Oct. 6 - Gladstone, N.J.
Quite a bit of drama accompanied the conclusion of the Platinum Performance/U.S. Equestrian Federation Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East, but when the dust settled, Michael Hughes ended up with the title.
In Phase 3, a track that replicated the final round course of the 2013 Rolex FEI World Cup Final but incorporated the required open water, the leader after the flat and gymnastics phases, Lillie Keenan, was eliminated after refusals at a plank fence and at the open water.
With a stellar Phase 3 trip, Michael Hughes, of Allendale, N.J.,, moved up from fourth to the lead. The John Brennan and Missy Clark trainee and Drumnacross Farm LTD’s Zagreb produced an immaculate effort over the 12-obstacle course to score 190 and finish on a three-phase total of 414 and book their place into the final four.
“I knew I was in the top four [going into Phase 3],” said Hughes of his strategy for the morning session. “I just wanted to maintain that position.”
Mattias Tromp of North Salem, N.Y., who is trained by Andre Dignelli, cantered into the Dick and Jane Brown Arena standing in third place. Riding Chasonette Farm, LLC's Zentina B, the 18-year-old stylishly answered all the questions put forth by the judges to score 184 and finish on a three-phase score of 410.
Charlotte Jacobs, of East Aurora, N.Y., who is also trained by Brennan and Clark, and North Star's Stallone VDL entered Phase 3 in second place. Despite lowering a rail at the Swedish oxer the pair were able to earn a Phase 3 score of 176 and finish three phases on overall total of 403.
Allison Toffolon of Bronxville, N.Y., and her own Class Action entered Phase 3 just outside of a qualifying position in fifth place. The Dignelli-trained paired also had a rail but their solid performance over the rest of the challenging track earned them a 174 and a three phase score of 397 vaulted them into a coveted finals place.
Like the individual medal rounds in the World Equestrian Games, the final rounds of the USEF Talent Search Finals see the top four riders start over on a clean slate and jump a round on each other’s horses.
After Jacobs and Stallone VDL had an uncharacteristic refusal resulting in a fall of Jacobs at Fence 3 and subsequent refusals by Stallone VDL with Tromp and Hughes, trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan made the decision in consultation with management and the judges to withdraw Stallone VDL from the remainder of Phase 4.
It was determined that no scores would be counted for the gelding and the final placings would be decided by the scores produced on Hughes', Tromp 's and Toffolon's horses.
“The welfare of the horse comes first,” said Beard of Stallone VDL, who was later diagnosed with a strained muscle but not found to have a serious injury. “It wasn’t in his best interest to try one more time.”
Hughes not only guided his own horse around the course excellently but also found a rapport with the other finalist’s partners. With his own Zagreb, the 17-year-old produced a confident and stylish round. He followed that up with a polished effort on Zentina B and completed the day on Class Action with a forward and flowing round.
“When we got to the top four I was hoping for consistent rounds within the time allowed and no rails down,” said Hughes of his plan for the final phase.
Hughes, who was a team gold medalist at the 2013 Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North, will head to many of the top equitation finals this fall but feels that the challenges presented at the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals are extremely important.
“I think it really challenges us,” said Hughes. “Having to prepare your horse and to walk [the courses] on your own, and with deciding for the gymnastics if are you going to trot in or canter, it’s a good challenge.”
Tromp rode to second-place honors after producing three polished trips in Phase 4. “My plan in the beginning was to be in the top five or 10 so I had a shot for the final four,” said Tromp of his plan for the week. “I was happy with my performance.”
Toffolon finished the weekend in third place after scoring. Additionally, the 17-year-old was thrilled when Class Action was awarded the Grappa Award as Best Horse in the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East.
“I know he's a straight-forward horse, and he would be good for [Hughes, Tromp, and Jacobs]," said Toffolon.
Jacobs rebounded quickly from her fall from Stallone VDL to produce solid efforts with her competitor's horses and finish in fourth place.
Video-on-Demand from the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East can be found on the USEFNetwork.com presented by SmartPak. To learn more about the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals visit the USEF website.