July 31, 2016 -- The site of the 1976 Olympic equestrian events played host once again to high-level sporting drama, as the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League kicked off its East Coast series at the International Bromont show.
With no other international championship set in 2017 for North American competitors, the focus for the best show jumpers is on the indoor title at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping finals next spring in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jonathan McCrea took his first step toward competing in that midwestern city today with a victory on Special Lux in the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Bromont.
Conditions were perfect for the 19-horse competition, with a course laid out by Guilherme Jorge, making his last stop before going to Rio, where he will set the fences for the Olympics next month.
The sunshine drew an enthusiastic crowd that lined the sides of the arena flanked by majestic green mountains (the area is a big draw for skiers in the winter.) The field was whittled to seven by the designer's ingenious route, with several fences at maximum dimensions and a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination that caused a bit of trouble.
Some may wonder why the Olympic designer took a detour to Canada before heading south, but the native of Brazil (who will be making his home in Wellington, Fla.,) explained to me that Bromont has special meaning for him. Click on the right-pointing arrow to see the video.
Alison Robitaille is back at the top level after taking time to start a family, and her new horse, Ace, is a willing partner in her efforts to make it to Omaha. The first to go clean, she and the handsome Dutchbred gray gelding she got in March came back in the jump-off, but ran into trouble with a tight turn at the CWD fence of white rails and planks, leaving her with 4 faults in what would prove to be a slow time of 45.41 seconds that put her sixth.
Andrew Kocher and Uppie de Lis also dropped a rail and finished with a time of 42.91 seconds, good enough for fifth. The only Canadian in the jump-off, Keean White, had the crowd behind him (no pressure!), but with three poles down from a tiring For Freedom Z, he wound up last in the tiebreaker.
Jonathan had a clear round and played it smart, going just fast enough in 42.24 seconds to prompt the riders following him to speed up and perhaps make mistakes. He and his wife, Christine, stood ringside, watching intently as each competitor tried, and failed, to better his mark.
As expected, Todd Minikus was the fastest on the track, finishing in an impressive 41.29 seconds, but that CWD fence that got Allison got him as well on the tight turn with Babalou, making him fourth as the fastest 4-faulter.
Russia's Ljubox Kochetova on her best horse, Balou du Reventon, produced her typical jump-off round, clear but slow in 51.26 seconds for third place.
The final rider to go, Leslie Howard conceded her Gentille van Spievold isn't speedy, so she just did a neat route and came home fault-free in 49.58 seconds, good enough to be the runner-up. Leslie was the only rider in the class to have won a World Cup finals (1986) and she's eager to give it a try again.
She may run into Jonathan in Omaha, since he is also set on making the finals.
A native of Ireland who is now a U.S. citizen, Jonathan is a huge fan of the Irishbred Special Lux, who came from his childhood friend, Billy Twomey. Anthony Condon rode him in England for Billy and jumped the Nations' Cup with him. Jonathan heard about the horse and called his brother, Roger, who had seen the horse a lot.
Jonathan tried Special Lux “and we just hit it off,” he said.
“He's smarter than most people. He's my best friend. I can't say enough good things about him.”
Jonathan and I chatted about the class at some length. To listen in, click on right-pointing arrow to view the video.
There's growing enthusiasm among the riders about going to Omaha. When the venue was first announced, skepticism reigned in some quarters. As word has filtered out that the CenturyLink Center is special, however, more competitors are hoping they will be there to try for the title.
Todd Minikus, who is from the Midwest originally, thinks Omaha has a lot to offer. Listen to what he has to say by clicking on the right pointing arrow.
The International Bromont owes much of its considerable character to Roger Deslauriers, the head man. He seemed to be everywhere during the show--whether supervising in the ring, zooming around the property in his four-wheel drive vehicle or pouring Mumm's champagne into the glasses of friends in the VIP tent.
If his name sounds familiar, it's probably because he's the father of 1984 World Cup champion Mario Deslauriers (who missed week 2 of Bromont because he had to be at the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships in Colorado to coach Alex and Lucy Matz, the children of U.S. Equestrian Team veteran Michael Matz and his wife, DD).
But Roger is quite the impresario and famous in his own right. He devotes himself to the International, and is ever so grateful to Longines for making it more of a drawing card.
Listen to what he had to say about that by clicking on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video.
Bromont really is a beautiful venue, with lots of space to warm up horses or just take a break from showing to go on a trail ride. It's uncrowded (the hunter ring is well-separated from the jumper rings) and there's a feeling of good will and relaxation. The welcome is warm, the food is great and it's a lovely part of the country. Why not visit in 2017?
In the meantime, check out more photos from Bromont at facebook.com/practicalhorseman, and look for our photo gallery on Tuesday.
My next postcard will come on Labor Day weekend (summer is slipping away) from the Hampton Classic, as busy a show as there is, but one that's lots of fun.