I asked Nick why he would take a six-year-old in a class likely to call for a sophisticated test, and he answered cheerily, "beggars can't be choosers." He doesn't own a horse, and this was his best shot. Though I don't know Nick, my brief meeting with him impressed me. I think he's a nice kid, and expect he'll have success turning professional now and working for his trainer, John Bragg.
Maggie looked stylish as always. While her halt wasn't perfect, she got the counter-canter work accomplished on the money. Julie didn't have a smooth transition to the sitting trot that was called for after the last fence, but it was the counter-canter approach to the vertical that sank her to second.
"I suspect they felt the counter-lead jump was a bit too deep," mused Julie's trainer, Missy Clark, searching for answers, but resigned to the results.
Ralph's comments bore out her belief.
"In today's test, maybe the deciding factor might have been the counter-canter," he said.
"Maybe Maggie in our opinion was a little smoother as opposed to Julie, but there's no separation between the two of them. That's just the way it worked out."
"I don't know what it is about Julie, but she's always had to claw her way up," sighed Missy, who tried hard to hide her disappointment, just as Julie did.
"She reminds me of Alydar," Missy said of Julie, referring to the great racehorse who is probably best known for finishing second to Affirmed in each of the Triple Crown races.
Still, Julie had two big wins in her equitation career, the Washington International and the USEF Talent Search East, which will help her as she turns professional and works with Missy.
Maggie played it cool in her first round with Chagall, whom she had never shown.
"I was a little conservative yesterday," she said after the awards ceremonies. "Today, I thought he was a little more loose, and I trusted him."
Maggie, who won the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals last month, is only 16, so we'll be seeing her in the equitation in 2007, as she tries to get first place in the USEF Talent Search East and the Washington International.
"One more year," she said as she headed out.
"But there's not that much more left to do," Natalie pointed out.
I asked Andre to talk about Maggie, and here's what he said: "She exemplifies this division. She has a great work ethic. A lot of kids can find the jumps, but she does it with style."
While the insiders love the Maclay, for most of the fans--like the capacity crowd of nearly 3,600 who watched the grand prix--the jumpers are what the show is all about.
This year's grand prix was incredibly exciting. Course designer Richard Jeffery didn't "build down" because he knew he had a top international field, and the result was first-class jumping.
The evening was marred, however, by the fall that Denmark's Tina Lund took off Zamiro. At the second jump of a troublesome triple combination, which ended the course, Tina was unseated and lost her reins. She tried to grab them back before the final fence, but her horse leaped high and she hit the ground from about 10 feet up. Her helmet was askew (please everyone, make sure your chin strap is tight!) and she was moaning while lying on the ground. It really was heart-wrenching, so much so that a spectator in the VIP section passed out. The medics were on the scene quickly for both victims, and happily each was checked out at the hospital and sent home.
Five from the field of 35 made it into the jump-off, which got everyone really revved as the riders kept going faster and faster. