Thursday, May. 23, 2024

U.S. Team Scores At CN U.S. Open

They take back the CN Nations Cup crown for the first time since 2003.

It had been five years since a U.S. team had won the only Nations Cup on their home turf—the $75,000 CN Nations Cup. This year, they changed all that with a decisive victory over Canada and Mexico.
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They take back the CN Nations Cup crown for the first time since 2003.

It had been five years since a U.S. team had won the only Nations Cup on their home turf—the $75,000 CN Nations Cup. This year, they changed all that with a decisive victory over Canada and Mexico.

Clear rounds from each of the four team members—McLain Ward on Sapphire, Kent Farrington on Up Chiqui, Hillary Dobbs on Quincy B and Danielle Torano on Marlo—left the team with just 9 total faults at the end of the class, held under the lights on March 7 during the CN U.S. Open in Wellington, Fla.

The Canadian team rallied in the second round with a remarkable three clear rounds, but they couldn’t quite catch the U.S. team. Their 16 faults put them second. An ecstatic Mexican team claimed third with 24 faults.

The atmosphere around the Internationale Arena during the Nations Cup could only be described as raucous. The Mexican and Irish fans made their allegiances known with cheers, songs, flag-waving and occasional storming of the edges of the ring.

“This is the most colorful Nations Cup we go to, with all the people cheering and all the team spirit. And with so many foreign riders catch-riding, it’s a very sporting class,” said George Morris, U.S. team chef d’equipe.

While the mood was outwardly exuberant, there was a solemn note to the night as well. The class was dedicated to the memory of Lynn Millar, wife of veteran Canadian rider Ian Millar, who passed away on March 6 after a long battle with cancer. Ian was at home with family in Perth, Ont.

“Lynn was an incredible woman, and I think we all rode with a heavy heart tonight,” said Ward.

“As everyone knows, Ian has been the backbone of our team for so many years,” said Mario Deslauriers, who had 4-fault and clean rounds. “He called to wish us good luck before the class. We tried our best to bring it home for him—in the second round our team really pulled together. But sometimes it doesn’t go totally as you plan.”

Out In Front

After Round 1, the U.S. team led with just 1 fault to their name. Ward and Torano had put in clear rounds, while Dobbs picked up just a time fault. Farrington’s 4 faults on Up Chiqui was the drop score.

Just behind them, with 5 faults, was the Irish team. Three of the Irish riders—Shane Sweetnam, Kevin Babington and Darragh Kerins—are based in the United States, and Edward Doyle brought Sequoyah Farm’s Utopia from Ireland to join them. Sweetnam, on Little Emir, and Kerins, on Night Train, jumped clean in Round 1, while Doyle jumped to 5 faults. They had to drop Babington’s elimination on Coronett 2 after the horse stopped twice at the first jump.

The Mexican team was third after Round 1, with 10 faults. Canada trailed the field in sixth with 16 faults.
Round 2 brought big changes. The U.S. team stayed out in front of the pack, with both Farrington and Up Chiqui and Dobbs on Quincy B jumping clean. Even with Torano’s 8 faults in Round 2, the team was still far ahead of the others, so Ward didn’t return for Round 2.

“Sapphire felt good and I had the nice luxury of not having to jump the second round, which has never happened to me before,” Ward said.

But the Irish team wasn’t able to repeat their performances. Babington’s elimination again meant all their scores would count. Doyle led off with 1 time fault, but Sweetnam and Kerins both collected 12 faults, putting them out of the running.

Deslauriers, Mac Cone and Eric Lamaze jumped relentless clear rounds for Canada. Karen Cudmore’s eliminations in both rounds after stops on Southern Pride meant it was all up to them. Despite their valiant efforts, they were only able to climb to second place. Lamaze jumped one of only two double-clear performances of the night on Hickstead—Ben Maher of Great Britain had the other.

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Up Chiqui Romps To The Win In $150,000 CN U.S. Open Grand Prix

Eric Lamaze has been on a roll with the talented Hickstead, who recovered well from colic surgery in October.

They won the $75,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic/Adequan Grand Prix on Feb. 24 and jumped double-clear in the CN Nations Cup on March 7. They looked primed for another victory as they set the pace in the seven-horse jump-off for the $150,000 CN U.S. Open with a clear round in 41.62 seconds.

The jump-off for the class, March 9 in Wellington, Fla., during the CN U.S. Open CSIO, was a truly international affair, with riders from Ireland, France, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and the United States. But it would be a home-grown win, since Kent Farrington and Up Chiqui made short work of Lamaze’s lead.

“I stood in the gate and watched Eric go. Hickstead is always very quick, and Eric is a very fast rider. But my horse is also naturally very fast. I thought I could go faster—I was just worried about leaving the jumps up at the same time,” Farrington said.

The rails all stayed in the cups, and Up Chiqui’s blazing foot speed carried them to a time almost 3 seconds faster than Lamaze. It was a sign that Up Chiqui is eager and fresh.

