Amateur rider Katherine Bakker and Carambo Z beat a field of seasoned professionals in the $30,000 Split Rock Farm 6-Year-Old Young Jumper Championship Eastern League Finals.
When most amateur jumper riders go looking for a new show partner, they audition horses with plenty of miles in the ring. But not Katherine Bakker. When she bought Carambo Z as a 5-year-old jumper prospect, she knew she’d have her work cut out for her. But her decision paid off at the Hampton Classic, Aug. 24-31, when she and Carambo Z won the $30,000 Split Rock Farm 6-Year-Old Young Jumper Championship Eastern League Finals.
Bakker had to outride top grand prix riders like McLain Ward and Todd Minikus and their best up-and-comers to clinch the title.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking being an amateur up against such amazing professionals,” admitted Bakker, Winter Park, Fla. “Plus I’d never jumped big water on him, and I didn’t know if he’d spook at the water or the ditch, but he felt very confident.”
The 6-year-olds contested their final round on the Hampton Classic’s formidable grand prix field where some of the young horses appeared overwhelmed by the atmosphere, but the gray gelding galloped around like a veteran. Six horses jumped clear all week to jump off, and Carambo Z’s ground covering gallop helped him edge out last year’s top 5-year-old, Noël Love Gross’ Merlin and Jeffery Welles, who took second.
Bakker’s long-time trainers Wendy and Ezequiel Peralta acquired Carambo (Charming Z—Aramba Z, Akito Z) from Argentine breeders Ricardo and Marleen Kierkegaard. Though the Peraltas had bought plenty of horses from the Kierke-gaards in the past, they had additional first-hand knowledge about this pick, as Ezequiel rode the Zangersheide’s sire, Charming Z, and Wendy his grandsire, Akito Z.
“It’s fantastic that Katie wanted to take on a 5-year-old,” said Wendy. “Most amateurs want to win, win, win. There aren’t many amateurs who want to play with a young one. But he’s very noble and brave, and they’ve worked very well together.”
“Originally Ezequiel rode him more, but he’s been very cool and pretty easy—very mature for his age,” said Bakker. “He’s got a bit of a Napoleon complex—he’s only 15.3, but he thinks he’s about 17.3.”
A recent graduate of Rollins College (Fla.), Bakker works for the college’s museum and commutes half an hour each way to train with the Peraltas at their Seabreeze Farm in Geneva, Fla. To her, having a talented youngster makes the trek worth it. The Peraltas and Bakker made the championship a priority this year, and they prepped by traveling west to Spruce Meadows (Alta.) this summer to get some practice time on the grass.
Most show jumpers have their first opportunity to vie for a major championship as 5-year-olds, but when Tangelo Z earned top honors in the $20,000 SHF Enterprises 5-Year-Old Young Jumper Championship Eastern League Finals with Shane Sweetnam, he picked up his second consecutive national title.
Last year Tangelo proved himself across the Atlantic, winning the Show Jumping Association Of Ireland’s 4-Year-Old National Championship with Seamus Hayes aboard.
The chestnut Zangersheide, owned by Spy Coast Farms, edged out VDL Dundee (Calvados—N Ruberth 9, Wolfgang) and owner-rider Amanda Flint in the jump-off. Both geldings jumped double clear all week, and Tangelo’s footspeed put him nearly 2 seconds ahead of Dundee. As an added bonus, Sweetnam’s second mount in the championship, SCF Culper, finished fourth.
“It’s a lot to ask for these young horses to come onto the big grand prix field here and focus, but Tangelo just went right around,” said Sweetnam, who moved from County Cork, Ireland, to Wellington, Fla., four years ago. “You really can’t ask for more.”
Shane’s father Jerry Sweetnam found Tangelo (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve—Cuintana Z, Carthago Z) as a 3-year-old and immediately recognized the chestnut’s talent. After winning his first national title in Ireland, Shane and Jerry brought “Sonny” stateside as a sale horse, and the gelding started turning heads at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) in the 5-year-old division.
“He qualified right away [for the championship], and he’s won almost everything he’s entered,” said Shane of the Belgian-bred. “I think he’s had three rails all season. He’s very talented, and he has such a wise mind, even though he’s only 5. The jumps are so easy; I just work with him on feeling comfortable.”
Spy Coast Farm co-owner Lisa Lourie considers Sonny one of her all-time favorite horses. “He’s just amazing,” she said. “My daughter [junior rider Julia Lourie] exercises him sometimes, and the first time she rode him she turned to me and said ‘Mom, this horse is awesome!’ ”
With his win at the Hampton Classic, Sonny will end his stellar season on a high note, taking a few months off before stepping up for the 6-year-old division at WEF this winter.
Coming Into Her Own
When Jeffery Welles first sat on Zycarla Z two years ago, he knew the mare had all the marks of a future star. Sired by Jos Lansink’s 2002 World Cup Final mount, Zandor Z, with talent and scope to spare, Zycarla had plenty of potential, but it was clear that it would take a while before all the pieces started falling into place.
So when Zycarla Z put it all together at the $30,000 Spy Coast Farm 7- & 8-Year-Old Young Jumper Championship Eastern League Finals, Welles felt thrilled.
Zycarla (Zandor Z—Acarla Z, Aramis de la Cense) didn’t touch a rail all week and beat out six horses in the jump-off, with Candice King and Skara Glen Stables’ Skara Glen Naiky D’Elca (Cumano—Birdie V, Le Condeen) taking second. As a bonus, Welles’ second ride for Wexner, Umberto (Voltaire—Jennifer, Burggraaf), took ninth.
Heading into the championship Welles wasn’t sure how the 8-year-old Zangersheide would handle the atmosphere on the grand prix field, but Zycarla held her own. “This last five or six months she’s really come together,” he said. “She went in the grand prix field twice, and that’s a challenge for these young ones. We don’t get a chance to jump in grass fields much anymore, so it’s a nice experience for her.”
Welles found the Dutch Warmblood, bred by Wit de Ap, two years ago through Javier Salvador and Leon Tyson.
“In the ring as a 7-year-old she could get very distracted, but she went well this year in Florida [at the Winter Equestrian Festival],” said Welles. “She’s the kind of horse who is very aware of her surroundings, but she showed here that she can concentrate on her job. I think in the end it’s going to make her a better horse because she’s so careful and alert. When she was younger it worked against her, but now she’s putting it all together.”