McLain Ward and Goldika galloped into the ring meaning business during the jump-off of the $75,000 New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix. As the first to go in the seven-horse tiebreaker, Ward knew he had to go clear and post a time the others would fail to catch.
Yet in a risky bid for the winning portion of the purse and a two-year lease on an Audi Allroad Quattro, Ward made a gambler’s decision. He added an extra stride in one line, but his speedy mare made up ground and time with precise turns, clinching the win Sept. 26 in New Albany, Ohio.
“Since I went early in the draw, I wanted to ride a smooth course that would force my mare to jump in good form. She is shortstrided, and she landed compactly so she could make the extra stride and then go from the combination into the tight turn to a vertical [Huntington Bank Fence 11] in the jump-off,” said Ward, who was one of only a few riders to opt for six strides.
Ward’s winning track even surprised Course Designer Richard Jeffery, who before the competition had said, “The course requires long gallops between fences, which makes it more difficult than a smaller ring because there’s a lot of space. Although the winner will not be adding a stride,” predicted Jeffery.
The New Albany Classic, in its seventh year, is hosted by Les and Abigail Wexner at their home outside of Columbus. And with a $13,000 floral budget, Jeffery, who is renowned for lavish floral displays and landscaping, placed hues of orange, red, green, pink and every color in between at each obstacle throughout the two-acre, 14-obstacle course.
Jeffery’s first-round course tested rideability and scope, with several striding tests as well as two challenging combinations late in the course at 10ABC and 13AB.
“To keep within the time allowed, riders will not want to waste too much time over the first three fences on the course,” said Jeffery. “There should also be a chance to catch up a little between the triple combination and fence 11; however, if you go too fast here, the horse can become flat, and not jump high enough over the 5’2″ vertical.”
While some riders voiced concern that the bright colors and cheering crowd of more than 18,000 might prove a distraction to their mounts, it was fence 7, the Limited Brands vertical, that posed the most problems for the 24 horse-and-rider combinations.
Ward of Brewster, N.Y., a 2004 Athens Olympic team silver medalist, also achieved his 85th career grand prix win aboard Double H Farms’ Goldika, a 12-year-old Holsteiner. Not only did the duo soar across the final vertical with ease–setting the time to beat with 40.64 seconds–but they’d also hinted at their talent for speed with the fastest qualifying time going into the seven-horse jump-off.
Lauren Hough of Wellington, Fla., 2000 Sydney Olympic veteran and 2001 New Albany Classic winner, followed aboard Casadora, owned by The Cassdora Group. They fell short by a little more than a second, but the pair secured a second-placed finish with a clean round in 41.54 seconds.
“Of course I don’t like to lose, but I didn’t get to see McLain go,” Hough said. “My horse is young, and I couldn’t have asked for more. This is a first-class event, and I am grateful to the Wexner family.”
This year marked the New Albany Classic debut for 23-year-old Kent Farrington of Southport, Conn. Riding Madison, an 8-year-old, bay Dutch Warmblood, owned by Alexa Weeks, the duo posted a fault-free third-placed finish with a time of 42.02 seconds.
Laura Chapot got the crowd really cheering her on as she flew around the jump-off aboard her game chestnut gelding. She and Little Big Man finished fault-free, but they couldn’t quite keep their momentum around the turns and settled for fourth place.
Chapot knew the competition would be difficult. As she surveyed the course earlier in the day she said, “There are a lot of very good riders in the class today. The competition will be very difficult. Richard [Jeffery] spreads the challenges throughout the entire course, which makes it challenging throughout.”
Chapot, of Neshanic Station, N.J., and 10-year-old Little Big Man finished in 44.51 seconds.
Todd Minikus, of Wellington, Fla., landed a fifth-placed finish with 4 faults in 44.05 seconds aboard YZ Partners’ Gardenio, while defending champion Laura Kraut of Oconomowoc, Wis., rode Passmore Stables’ Miss Independent to sixth place with two rails down.
The NAC course is one of only a few grass courses that remain in North America. “It was dedicated as the NAC course three years ago and has since had a chance to get firm, deep roots, which helps make the ground firm,” said Matt Burke, NAC equestrian center manager. “In the beginning, we experienced the same difficulties as were faced on the Athens Olympic course. The first year we babied the course and watered it continually. It looked beautiful, but the roots were not strong, they were only 2 inches deep, which made for poor footing. Since then we’ve allowed it to get a little dry so the roots would grow deeper. The root structure is now eight to 10 inches deep, and it helps keep the ground firm and provides ideal footing for the riders.”
Focus On Families
The New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and Family Day is a successful fundraising event for the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, and each year the Classic raises more than $1 million for the Coalition.
In the past seven years the NAC has grown from approximately 3,500 spectators to more than 18,000. With children’s rides, local celebrities, a sound stage and many community organizations involved, the day is a celebration of the family and togetherness with the country’s best grand prix riders as the highlight.
The event takes place at the home of Les and Abigail Wexner. Abigail is the founder and board chairman of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, a mother of four young children and also the owner of show jumpers, including the grand prix mount De Silvio, ridden by Beezie Madden, who contested the 2004 Olympic Selection Trials.
The NAC has raised more than $7 million, and thanks in part to those proceeds the Coalition will open the Center for Child & Family Violence in early 2005. Through collaboration between the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence and Children’s Hospital of Columbus, the Center is the first in the country to fully integrate child abuse and domestic violence services, offering a continuum of support for victims.