Monday, Jul. 22, 2024

Sapphire Is On Fire At Devon

The phenomenal mare and McLain Ward make short work of winning their second Grand Prix of Devon.

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In honor of today’s return of the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania) after a two-year, COVID-19 hiatus, we’re rewinding to this story from the show’s 2009 edition, where the phenomenal Sapphire and McLain Ward notched the second of two back-to-back wins in the class, then called the Grand Prix of Devon, that now bears her name.


It’s a measure of just how good McLain Ward and Sapphire are that their competitors consider it an accomplishment to even come close to beating them.

“I was thrilled to be in the same second [in jump-off times] as McLain and Sapphire. I don’t think I’ve ever come that close!” said Hillary Dobbs, who claimed second behind Ward and Sapphire in the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon.

As they do every year, fans packed the Dixon Oval to watch the grand prix on Thursday night of the Devon Horse Show, May 25-31 in Devon, Pa. Ward is a hot crowd favorite, and he didn’t disappoint, riding Sapphire to the top check and claiming fourth aboard a new star in his string, Rothchild.

“We all know what Sapphire is. We brought her here because this is a very important show in our country, and it means a lot to me to win this grand prix,” Ward said. He’s won the Grand Prix of Devon six times in 11 years, on five different horses. Sapphire also won in 2007.

Winning at Devon was also preparation for Ward and Sapphire as they head to Europe to compete on the U.S. Nations Cup team at Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany) this summer. “She’s in the prime of her life, and even though I plan her career sparingly, it’s hard to leave her in the barn every week,” he explained.

“She jumped the first round, and it felt like she was jumping around an equitation class,” Ward said.

For the jump-off, however, he definitely picked up the pace, leaving strides out everywhere he could as Sapphire’s massive gallop ate up the ground.

As Ward came down the last line, he was directly facing the scoreboard, which was counting the seconds. “The eight strides to the last jump got very tight for me—I was having to pull all the way,” he said. “It was hard because I was watching the clock at the same time, and I knew it was going to be close, so I spurred her through the timers a little bit.”

Ward knew the time he had to beat—it was the 42.56 seconds that Dobbs had posted on the rapid little Quincy B. As Sapphire crossed the finish timers, the clock stopped at 42.51 seconds—a hair faster.

“They were all fast horses, so I knew I had to take a shot right off the bat,” Dobbs said of going first in the four-horse jump-off. “I’ve struggled with going fast on this horse, and this was one of the faster clean jump-offs I’ve had on him, so I’d say this is a good step for us.”

Callan Solem was third after a quick round on the veteran Allison, with a rail in 42.88 seconds.

“I had watched McLain and saw how he had to slow down in the last line, so when I jumped into the last line, I slowed down early. I ended up a little too far off the last oxer, and we had it down,” Solem said.

“I thought she was great. She felt fresh, and she loves this venue,” Solem added. “She’s 17 now, so it’s just an honor every class I get to do with her. She obviously said tonight that she wants to keep doing this. She feels as good now as she did when she was 8. Any time you get to ride that horse in a class, it’s a good day, even if you make a mistake or she has a rail down. It’s always fun.”

Ward finished the jump-off on Rothchild, whose quick pace brought them home in 43.12 seconds, but a rail put them fourth. “I ended up standing off the last jump a bit too far and he had it down, but he’s an amazing animal,” Ward said.

Two nights later, in the $50,000 Idle Dice Open Jumper Stakes, Rothchild was unbeatable, topping a six-horse jump-off for the top check.

“I’m very excited about Rothchild,” said Ward. “Sapphire jumps like a hunter, and he jumps a little bit funky. But his heart’s in the right place, and he’s unbelievably talented and athletic.”

When Ward first tried Rothchild, 8, in Belgium at Francois Mathy’s, he passed on the horse.

“I didn’t like him; I thought he was too hot,” he said, laughing. But his father, Barney Ward, did like the horse, and had the Sweeney family of Sagamore Farm buy him for McLain to ride. “Father knows best, I guess,” Ward said wryly.

Glass Castle Is Grand

Glass Castle took quite an unusual path to the Dixon Oval at Devon, where she and Havens Schatt collected the grand hunter and regular conformation hunter tricolors.

The brown mare got her start in the show ring in Florida, on the local circuit. Michael Delfiandra showed her in the first year green division under the name MG Coca Cola when trainer Scott Williamson spotted her in early 2007.

“I thought she had quite a bit of potential. We tried her 20 minutes after the class, and [Caroline Moran] bought her the next day,” Williamson said.

