Popeye K Kicks Off Washington With Grand Championship Honors

Nov 14, 2006 - 10:00 PM

After an off week at the Pennsylvania National, Popeye K and Tommy Serio pulled it together at the Washington International Horse Show to sweep the regular conformation division and take grand championship honors, Oct. 24-29 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

“He won the first year greens in 2003, and it’s great to come back as a regular hunter,” said Serio. “It’s always a thrill to win at a show of this caliber. Last week wasn’t as good for either of us, so this was a good one to end up on. I did ride him in between shows, just to reassure him. I didn’t do anything different; I just gave him another ride when usually I would leave him off between shows. I went right back to the basics, hopped over a few things, went for a trail ride, and then brought him here.”

For a stallion, the overwhelming show atmosphere can be quite stressful, but Popeye K handles it well. “He’s usually pretty peaceful, but on the first night a horse ran into him in the warm-up ring. That made him a little bit spooky of horses coming toward him,” said Serio.

Popeye K’s co-owner, Rachel Spencer, of Keswick, Va., enjoys the flashy stallion’s easy-going disposition, along with his award-winning conformation. “Tommy manages him very well and tries to keep everything the same when handling him. But he definitely has a great temperament,” said Spencer, who bought the 9-year-old stallion in 2003.

Popeye K attended the Dutch approvals in September at Iron Spring Farm in Pennsylvania. The approvals included a dressage test, something new for Serio.

“We practiced for two days; Tommy hasn’t done a dressage test since his Pony Club days. He was pretty nervous,” said Spencer with a smile.

Along with the dressage test, the stallion had to produce a full set of perfect X-rays, perform free-jumping tests, and in-hand and breeding evaluations.

The Canadian-bred stallion has been grand champion at nearly every show he’s attended–minus one. “He’s been grand everywhere except Devon [Pa.]. That’s the next one we really want!” added Spencer.

Popeye K’s foals have been doing exceptionally well too, especially in Canada.

At last year’s Royal Winter Fair, Popeye K had five of the top 10 in the Governor Generals Cup and the top three in the Lt. Governors Cup, earning him get of sire honors in 2003 and 2005.

Game On
Serio wasn’t the only rider on top of his game this week; Scott Stewart clinched the leading hunter rider honors. This was the third time Stewart received this award, last year being the most recent.

Stewart rode Karen Long-Dwight’s Ashton to the green conformation tricolor, his only championship at the show, but high placings on his other rides kept him 3 points ahead of John French in the leading rider standings.

Stewart, who’s been showing professionally for the past 22 years, won the prestigious award in 2003 and 2005, having taken 2004 off after breaking his ankle.

Stewart’s partner, Ken Berkley, usually rides Ashton (by Lord Sinclair). “I sort of took him when Compliment was sold so I could have a horse to ride in the division,” said Stewart jokingly.

Ashton and Stewart were reserve cham-pions at the Middleburg Classic (Va.). “He’s gotten better every week. He’s really quite easy to ride. I think he’s the easiest one we have. He’s getting into the groove and is more relaxed; it’s so easy for him that 3’6″ is nothing and sometimes he’s too casual. But this week the jumps were wider and seemed bigger than the other places, so he got to try harder,” said Stewart.

French snagged two championships at the show, winning the regular working division on Laura Wasserman’s Overseas and the second year green division on Lesley Bulechek’s Vida Blue. French and Vida Blue were also co-grand green champions with Lee Kellogg’s Sterling, who won the first year green championship.

French almost didn’t ride Vida Blue at Washington and admitted it’s his first time showing there in 10 years. “Sometimes it’s a bit of a hassle to come from California, and we were debating whether or not to come. Entries were closing, and I thought I had better just send them in; maybe we’ll change our minds. Luckily, we got them in on time, and it was a good thing we changed our minds! It was an amazing circuit so far, we couldn’t ask for her to go any better,” said French.

“She was the most relaxed here,” continued French. “At Capital Challenge [Md.] and Harrisburg in the first class, she was a little bit spooky. Here, she loved this footing, she loved the ring and in her first class, she came in and was totally relaxed and won.”

