Leslie Howard picks up two checks in New Jersey to start the spring season.
Coming off a win in the $25,000 Ted Grant Welcome Stakes earlier in the week, Leslie Howard and Lennox Lewis 2 were the favorites going into the $50,000 Junior Essex Troop Grand Prix.
So it was no surprise when the pair won the main event and successfully completed a clean sweep of grand prix classes at the Garden State Horse Show, April 29-May 3 in Augusta, N.J.
Howard, 52, has shown at the Garden State Horse Show—originally the Junior Essex Troop Horse Show—since she was 8 years old, but it was her first win in the grand prix there. “I’ve been coming to this horse show forever. They do a nice job,” she said.
“I was sort of unlucky to have a rail in the first round with [Jeans Glove Varnel], but I was lucky to go clean on Lennox because he rattled the triple combination pretty good. It was a nice course. This is a good place to bring them back [from Florida] and give them a nice easy grand prix,” she said.
Drawing a mixed lot of rookie riders and Olympic veterans, the field of 24 was narrowed down to nine for the jump-off. Carolyn Curcio was the first to return, jumping in just her third grand prix start. She and Blast Off managed to keep the rails in the cups until the final fence.
The dropped rail at that vertical was a foreshadowing of future rounds. Spectators would soon discover that the last line asked the toughest question. It could be ridden in six or seven strides, but riders proved that fast and flat might pull a rail while slow and round could add too much time.
Curcio posted a respectable four-fault finish in 43.05 seconds. Lacy Morrone-Cramer and Ulyssess Van De Krekebeke got off to a shaky start after pulling a rail at the first jump. The pair finished with 4 faults in 46.62 seconds.
McLain Ward and the speedy veteran Goldika 559 looked as if they were going to be the first to post a clear round in the jump-off as they powered through the twisting course. But as Goldika galloped the last line in six strides and scaled the last jump, the bay mare flattened slightly and pulled the top rail of the vertical. The four-fault finish would prove to be the fastest time of the day, and the pair ultimately placed fourth.
Judy Garofalo-Torres was the first rider to keep the rails in the cups. Riding Oliver III, Garofalo-Torres rode a conservative course, a decision that paid off when they posted a clear round. Their time of 45.92 seconds wouldn’t hold up against the remaining horses but would be good enough for third.
Howard started her jump-off on a good gallop with Lennox Lewis 2. She made up time with tight turns and galloped where she could. Howard chose to ride the final line in seven strides, and as Lennox Lewis 2 rocked back and easily cleared the vertical, the pair jumped to the head of the class. The clock stopped in 39.75 seconds.
“Lenny is a really fast horse across the ground. When Goldika had the rail it sort of opened up the door for me,” Howard said. Lennox Lewis 2 is a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Laureatus—Bonja).
“Goldika and Lenny have sort of the same stride. McLain left out the stride to the last jump and had it down, as did the first girl. I thought I could go a little bit slower, a little more conservative, and still sneak in with the win,” added Howard.
Kevin Babington, David Tromp and Seth Vallhonrat attempted to steal the first-place purse, but each rider exited the ring with a rail in the dirt.
The final rider, Peter Leone, came in aboard Sequoyah Farms Utopia, a 12-year-old Belgian mare by Emillion and owned by Greg and Kim Watkins. Leone knew it was going to be tough to beat Howard’s speed on Lennox Lewis 2.
Leone started with a forward stride and a big first jump. Quick turns helped make up for Utopia’s slower ground speed, and Leone easily cantered six strides to the final vertical and jumped it clear. As the pair galloped through the timers, the clock stopped and he would have to settle for second.
“I did as tight or tighter turns than Leslie, and I did fewer strides than Leslie. But at the end of the day it boils down to the fact that some horses are just quicker across the ground than others, and Leslie’s is a fast type,” Leone said