Throwback Thursday: Rodney Jenkins And San Felipe Were Classic In Every Sense Of The Word

Jun 4, 2020 - 8:00 AM
San Felipe and Rodney Jenkins easily navigated the large bank during the regular working hunter classic at Upperville in 1974. Photo by Bob Foster

The hunter courses at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show (Va.) are some of the most picturesque in history, with the classic oak trees shading the track. But 40 years ago, there was a jump on the course that seemed to belong more on a cross-country course than in a hunter ring.

In 1974, Upperville featured a large bank in both the amateur-owner and regular working hunter classic rounds. The Chronicle report from the show—written by Ruth Meredith and appearing in the June 21, 1974 issue of the Chronicle—discussed it:

“Upperville Colt and Horse Show, the oldest show in the United States and traditionally one of the outstanding hunter shows, lived up to its past reputation, then shattered some of the traditions to move to greater heights with it’s amateur owner hunter classic and the $5,000 hunter classic plus the piece de resistance, the $15,000 American show jumping championship.

“Conversation throughout the four days of the hunter show in the historic Grafton Farm ring with its stately oaks, centered around the greatly improved fences, the excellent condition of the grounds and the ‘bank.’ This jump was used only during the two classics, the short way for the amateur owners and the long way for the older four foot horses, and proved to be the jump that decided the winner and delighted the spectators.

Gozzi and Bernie Traurig won the hunter
classic that included the bank in 1974.

“The hunter classic, over the long bigger course that included the piano step side of the bank, was a tight contest to the final count down between Winter Place Farm’s reserve working hunter champion Gozzi, shown throughout the show by Bernie Traurig, and Mr. and Mrs. Morton’s San Felipe, lightly shown during the regular division.

“Only one-sixth of a point separated the two at the conclusion of the classic with Bernie Traurig on Gozzi taking the honors over Rodney Jenkins’ ridden San Felipe winner of the Suncoast Classic in Florida.”

The famous Gozzi had won the regular working tricolor the year before with Traurig riding, but in ’74, Traurig and Royal Blue claimed that championship, as they did in 1975 as well. San Felipe had to wait until 1977 to take those honors with Jenkins riding.

San Felipe was a Thoroughbred owned by Morton Turbow and his daughter Pam, who is now show manager and judge Pam Rush. The gray gelding was imported from a Puerto Rico racing farm to be Rush’s junior hunter. “We had some contacts in Puerto Rico who happened to be visiting saw the horse, and they said he was unbelievably scopey,” Rush explained. “So we brought him from Puerto Rico to Florida.”

Rush said San Felipe (Irish Lancer—Shoenail) made quite a nice first impression his first winter competing as a hunter. “He went to the Florida circuit with Rodney Bross riding him, and the only green first year green hunter class that Rodney Jenkins did not win during the Florida circuit, San Felipe and Rodney Bross won.”

Turbow offered Jenkins the ride on the horse not long after that show, and the pair went on to find major success in the second year green and regular working hunter divisions for years. In 1978, San Felipe was sold as a junior jumper to Canada. In 1986, he retired and returned to Rush in Jacksonville, Fla., where he lived until 1989.

Rush said she cannot count how many hunter classics Jenkins won aboard her beloved gray gelding, but there is one thing she is sure of: hunter classic rounds are not what they used to be. “The hunter classics today, what they are at the horse show is just another hunter round,” Rush said. “At this point it is not a classic round. Back then the hunter classics used to have five judging stations, they were really more what we think of as international derbies now.”

Rush is sure San Felipe would be right up there with today’s top derby horses if he was still around. “I say time and time again, if San Felipe were alive he would be just a star in the international derbies,” Rush says. “And that’s what hunter classics were back in the ‘70s when they were started; they were really special classes.”

Its not just San Felipe that Rush stands behind. While Rush admits it can be difficult to sort through the thousands of Thoroughbreds for sale to find a truly competitive show hunter partner, she will put her money on them over warmbloods any day, be it 40 years ago or at this year’s Upperville horse show.

“The horses that showed back then at that level, those horses would be absolutely competitive today. If you saw a picture of them jumping, you just see incredible roundness,” Rush explained. “When you’ve got that quality Thoroughbred they would absolutely win today.”


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