With a quick name change to Glass Castle, the Belgian Warmblood mare resumed showing in the first year green division with Schatt and the amateur-owner division with Moran. But by May, she was out of action. A suspected spider bite triggered an unusual immune deficiency, and Glass Castle took time off to recuperate.

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By the time she was ready to show again, at the end of 2007, Moran had stopped competing. So Shaw Johnson Price took a chance on the lightly shown mare and bought her.

“I’ve believed in her since the day we bought her. [Williamson and Schatt] believed in her so much it was never a question for me. I think we got along just fine right away. We did a couple of adult classes in Florida [in 2008] then went right to the amateurs,” Price said. “She’s a solid horse. She comes out of the stall every day happy and quiet.”

Williamson added, “She’s really athletic and scopey. She didn’t campaign much [last year] in the second years, and she only did the regular conformation once in Florida [this year] knowing that we wanted to qualify for Devon and indoors.”

This was Glass Castle’s first Devon appearance and her third time showing at 4′.

“It’s super easy for her,” Schatt said. “The bigger the jumps, the better. In the stakes class [where some of the jumps were set to 4’3″], she jumped the first three jumps and said, ‘Oh, this is big!’ and I could feel her start to enjoy herself and get into it. She’s got a huge stride and is slow, but then explodes off the ground.”

They won the stakes class with a score of 90 to clinch the two tricolors.

Glass Castle lives at Price’s farm in Chestertown, Md. “She lives there with [two other horses and two ponies], and we do a lot of trail riding. We don’t even have a ring yet, so we ride out in the field,” Price said.

“I’m hoping that she lasts me in the amateurs for quite a few years. When she’s done with that job, there’s a possibility that my oldest daughter might do her in the children’s, but it would also be fun to breed her,” said Price, who has two daughters, ages 11 and 8.

Invincible Is Unstoppable

When Ellen Toon won both classes the first day of the amateur-owner hunter, 36 and over, division on Invincible, she went to bed with a smile on her face.

“I couldn’t believe it—what a great feeling,” she said.

“But I was aware I wasn’t home free. Staci [Arani] and Bolero had been second and third, and she’s done it to me before, where I’ve won the first two and she’s won the second two,” Toon added. “There was a lot of good competition.”

Invincible proved to be just that, however, with a third in the handy class and a win in the stakes on the second day to claim the division tricolor and the grand amateur-owner hunter championship.

“I feel really great about that horse show,” Toon said. “My horse tried so hard in every single class and was so relaxed. He struggled a little bit the first day in the schooling area because it was so crowded, but once he got in the ring, he took a deep breath and was OK.”

Toon and her husband, trainer Jimmy Toon, imported Invincible in 2006, and the flashy bay started winning in the amateurs with Ellen right away. Recently, however, Invincible has upped his game even more.

“He finished off last year with such a bang—champion and grand champion at [the Pennsylvania National] and Capital Challenge [Md.] and then champion at the National Horse Show [N.Y.]. That was amazing. He’d always been good, but he really became another horse in the fall. He put all his effort into his jump and was so confident,” Toon said.

Rodney Bross helps Ellen and Jimmy with Invincible and Ellen’s other amateur horse, Attaché. “It’s all of our efforts that make this possible. I so appreciate what Rodney and Jimmy do for me,” Ellen said.


Grisset Earns Her Keep

Alissa Kinsey has a traveling road show going. “Showing is all I do. I go all over the country trying to win prize money to support myself and my horses,” she said.

Kinsey’s coffers were somewhat fuller after Devon, since she won the NAL Adult Jumper Classic and earned the adult amateur jumper championship aboard Grisset.

“Grisset pays all the bills!” she said, laughing.

Kinsey, 30, has a home base in Ft. Myers, Fla., but spends most  of the time on the road with her five horses.

“I do the adults, and I dabble in the amateurs. All the horses are capable [of the amateur-owner division], but I keep a heavy show schedule and I don’t want to overdo it with them. The lower height is easier.

“I can’t afford to have grooms or trainers or any of that kind of thing,” she added. “If I want to stay in this and keep showing, I have to do the work. And I really don’t like people taking care of my horses anyway. I know every bump on their bodies, and I like it that way. I do everything.”

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Kinsey has had Grisset, a 12-year-old Hanoverian, for three years. She almost didn’t get the chance to own the bay mare when she found her in Germany. “She was out of my price range, but my friends in Germany were kind enough to work a deal so I could get her. It took me a year to pay her off. She just had a way about her that she knew her job and wanted to do it,” Kinsey said.

