He and Cristallo add another international win to their impressive résumé.
Richard Spooner isn’t picky about where he gets his wins, but it was especially fitting for “The Master of Faster” to finish first during the fifth leg of the Global Champions Tour in Monte Carlo, Monaco—the Mecca of Formula One auto racing.
Spooner, Agua Dulce, Calif., and Cristallo laid down a solid but seemingly-beatable jump-off round on June 27 in the $399,641 GCT Grand Prix Of Monaco, but their performance proved deceptively fast, as none of the three experienced pairs to follow could match it.
“I certainly can’t complain about anything at this show, especially now that I’ve won,” Spooner said, laughing. “It’s a great event.”
The Global Champions Tour visits some truly impressive urban venues, but Monaco is something special. Taking over part of the road that’s used for the famous Formula One pits, the show had the glorious backdrop of the royal palace in one direction and Port Hercule in the other. Attended by the Royal Family, the principality hosted an unforgettable event.
The first round of the grand prix produced nine clean trips, five with 1 time penalty and a quartet of fast 4-faulters. All three U.S. contestants made the cut, although Lauren Hough and Urgent were one of those carrying faults through. But Laura Kraut with Anthem and Spooner aboard Cristallo finished clear. Spooner’s form had already improved significantly from Cannes (France), and he scored a third place on Pako the day before in the Prix Massimo Dutti.
Frank Rothenberger’s first-round GCT course included plenty of trouble spots. A double combination jumped toward the warm-up ring at fence 3 and a flimsy ornamental gate at fence 6 were the worst culprits for thinning the field.
As usual, Rothenberger used combinations heading directly toward the crowd, but in the second round he tried a trick more often practiced by cross-country designers—reversing the course. Fence 2, an oxer off a short turn, was the unmistakable bogey fence.
It took a rookie grand prix horse to show that a clear round was even possible. Irish rider Jessica Kürten had decided to enter Castle Forbes Myrtille Poulais, who had never started in a grand prix before. Carrying 1 time fault from the previous course, Kürten was the first to go clear in the second round.
Hough and the green Urgent couldn’t quite better their first round score, but the young horse tried hard for his rider and finished on a respectable eight-fault total. Kraut’s 18-year-old Anthem didn’t jump quite so well, and they garnered 13 faults.
“I think that two full rounds at this height are probably too much for him now, and I’m going to drop him down a level,” Kraut said of her long-time partner. “One round with short course jump-offs from now on. He’s been a great servant and deserves to be looked after now.”
As riders continued to fault, it was looking as if Kürten’s 1 penalty would be good enough for the win. But the last five riders into the arena managed to produce four more clean rounds, and a timed jump-off was on.
It would have been hard to imagine a more luminary collection of riders going against the clock—Spooner, Brazilians Alvaro de Miranda and Rodrigo Pessoa and the British veteran John Whitaker. They likely had more major title wins between them than the rest of the field put together, so the jump-off lacked nothing in nail-biting excitement.
Spooner led off with Show Jumping Syndications’ Cristallo, and despite his reputation for speed, he seemed to have left a little bit of room for the others when the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding stopped the clock on 35.46 seconds. But Pessoa’s Let’s Fly, who had beaten Spooner in the Grand Prix Of Rome (Italy), couldn’t repeat the feat and was more than a second slower.
The GCT Rio De Janeiro (Brazil) organizer, “Doda” de Miranda, had a crack on his good mare AD Picolien Zeldenrust and beat his compatriot, but he still couldn’t catch Spooner’s time.
Whitaker was last to go on the giant Irish-bred Casino, winner of a speed class with son Robert in Zurich (Switzerland). John used every bit of guile and skill and did beat the time, but they lowered the last fence in a heartbreaking fashion, leaving Spooner the successful defender of the title he won last year.
Spooner doesn’t plan to attend the GCT Final in Doha, Qatar, however.
“Doha is a very long journey for us,” he admitted. “As for Cristallo, he can get a bit cranky. But for the past few months my wife has been doing all of the homework, and I just show him. He’s gone a lot better since I turned the ride over to her!”
Smolders Sets The Tone
A freak thunderstorm that had nearly ruined Friday’s proceedings at the Jumping International Of Monte Carlo thankfully passed by on grand prix day in Monaco, and the crowd warmed up for the feature with the 1.50-meter Prix Gulf Horizon Group.
Dutch rider Harry Smolders came out on top in a three-horse jump-off aboard Exquis Powerfee, and he now has the distinction of being the first rider on the 2009 Global Champions Tour to win two classes at the same show. More than $20,000 better off for his efforts, Smolders didn’t have to look too far for inspiration as to how to spend it.
“I’d quite like one of those yachts,” he joked, pointing at the glittering array in Port Hercule. “But I think even if I win the grand prix as well, it’ll only be enough for a very small one, maybe the dinghy.
“Actually, my groom says I must give her the money to buy some new things for the horses,” he admitted.
The Gulf Horizon Group sponsored the special class as partners in a new friendship initiative with the Global Champions Tour. The group works to promote better cultural relations between the Middle East and the rest of the world using the GCT as a vehicle. Riders all signed a sponsored fence before the grand prix to show support for the new initiative.