Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

Merlin Makes Magic At The Hampton Classic


Jeffery Welles rides to a one-two Young Jumper Championship finish.


The future looks bright for Jeffery Welles. He guided two young horses to the two top spots in the 5-year-old Young Jumper Championships Eastern League Finals at the Hampton Classic, Aug. 26-Sept. 2 in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Welles rode Noel Love Gross’ Merlin (Hors La Loi II—Romilia, Emilton) to win and Triton Venture’s Scarlett (Perhaps van het Molenvondel—Morganne du Petit Vivier, Eclair des Bois) to the second spot.
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Jeffery Welles rides to a one-two Young Jumper Championship finish.

The future looks bright for Jeffery Welles. He guided two young horses to the two top spots in the 5-year-old Young Jumper Championships Eastern League Finals at the Hampton Classic, Aug. 26-Sept. 2 in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Welles rode Noel Love Gross’ Merlin (Hors La Loi II—Romilia, Emilton) to win and Triton Venture’s Scarlett (Perhaps van het Molenvondel—Morganne du Petit Vivier, Eclair des Bois) to the second spot.

Welles’ mounts were the only competitors to put in three flawless rounds over the week. Merlin edged out his stablemate in the jump-off by zipping through the timers just .47 seconds quicker than Scarlett.

“I was so happy with how Merlin and Scarlett handled themselves,” said Welles. “It’s hard for these young ones in the big grass field, but Merlin only looked around a bit. Scarlett is greener—Garreth Gair and I just brought her over from Europe last year and she hasn’t done as much as Merlin—but she kept herself together very well.”

Sam Edelman of S&L Farms imported Merlin from Holland, and the horse was competing success-fully in 5-year-old classes earlier this year when he caught Welles’ eye. “I saw Darragh [Kerins] on him at the Winter Equestrian Festival,” he recalled. “He was so scopey and brave, I liked him immediately. Merlin is very sensitive which suits me. I like horses with a lot of blood.”

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Welles and Merlin have only had five shows to get to know each other, but they’ve earned top placings, winning two of the 5-year-old classes at HITS-on-the-Hudson (N.Y.) this summer. After the easy season both chestnuts will have a few months to stand out in the field and enjoy their youth until WEF starts up again in Florida.

The top 6-year-old, Equinimity LLC’s Alsvid—ridden by James Benedetto—also had a flawless week in Bridgehampton. The formidable 16.2-hand horse earned the championship after the other fault-free competitor, Missy Clark and North Run’s Bazooka de Muze with John Brennan, pulled a single rail in the jump-off.

An ecstatic Benedetto couldn’t stop praising his mount. “He has outstanding technique and style and tons of scope and power,” said Benedetto. “Plus he’s brave as a lion. He’s a solid competitor and I believe he has a very bright future.”

The striking black gelding didn’t bat an eye on the daunting grand prix field during the final round of the championship, showing off his scope as he easily negotiated the course, clearing each fence by a large margin.

Benedetto found Alsvid (Escudo I—Adonca, Azur) as a 4-year-old in Belgium. “I tried him in a pen that was so small that after you cleared the cross-rail you had to dismantle it in order to go back and do it again,” recalled Benedetto. “But he was fantastic. I knew then he was perfect.”

This year Benedetto and Alsvid have been a very consistent team, earning good ribbons during WEF and winning a 6-year-old class at the Garden State Horse Show (N.J.).

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“The hardest part about this horse is just forcing myself to wait,” said Benedetto. “He’s so game, I can’t wait to try him in the bigger classes. But the young jumper program is great for stifling us from rushing too fast and not having a horse at the end of the rainbow, so to speak.”

Plenty of fans were on hand to cheer on Benedetto and Alsvid, who hail from nearby Northport, N.Y. Benedetto was so impressed by “Ernie” that he snagged his 2-year-old brother, who will stay in Holland until he turns 4. “If he’s half as good as Ernie is he’s going to be fantastic,” said Benedetto.

In the 7- and 8-year-old championship, it was Lisa Silverman’s Ardeche van de Zelm who took home the top check. The 7-year-old gelding (Gran Corrado—Ushi van de Zelm, Darco) was the only horse in the division who didn’t post a single fault all week.

“He’s just amazing,” said Silverman. “I’m just the lucky jockey. The best thing about this horse is his attitude. He rarely gets flustered, and he’s got such a big heart. Plus, knock on wood, he’s sound and strong. He’s built like a rock.”

When Silverman first watched a video of the Belgian Warmblood performing she knew he was special, and when she tried him in Belgium she fell in love. “I had broken my foot two weeks before I tried him,” recalled Silverman. “I had so much trouble with my balance because of the brace on my foot. But I knew that he was fantastic—just the nicest, most athletic horse I’ve ever sat on.”

In addition to contesting the YJC classes, Ardeche van de Zelm has been a reliable partner for Silverman in the amateur-owner divisions all season. He tagged along when Silverman traveled to Europe to compete in the Samsung Super League Nations Cup tour, contesting 7-year-old and 1.40-meter classes in La Baule (France), St. Gallen (Switzerland), and Rome (Italy).

“We wanted this year to be about experience,” said Silverman. “Everywhere he went he was such a gentleman and just as special as I hoped he’d be.”

Mollie Bailey

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