Friday, May. 24, 2024

Archie Bunker Flies To The Top At HITS Desert Circuit

Will Simpson’s new ride might take him to Las Vegas.

It was gold versus gold, with a little silver thrown in, in the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix CSI-W on Feb. 7 in Thermal, Calif.

The jump-off featured Olympic gold medal teammates McLain Ward and Will Simpson, with the addition of Canada’s team silver medalist Jill Henselwood.

Ward led the way in the first round and turned in a graceful clear with Phillipa over Bernardo Cabral’s challenging track. It looked for a while like that might be the only clean round of the evening.

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Will Simpson’s new ride might take him to Las Vegas.

It was gold versus gold, with a little silver thrown in, in the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix CSI-W on Feb. 7 in Thermal, Calif.

The jump-off featured Olympic gold medal teammates McLain Ward and Will Simpson, with the addition of Canada’s team silver medalist Jill Henselwood.

Ward led the way in the first round and turned in a graceful clear with Phillipa over Bernardo Cabral’s challenging track. It looked for a while like that might be the only clean round of the evening.

Then, midway through the class of 29, four in a row left all the jumps standing—Black Ice with Henselwood, Cadett 7 and Ashlee Bond, Helen McNaught and Caballo, who represent Great Britain, and Australia’s Harley Brown on Cassiato. The jump-off field of six was finalized when Simpson took Linda Smith’s Archie Bunker to a clear late in the class.

Ward came back first and turned in a clean round. He chose the cautious route, stopping the clock in 42.51 seconds. His thinking was that everyone else might be forced into mistakes while they tried to beat his time, and the strategy almost worked.

Henselwood and Bond both had rails and times slower than Ward’s. McNaught had some problems mid-course and elected to retire. Brown did manage a clear but was almost 4 seconds off Ward’s pace.

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That left only Simpson, and there was no doubt whom the crowd favored. Simpson, always a popular rider on the West Coast, has become even more of an icon after his Olympic Games performance. The crowd began cheering as soon as Simpson entered the indoor arena and almost lifted the roof off when Simpson soared clear over the last fence. The time was 40.24 seconds, and Simpson had notched another victory on a ride he’s had only since last fall. The two started their partnership by topping the $50,000 L.A. National CSI-W (Calif.) in November.

“I’ve got some nice young horses, some up-and-comers, but to be able to walk in to a ring and be competitive like this right off the bat is a real treat,” said Simpson, a professional trainer in the Los Angeles area.

John Pearce used to ride Archie Bunker, an 11-year-old Oldenburg (Contender—Winea), and sold him to Linda Smith after the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit last year. “The first thing I did when I got the call to ride the horse was pick up the phone and call John,” Simpson said. “I knew he had a relationship with this horse and had spent the most time with him. He told me it’s a really good horse and I was going to have a lot of fun.”

There were several things about Archie Bunker that impressed Simpson, but chief among them was the horse’s mind. “I found that he’s a very, very intelligent horse. To me, usually the bigger the horse, the slower they think, but he’s not that way,” Simpson said.

So far Simpson has only shown Archie Bunker in indoor rings. “I can’t wait to open full throttle on a big field,” he said. Simpson thought he might get a bit of a break after all the excitement of the Olympic Games but received advice to the contrary.

“My mom said it the best,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Now I can relax a little.’ ” But she said, “ ‘No, no, now it’s time to go to work!’ ”

Simpson’s victory vaulted him into contention in the U.S. West Coast League World Cup race, fourth-placed among American riders behind Mandy Porter, Richard Spooner and Jill Humphrey. They’re all looking to qualify for the FEI Rolex World Cup Final, to be held April 15-19 in Las Vegas, Nev.

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Porter collected 20 of her points on Jan. 31, when she won the $50,000 Strongid C 2X Grand Prix CSI-W in Thermal. She was on a roll during week 2 of the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit, also winning the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix on Jan. 29.

Porter, a trainer in Olivenhain, Calif., earned both victories with Danielle Korsh’s San Diego. Porter took Summer to the FEI World Cup Finals last year in Sweden, but Summer was rested much of the rest of the year, and Porter was without a grand prix ride. She was riding San Diego primarily to keep him fit while his owner was off at college and found the 11-year-old Dutch gelding to be more capable than anyone suspected.

“We showed him in one of the classes at Showpark, and he went really well, so we all decided to see if he could do bigger and better stuff,” Porter said. “It wasn’t a part of any major plan—it was just something that worked out.”

Even though a rail in the first round of the $50,000 Purina Mills CSI-W kept her out of the jump-off, Porter’s eighth-placed finish earned her enough points to keep her atop the U.S. West Coast World Cup League.

Porter is feeling no particular pressure, however. She rode in Europe for seven years and learned a great deal about managing competition stress. “It comes from some of the experience in Europe, from showing all the time. The more I got to show, the less pressure it was,” she said. “When it was more of a job, you knew you had to concentrate on what you had to do for each horse. It became easier to focus on the job ahead and what each horse needed.”

Porter’s business is strictly jumpers, and that’s the way she likes it. “I know that I’m not as good at multitasking. I really try not to do things that I don’t feel I can do well,” she said.

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