“I’ve gone really lightly with him. I gave him a long rest after the National Horse Show [in November],” Farrington said. “He had a great indoor season, and I thought he deserved a break. With there being so many weeks in the circuit, it’s very easy to burn your horse out quickly. I was just trying to wait for the bigger money classes like this one. I wanted to peak him later in the circuit.

“I don’t think I’ll do the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational [April 4 in Tampa, Fla.] with him. I’m considering taking him to the FEI World Cup Final, so I’ll gear him toward The Charlotte Jumper Classic [N.C.]. The Invitational—outside, in a big stadium at night and very spooky—probably isn’t the best plan for him because he’s a really sensitive horse.”

Farrington’s caution carried over to his decision to forgo the USEF Olympic Selection Trials with Up Chiqui.

 “Obviously the Olympics are a really special thing, and I hope one day I have to opportunity to go. I just didn’t think that it was right for this horse right now,” he said. “He jumps a lot out of sheer will and heart, and to ask him to do that five rounds in a row may take that away a bit. With really big, scopey jumps every single round, I don’t know that it would be fair to him. He’s never shown me what he can’t do, and I don’t want him to. He’s a great horse, and I want to keep him happy.”

Even though Farrington and Up Chiqui didn’t even start the selection trials, the USEF selection committee put them 12th on the Olympic short list, making him one of the first alternates for the 10 horse/rider short list.

“This is the first time I’ve ridden in a Nations Cup without Ian, so we were definitely thinking about him,” Lamaze said. “As I had the opportunity today to take his fourth spot, I can’t help but think that the best gift I could have given him was to go double-clear as he’s done so many times for Canada. In his honor, I felt proud to be able to achieve that tonight and for our team to be able to rally and come back in the second round. I think he’d be proud of us.”

Doing It For Mexico

The Irish team’s slide down the rankings meant that the Mexican team was able to work their way up. They didn’t have a clear round among them, but their consistency and tenacity brought them third.

“We are all really friends, and that helped us in the arena,” said Manuel Lecuona. He, Daniel Michan and Eduardo Salas were the young up-and-comers on the team, anchored by veteran Jaime Guerra.

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“A lot of us have young horses and we’re not all very experienced riders. So we had a good experienced rider like Jaime to help us, and he gave us the fight at the end,” Lecuona continued. The class also served as a selection trial for the Mexican Olympic team.

The jubilation of the Mexican riders was matched only by that of their fan club.

“It was very fun to hear the Mexicans cheer for us. They were pushing us to do the best we can,” said Salas.
“When I ended up [with just 1 time fault in Round 1], I felt like I won the Olympics!” Michan said.

“All the grooms who are working here, I think they deserve a thing like this. We are proud that they have a good moment and something to cheer for,” Lecuona concluded.

Out Of The Comfort Zone

The Mexican team wasn’t the only one fielding some new faces.

“We had quite a difficult time putting together a U.S. team because we’re in the midst of the critical Olympic selection trials,” said Morris. “The juxtaposition of these different groups of riders was quite tricky. We had McLain and Sapphire as the veterans, and Kent as an experienced rider. I was very happy to give Danielle Torano and Hillary Dobbs a ride in this class. They earned it on the computer list, but I was happy to have those two newer riders participate in this class, and they did brilliantly. That’s such great experience for them—it was a proud moment for me.”

Dobbs has been on fire at the Winter Equestrian Festival, winning multiple classes and two of the $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup grand prix classes in February. Her first Nations Cup appearance was on the winning team at the Buenos Aires (Argentina) CSIO in November.

“It felt great to pull my weight for the American team. Danielle had a clear round, McLain had a clear round, and Kent had a clear round before me, so we all put in a clear round to contribute to the victory,” she said.

This was Torano’s Nations Cup debut, and she felt the pressure. “It was nerve-wracking and exciting. When I came to walk the course, I thought, ‘OK, this is supposed to be fun,’ but I had mixed emotions about my first time doing it,” she said.

“I came out from walking the course and I saw Hillary. She said, ‘How are you?’ And I said, ‘A little nervous.’ She said, ‘Why? This is what we live for!’ I thought it was a great way to look at it, and it made all the difference in my nerves. I really felt like we all worked as a team, and I forgot about not letting the team down and focused on riding.”

The Nations Cup somewhat made up for Torano’s disappointment in the Olympic Selection Trials, where she jumped a clear first round on Vancouver d’Auvrey but then had 20 faults in Round 2.

“I came into the first class thinking ‘I can do this.’ We’d come off a great season and he went well. But then I let the pressure get to me,” she said. “Everybody started talking about the Olympics. I think if I’d gone early [in Round 2], it would have been better, but I watched 60 riders go and started second-guessing everything. I wasn’t thinking, and I just wasn’t there.

“This is a sport of experience. I have a great horse and I felt like I let him down, but I also have to learn to make that next step. This was a whole week of new things. The succession of it worked well, because I’d gone through having to deal with that pressure [in the trials]. I knew I needed to do better next time [in the Nations Cup]. This sport is so mental, getting from one step to the next. You do have to pay your dues. I got comfortable doing normal grand prix classes, and this week I went out of my comfort zone and hopefully I’ll learn for next time.”

Molly Sorge

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