Friday, May. 24, 2024

Vegas Is The Clear Winner In Syracuse

Christine McCrea manages the only clean round of the day to lead the lap of honor in New York.

Although Christine McCrea took the top check in the $100,000 Budweiser Grand Prix of Syracuse, the real winner was the course.

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Christine McCrea manages the only clean round of the day to lead the lap of honor in New York.

Although Christine McCrea took the top check in the $100,000 Budweiser Grand Prix of Syracuse, the real winner was the course.

A star-studded line-up, which read like a virtual who’s who in the show jumping world, converged upon the Oncenter in Syracuse, N.Y., for the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament featuring the National Horse Show, Oct. 29-Nov. 2. But only McCrea and Vegas managed to get around the first round fault-free, forcing the sold-out event to conclude without a jump-off for the first time in its six-year history.

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would have been the only clear, especially with all of the Olympic riders here and the Olympic horses,” said McCrea. “To only have to jump one round and be the winner—it just doesn’t happen.”

Leopoldo Palacios’ merciless track for the World Cup-qualifier included two monstrous combinations that fell time and time again, a delicate ASPCA wall that shed blocks without much prodding and a final vertical away from the in-gate that spoiled several clear rounds. Those who did manage to negotiate the fences faced a snug time allowed, which only five of the 29 starters could catch.

“This was a course that would work at the World Cup Final in Vegas this spring,” stated Todd Minikus, who logged 1 time fault to finish second aboard Pavarotti. “That was top notch. There was no room for error, and you had to have a little luck.”

Fresh from his trip to the Olympic Games, Great Britain’s Ben Maher took third with 1 time fault aboard crowd favorite Robin Hood W. He declared the course “one of the biggest indoor classes I ever would have jumped. I think it was virtually impossible to clear all the jumps inside the time allowed. Christine’s horse is naturally very fast, and she rode perfect distances off of every corner.”

McCrea, who rode 11th in the order, couldn’t believe her good fortune and theorized that all the stars had aligned for her win.

“On Thursday, in the Pasmore Cup, I went in and had a rail, and he really hit it quite hard for him. He was not happy about that at all,” said McCrea. “And today he remembered that, so it really made him extra sharp. I knew it was a hard course, and I was as focused as I get. It was just the right moment for both of us. It was unbelievable: He was perfect, and I managed not to screw it up!”

Hunter Tidbits

•    Jennifer Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y., picked up leading hunter rider honors after guiding Helen Lenahan’s Sting to the regular conformation title. “Winning here is really huge. Last time I showed at the National was at Madison Square Garden, and I was champion there with GG Valentine,” she said. “It’s really special to do it again.”

•    Leslie Steele and Ashley Pryde’s Smitten kept their cool in the green hunter stakes when the fire alarms at the Oncenter Complex started sounding two fences in. The gelding didn’t bat an eye as lights flashed and a loud recording urged evacuation. Despite the alarm, dismissive spectators required more than a little prodding to leave the warm arena for the 35-degree streets of downtown Syracuse. Within 30 minutes the fire department checked out the problem, confirming a false alarm, and Smitten earned fourth in the class.

•    Ellen Toon’s Invincible picked up his third amateur-owner, 18-35, title in a row in Syracuse. The 8-year-old gelding also received the Automation Model Cadet Memorial Perpetual Trophy, honoring the judges’ favorite amateur-owner hunter.

McCrea first started Vegas (Voltaire—Dulisina) six years ago, when the stallion was 8. “He requires a little management,” she said. “He’s pretty amped up most of the time. It takes a lot of concentration when you’re riding him; you really have to focus on him. He has a naturally quick way of going, and he’s become more and more careful in his life. When it’s on, it’s on. Every time I get to show him I get really excited because I know that I have a chance.”

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She did rename him—considering his former moniker Velusinus to have been “terrible”—but the name change had nothing to do with hopes of taking him to the biennial home of the FEI World Cup Final.

“People keep saying to me, ‘We want to see Vegas in Vegas.’ But I can’t think about that yet,” said McCrea. “I’m just trying to get through the qualifiers. And you have to get the horse there, and you never know what will happen.”
But McCrea certainly is hoping for a ticket to the Final. She opted to stay home this summer to prepare for the World Cup qualifying season rather than travel to Europe, making her win in Syracuse, her first of the season, taste even sweeter.

“This is the first really big show I’ve been to in a while,” said McCrea, who headed to the Royal Winter Fair (Ont.) after Syracuse. “You get Europeans and all of the top riders who come here. It’s fantastic to win here.”

An Exemplary Performance

As a horse-crazy pony rider, Keri Kampsen dreamed of two things: Riding like Havens Schatt and winning a major championship at the fall indoor shows. So when Kampsen rode Stephen Borders’ Exupery to the regular working hunter championship at this year’s National Horse Show, it was only fitting that the division’s trophy honored Schatt’s legendary mount, Ashford Castle.

