Allentown, N.J., May 10, 2009 -- Score one for the too-often forgotten thoroughbred. Two of the three divisions at the Jersey Fresh event were won by the breed that used to dominate eventing; the third division went to a half-thoroughbred.
It was reminiscent of the old days when it took a hot-blooded mount, most likely a former racehorse, to conquer the long format of roads and tracks and steeplechase, in addition to cross-country.
Now the warmbloods rule in the short format, but not at the Horse Park of New Jersey this weekend, where the footing showed some fallout from a rainy week and the temperature/humidity index for much of cross-country day was relatively high.
No horse made the optimum cross-country time of 10 minutes, 25 seconds in the featured CCI 3-star, but Michael Pollard came closest with only 2.4 time penalties on the high-flying gray, Icarus. I was seeing a lot of tired horses on course, and asked Michael what it was all about.
Two years ago, when Will Coleman was riding Icarus here, he led after cross-country but knockdowns and time penalties in stadium jumping stole the victory from him and he ended up fourth. That didn't happen this time. Michael, whose wife, Nathalie Bouckaert Pollard owns the 17.1-hand gelding, didn't lose sight of his mission over Sally Ike's expansive course to secure the victory with a double-clear stadium round that kept his total penalties at 46.4. Second was Jan Byyny with Waterfront, also second in 2006, who had a double clear and 50.8 penalties total. The dressage winner, the French-bred Fleeceworks Mystere du Val, dropped a rail but retained his post-cross-country third place with 55 penalties for 2004 individual Olympic gold medalist Leslie Law of Great Britain.
It was a big improvement from last year, when the horse also won dressage, but had a glance-off in the water obstacle. No way the determined Leslie was letting that happen again, and 12 months of schooling certainly have paid off.
In the 2-star CCI, Emily Beshear rode a former racehorse, Here's to You, coming from second place with a double-clear to take the honors on the Kentucky-bred with 59.3 penalties. Right behind with 59.8 was her student, 21-year-old Young Rider Kate Samuels, a University of Virginia student on the French-bred Nyls du Terroir. Both horses were doing their first 2-star.
Boyd Martin, the busiest rider at Jersey Fresh (he rode four mounts in three divisions), had the same score with his homebred Shatzi W, but had to settle for third because Kate was closer to the optimum cross-country time of 9 minutes, 33 seconds. Becky Holder, the leader after cross-country on the winsome chestnut Rejuvenate, settled for fourth after two knockdowns that put her final total at 61.1 penalties.
Emily's last name may sound familiar. She is the daughter-in-law of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, which guarantees her some good tickets for next year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington. She's a real family person. Her husband, Jeff, is a veterinarian who helps her and her students, and she's the mother of 6-year-old Nicholas. Her mom, Linda Mastervich, helped Emily buy Here's To You and earned a gold star on Mother's Day for whisking Nicholas away so Emily could concentrate on her stadium jumping.
Emily seems like a lovely person, and I asked someone I respect how she is regarded.
"She's the real deal," I was told. Her refreshing enthusiasm seemed to make everyone pleased with her victory.
The CIC 3-star went to Boyd and Belmont, who is half-thoroughbred/half Dutch warmblood. Belmont jumped up from eighth to first after cross-country. None of the 19 who started the CIC cross-country made the optimum clocking of seven minutes, but Boyd was closest with only 4.4 time penalties - he was the only one with time faults in single digits. Just four of the 14 who finished the course had jumping penalties, however. Belmont was double clear in stadium to win going away. Boyd, an Australian who trains with Phillip Dutton, is hoping to be an American citizen soon and considers Belmont a prospect for the U.S. team at the WEG.