This was Kinsey’s first Devon experience. While she showed in the hunters and equitation as a junior and qualified to show there, her horses always got sold or hurt before the show. Winning the tricolor was thrilling for her.

“It’s another accomplishment I wanted for Grisset,” she said. She and Grisset were also the adult amateur jumper, 18-35, circuit champions at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.).


A Muddy Mess Means Another Day   

The schedule at Devon had some unprecedented last-minute adjustments. When the sun came up over the Dixon Oval on Friday, May 29, it was obvious that thunderstorms in the night had rendered the footing unrideable, with deep mud and puddles.

“Thursday night after the grand prix, the ring was dragged and prepared for the Saddlebred ‘after show’ exercise time,” said Peter Doubleday, who manages the show alongside David Distler. “The ring was prepared for the Friday session at about 1 a.m. with an eye on the weather. But the rain came big-time, and we were unable to seal or blade the ring in time—when this is done the water rolls right off and down the drains [in the ring].

“Speaking of drains—that was our big problem in removing surface water on Friday.  Too much ring material gathered in the drains, and we had to call in our plumbers with their heavy-duty equipment to clear the drains and pipes. The whole process was an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing,” he added.

Distler and Doubleday, after getting special permission from the U.S. Equestrian Federation for an exemption from the mileage rule, announced that the amateur-owner hunter divisions would be postponed. The usual Friday classes would run on Saturday morning, while the show would be extended to Sunday morning for the second day of amateur-owner hunter classes.

“Everything else went as planned with some make-up time during the Friday evening performance,” Doubleday said.

“I think that David and Peter did an amazing job to make it all work, and the footing on Saturday and Sunday was super,” said trainer Havens Schatt.

“I give the horse show [management] a lot of credit for making the effort and doing something as unusual as they did. I’m sure it was very difficult for them to pull that off, but they did it, and they did it with style. There weren’t spectators on Sunday, but the sponsors dressed up and came out to award trophies, which was so nice of them. They maintained all the traditions that make Devon so special,” said amateur rider Ellen Toon.


Springsteen Scores Her First Derby Victory

It’s not easy to top a grand junior hunter championship at the Devon Horse Show, but Jessica Springsteen and Tiziano managed to find a way. The pair stuck around for an extra day after junior weekend to win the ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby on May 24 in Devon, Pa.

“I like doing different classes like this, and I hadn’t won [a derby] yet,” said Springsteen, 17. “It’s really exciting to win out here.”

After last year’s class proved tremendously popular, not wrapping up until the wee hours of the morning, show management limited this year’s derby to 20 entries on a first come, first served basis. But a few late scratches meant that only 16 horses started, with nine of them piloted by juniors.

Springsteen found herself lying second behind Samantha Schaefer and Lazy Sunday after a strong classic round.

Blake Alder’s relatively inviting handy course started with an open line and quickly turned technical. Riders traversed through a box made up of eight delicate, airy verticals. After jumping into the box they could either ride out over a short, sharp bending line, or take a more straightforward route, and most of the riders rose to the challenge, selecting the former. The course finished with a bounce over another pair of airy verticals and then a turn back to trot over a natural log three strides before exiting the ring.

Despite the tricky elements, there were few mistakes among the 12 horses returning for the handy trip.

Jennifer Alfano and Helen Lenahan’s Sting bounced from fourth to second after striking up a good gallop to the first fence and maintaining a forward pace even through the handier second half of the course.

“He was definitely pretty frisky in the first round in that ring under the lights,” said Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y. “But he came back in and was absolutely perfect.”

Springsteen’s brazen second round earned her 10 bonus points from judges Linda Hough and Jimmy Torano and 9 from judges Jimmy Clapperton and Mark Jungherr, clinching the blue.

“It’s always our goal to make it handy enough that she can score the 10 without risking a fault doing it,” said Stacia Madden, who coaches Springsteen along with fellow Beacon Hill trainers Max Amaya and Krista Fruendlich.

“Jessie’s been dying to win one of these derbies. I just had to give her a plan that didn’t screw it up for her.”

Springsteen, Colts Neck, N.J., contracted the derby bug at the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.) and finished fifth at the $50,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby in Wellington, Fla., after scoring one of those 10s. Now she’s set her sights on qualifying for the final in Lexington, Ky., Aug. 21-22.

Springsteen’s victory marks the second consecutive year that a junior has topped the biggest hunter class at Devon, with Katherine Newman taking blue last year aboard Mimi Abel-Smith’s Almelo.

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