French sold Overseas, his other championship ride, to Wasserman and her trainer Archie Cox three weeks ago. “Archie said, ‘I think we’re bringing Overseas, going to fly him out to do the workings at Washington,'” said French. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re crazy bringing him all the way back here to show.’ We hadn’t done any other shows. They wanted to see how he’d be back here; he’d never been indoors or anything.”

Seeing that it was the gelding’s first indoor show, French was amazed with their performance. “In the stake, I must say, it was probably the best round of my life. It felt incredible. He won by 8 points. His average was a little over 90 and was the highest score of the show. I should have never sold him!” said French with a laugh.

Co-grand champion Sterling, owned by Kellogg, is a steel gray, Westphalian gelding who was imported last year after having stood at stud in Germany.

“He can drive, he unicorns, he does drills. At the stallion station in Germany, they had him do everything,” said trainer and rider Jennifer Bauersachs. “He bred 60 mares last year before we got him, but he never acts like a stallion.”

Competing in the hunters is a relatively new experience for Sterling. “He really didn’t know anything about doing the hunters. We didn’t have him qualified for Devon, but he won a bunch at home. Then I broke my arm, so he didn’t do anything all summer. His first show back was Monmouth [N.J.]. This is probably his 11th show doing the greens, so he’s pretty amazing,” she said.

Though this was Bauersachs’ first championship at Washington, she’s trained Kellogg and her horse Gifted to numerous wins in the amateur-owner division at many shows. Sterling’s victory proved special to Kellogg, who couldn’t attend the show because she was getting married on Sunday. “She’s a special client. She’s been with me for a long time now, and we’ve been looking for a horse that is going to replace Gifted some day. I think this is the one,” said Bauersachs.

Blue Is In Fashion
Bridget Hallman and Gray Slipper added yet another championship to their ever-growing list of wins this season. This year the pair won championships at Middleburg Classic and Capital Challenge and tied for grand championship honors at Devon. The placid gray gelding wowed the judges at Washington with his tremendous scope and rhythmical canter, walking away with the amateur-owner, 18-35, tricolor.

“We’ve never been champion here before; he feels so comfortable in this ring,” said Hallman. “He just keeps getting better and better. I was nervous today, probably a little more than past shows because I really wanted to finish our season well.”

Gray Slipper also took the reserve cham-pionship in the regular working division with Louise Serio.

Though the gelding appears easy-going around the in-gate, he rises to the occasion when it’s show time. “He knows when the pressure’s on, and I think he knew it was a tight race. He gets in this great rhythm, and I just try and stay out of his way. Some days he just amazes me with his scope and fire in the ring, even though he just lopes down to the jumps,” said Hallman of the 10-year-old Belgian-bred gelding.

Caroline Clark Morrison, Iron Station, N.C., and her Milan won top honors in the amateur-owner, 36 and over, division, beating out Reese and Shaw Johnson Price for the tricolor.

Morrison’s owned the 11-year-old Hanoverian for a year, buying him from Archie Cox after trying numerous horses. The pair’s had a successful year getting to know each other, having had several wins at Atlanta Spring Classic (Ga.) and on the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit in Florida.

“[Trainer] Jack Towell does a great job; he tries so hard and cares so much. He really thinks about the horse,” said Morrison, who hasn’t shown at Washington since 2000, when she took time off to get married and start a family.

“I have a great husband, and it’s hard to leave my 18-month-old baby, but I have great people who help me out and allow me to do this,” she added.

Adults Aim For Blue
Alexandra Cherubini conquered a tough first-round course to clinch the win in the $10,000 Adult Amateur Jumper Championship aboard her black, Dutch Warmblood Tiny Toon.

The Boston, Mass., native had the misfortune of riding first, but she didn’t let that get in her way as she pulled in a clear round. She had her game face on when she returned for the jump-off, also the first rider to go, and was the only one to jump clear.

Cherubini watched five more riders go, hoping that none would beat her time of 31.74 seconds. The crowd gasped and began cheering for Kali Jerman and her Canon, but then realized she’d pulled a rail on the last fence, though she had a lightening-fast time of 27.97 seconds.

