AJE Cluny Comes Into His Own In Las Vegas World Cup Qualifier

Nov 20, 2016 - 4:59 PM
Christian Heineking and Aje Cluny raced to the top of the Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier in Las Vegas. Photo by Amy McCool

All the right decisions, and perhaps a good dose of Las Vegas luck, led Germany’s Christian Heineking to victory in the $100,000 Longines FEI Las Vegas World Cup qualifier.

“It was a great course that was challenging enough,” Heineking said. “I’m very happy. The time was really close and luck was on my side today.” Heineking’s win came aboard AJE Cluny, a 12-year-old Oldenburg.

“Today’s probably [Cluny’s] biggest win to date so far. I’m very happy with him. He had a late start—he’s a little bit older,” said Heineking. “He’s just getting there. After the win tonight, we have a little break now. We’re going to reconsider what we’re going to do. I have to talk to the other half of the ownership and see—if we are really planning on [the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Omaha, Neb.] we have to go to Florida.”

Christian Heineking on AJE Cluny. Photo by Julia Boryewicz/FEI

Seven riders ultimately advanced into the jump-off in the fifth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016/2017 North American League (Western Sub-League) with Mexico’s Enrique Gonzalez setting the time to beat midway through the order. Gonzalez and the 9-year-old mare Chacna won the third leg of the Western Sub-League in October and looked to be on form to repeat victory.

Enrique Gonzalez on Chana. Photo by Amy McCool

Immediately following the class favorites, Egypt’s Nayel Nassar piloted Lordan to a blistering fast time of 36.86 seconds, shaving nearly a second off Gonzalez’s time. But the tighter turn to the short course’s double combination cost Nassar a rail, and he finished in sixth. Earlier in the order, U.S. rider Tina Yates and 12-year-old stallion Zelote VDL delivered an efficient double clear to finish in third.

“It is a little bit of a home show,” Yates said. “I have family that live in Vegas and they came here. I’m a little bit on cloud nine. I had no expectations tonight so I was just happy to be in the jump-off let alone ending up third. It’s really special. I have only jumped two World Cup Qualifiers besides this. This was my third and the first time I got points. After you jump a clear round and the audience explodes, it’s a type of euphoria. It ups the ante. It makes it fun.”

Tina Yates on Zelota VDL. Photo by Amy McCool

As the dust settled in the South Point Casino and Equestrian Arena, it was clear the night belonged to the penultimate pair to test the track designed by Guilherme Jorge of Brazil: Heineking and 12-year-old gelding AJE Cluny made all the right decisions by angling into the double combination—without repeating Nassar’s mistake of cutting the turn too short—and by opening up to a big gallop to the final fence to clock in at 37.82 seconds, a fraction of a second faster than Gonzalez.

“On the way from the combination to the wall, my horse was bucking a little bit, so that can be a 100th of a second right there,” said Heineking about his track. “Cluny has been with us for the past two and a half years, and he developed from a nice prospect to a really competitive grand prix horse. He just got more experience over the time and tonight was his night. He keeps going better and better and is more comfortable with the height. I’m very excited about the win and very proud of him.

In the first round, 33 starters attempted the fair, yet technical, course. Time didn’t appear to be a factor for the first few riders before it was shortened, which then caused a handful of time faults to accrue. Large oxers flowed to careful verticals, testing the rideability of the horses. A triple combination of a tight one stride from a vertical to vertical to a longer two strides to an oxer forced faults from more than one-third of the field.

Following tonight’s event, Enrique Gonzalez of Mexico now holds the top position in the Western Sub-League standings. The next Western Sub-League event will be on Jan. 28.

Robert Ridland, the U.S. chef d’equipe and president of Blenheim EquiSports, the show organizers, was very happy with the evening. “This was a special day for us,” he said. “We’ve been here in this building for 10 years. To see where this horse show is going is very gratifying. And then to find out this morning that the World Cup Finals are coming back to Vegas in 2020—that was also very special.”

The 2020 Longines FEI World Cup Finals—both dressage and jumping—will be held in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Apr. 15-19.

See full results of the $100,000 Longines FEI Las Vegas World Cup Qualifier.


Standings after Leg 5 in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA): 

1.    Enrique Gonzalez (MEX)                           –    42

2.    Nayel Nassar (EGY)                                  –    41

3.    Karl Cook (USA)                                        –    38

4.    Jenni McAllister (USA)                               –    36

5.    Christopher Surbey (CAN)                         –    33

6.    Eduardo Menezes (BRA)                           –    32

7.    Eric Navet (FRA)                                       –    22

8.    Laura Jane Tidball (CAN)                           –    17

8.    Nikolaj Hein Ruus (DEN)                           –    17

10.  Richard Fellers (USA)                                –    17


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