“I used to idolize her, so winning this is a really big deal for me—especially since it’s the first time I’ve won at a big show,” said Kampsen.

Borders recruited Kampsen to show Exupery (Escudo I—Waldglocke) a year ago, and since then the 11-year-old has been making a big mark on the California circuit. “Soup” earns his keep in the amateur-owner ring with Borders, who found the gelding at the Verden dressage auction in Germany where his wife, Pan American Games team gold medalist Donna Richardson, was scouting out prospects for her sport.

“Steve had them trot him over a little fence over there, and we saw immediately that the horse put his nose down and his knees up over a little crossrail,” recalled Richardson. “We said, ‘Oh no, no, we don’t like that’ because we didn’t want anyone else to see him and bid against us. So Steve and George Schneider bid on the horse from outside the hall!”

Jumper Tidbits

•    Robin Hood W, Ben Maher’s mount for his third-placed finish in the $100,000 Budweiser Grand Prix of Syracuse, had to compete against an unlikely rival: his mother. The 10-year-old Robin Hood W (Animo—Melisimo, Libero H), is out of Michelle Spadone’s grand prix mount Melisimo, who finished 16th in the class. Maher said he did take the opportunity to reintroduce the two to each other.

•    McLain Ward took a tumble off Phillipa in the $25,000 Pasmore Stables Horseman’s Cup, over a course Jill Henselwood dubbed “dastardly.” But Ward ponied up in the very next class to win the Atlas Fence Speed Challenge with Quo Vadis. “It wasn’t such a good start to the evening,” admitted Ward. “But that’s the sport. One day you’re a hero, and the next day you’re at the bottom.”

•    The race for the $40,000 Beacon Hill/Stonehenge Stables High Junior/Amateur-Owner Grand Prix stayed tight over the four rounds in the World Cup-format class, but in the end the top check required a perfect performance. Neither Whitney Weeks and Subliem nor Clementine Goutal on Rastella logged a single fault, but Weeks’ faster speed round boosted her to blue.

Borders turned to his wife to give the gelding miles under saddle before Jenny Martin started the horse in the show ring. Kampsen took over the ride last year. Watching his horse progress from a 4-year-old who battled growing pains to an elegant, easygoing show horse has been a rewarding process for Borders.

“When he came at 16.3 hands, he just kept growing and growing—I think he’s close to 18 hands now,” said Borders. “When you have a young one, no matter how talented they may or may not be, you never know how they’re going to turn out. Then when they turn out to be easy to ride so that I can ride them as well, it’s even better!”

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Dancing To The Top

Ken Berkley and Sambalino finished off a strong indoor season by capturing the green conformation hunter and
grand hunter championships at the National. The week prior at the Washington (D.C.) International Horse Show, the pair finished as runners-up to barnmates Scott Stewart and Ovation, who took reserve in Syracuse.

“The indoor circuit is a true test of first year horses, whether or not they react to the environment,” pointed out Berkley. “You know a horse even before you show him inside whether he’s going to come undone or not. With [Sambalino’s] mind, a bomb could go off and he wouldn’t even move.”

Berkley, Flemington, N.J., described Sambalino (Samba Hit—Urania H) as a dream ride and the perfect mount for his owner, Gina Day, who started contesting the adult amateur hunters with him at Capital Challenge (Md.). “He’s as uncomplicated as they come,” he said. “He couldn’t get any easier or nicer. He has a great mind.”

Sambalino will head into next year as the only green conformation star out of River’s Edge, as Stewart’s stalwart
partners West Point and Ovation age out of the division.

A Blue Goodbye

Bering C headed to a new home after the National Horse Show, but before Shachine Belle loaded him onto the trailer, the pair picked up one last green hunter tricolor for Lindsey Irvin.

Belle struggled to control her emotions after she walked out of the ring following a winning trip in the stakes class.

“I looked over at his groom, and we were both crying,” said Belle. “I said, ‘Oh, we’re so pitiful!’ ”

Irvin’s trainers Bob Braswell and Christina Schlusemeyer asked Belle to show Bering C (Crazy C Besic— Silvana)
at Devon (Pa.) last May, and the two clicked so well she stayed aboard all season. Despite their short tenure
together, Belle has grown remarkably attached to the flashy chestnut. Even though he’s only 6, the Hanoverian
handled himself like a much more seasoned mount.

“He’s such a good guy. I never have to worry about him spooking or being bad,” said Belle, of Farmington, Conn. “He’s so perfect, I tell everyone a monkey could ride him! He always tries so hard—it’s sad to see him go.”

For Belle, winning at the National represented the perfect way to end her career with a special charge before passing the reins over to Tim Gougen. “The very first horse show I ever went to was the National at Madison Square Garden,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been riding better and better this summer. This is a really nice way to go out.”

Mollie Bailey

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