalie posted the first clear round of the classic. “It was my kind of course,” said Brodkin. “I don’t like when the time allowed is really tight and you have to race around, but in Charlotte the course was more technical.”
After a flawless jump-off round with a speedy time of 36.47 seconds, Brodkin waited anxiously to see if the seven other jump-off competitors could match her quick time.
A relative newcomer to the show ring, 34-year-old Brodkin just returned to the saddle 2 1⁄2 years ago after a 15-year hiatus. Her foray into jumpers began when she and trainers Abby and Bill Lowry found Nathalie in the Netherlands 11⁄2 years ago. Since then the pair has been steadily moving up through the adult amateur ranks. “I just moved up to level 3 at the end of last summer,” she said. “I was just very happy to be competitive in the division.”
As a Ph.D student in chemistry at Northeastern University (Mass.), Brodkin juggles a full-time research schedule with her riding. She readily admitted that switching gears from hard science all week to the horse shows on the weekends has been a challenge. Luckily, she can sometimes adjust her research schedule to accommodate her competition calendar.
Several days a week Brodkin drives an hour from her home in West Newton, Mass., to ride with the Lowrys at Winsor Farms Sales in North Scituate, R.I., before going to the lab at Northeastern University in Boston. “I’m running all of the time,” said Brodkin.