“This was definitely one of my biggest wins,” said Cherubini, 29, who hasn’t shown at Washington since she was a junior. She also didn’t mind going first for both rounds.

“The pressure was OK, but I didn’t have time to get nervous,” she said. “The first round [time] was tight but not unforgiving, and even though I planned for five strides on the first line, I got four, which saved some time. My plan for the jump-off was to be careful and clear. She’s been jumping great today,” said Cherubini.

The ex-open speed horse was begging for mints as soon as she came out of the ring, apparently pleased with her success. “She’s a diva!” said Cherubini with a smile.

Victoria Watters and her Eye Remember Rio performed flawlessly, scoring two rounds of 88 to take the $10,000 Adult Amateur Hunter Championship. “I’d been called back for the past three years [for the final round], but I’d messed up each time, and last year I said, ‘Next year I’m coming back and winning!’ ” said Watters laughing.

Watters was second in the WCHR Adult Amateur Hunter Classic at the Capital Challenge (Md.) and was second in this class at Washington last year. “I don’t buy pictures with red ribbons, but now I’m ready to buy a picture!” joked Watters.

Watters, who owns Wattership Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been showing the 10-year-old gelding (by Rio Grande) for the past five years.

Emily Daily

Smolders Smokes ‘Em In The President’s Cup
Harrie Smolders went second in the nine-horse jump-off of the $100,000 President’s Cup and showed the spectators at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, just why he’s called the “Flying Dutchman.”

After Allison and Callen Solem posted 4 faults in 34.22 seconds, Smolders stepped into the ring aboard Exquis Oliver Q. He galloped all out over the twisting track and stopped the clock in 30.55 seconds with his chestnut stallion.

“With these fast riders I wanted to put the pressure on them and not make it too easy for them to win,” said Smolders. “So I think I did the right thing.”
Then he sat back to see if any of the remaining seven competitors could catch him.

No one could–not Todd Minikus, not Ken Berkley and not Eliza Shuford.

Shuford, however, gave the enthusiastic crowd something to cheer about after she was almost unseated from Larentino over the second fence on the seven-element jump-off course. She rebounded from hitting the jump standard and finished her aggressive ride without stirrups and without any further rails for eventual fourth place (4/33.97).

After Laura Kraut and Miss Independent gamely tried to catch Smolders (8/31.77), Beezie Madden and Desilvio, her 11-year-old Dutch Warmbood, jumped into second place with just one rail in 33.50 seconds.

“I didn’t think I’d have a big chance of being faster than Harrie,” said Madden. “My horse is very scopey and has a long, slow stride. But I did want to put enough pressure on Lauren [Hough] that she would have to go a little to beat me if I went clear.”

After Michael Whitaker and Insultech Portofino took two rails in 33.91 seconds, Hough entered the ring.

“Normally, I’m not one to ride for second. But before I went into the ring I decided I’d look at the bigger picture, which is going to the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas,” she said. “In order to beat Harrie, I’d have to take every risk possible. And with no other riders clear, I thought about those 17 points and decided that was a wiser decision today. That should put me into the lead in the [East Coast League] standings.”

Hough and Casadora, her 10-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare (by Indoctro) posted a conservative clear round for second place (0/36.62), knocking Madden and Desilvio to third.

This is Casadora’s third year in grand prix ranks, and the chestnut mare has shown a fondness for the Verizon Center, as she was second in this class in 2004. “She’s a great horse and very competitive, and I’m lucky to have her,” added Hough, who also claimed the show’s leading open jumper rider title.

This was Smolders’ first World Cup qualifier victory, which puts him one step closer to his goal of the FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final in Las Vegas.

He got the ride on Exquis Oliver Q, 10, a Dutch Warmblood (by Quattro) after the 2004 Athens Olympics where the chestnut competed on the Japanese team.

When asked if Smolders considered his jump-off time unbeatable, he said, “I’m never sure until the last one was finished. My horse is maybe not the fastest horse, but today he was. To the last [oxer] I took some risks. I saw the distance around the corner and I went for it. Luckily, he made it.”

Tricia Booker

Category: Horse Shows

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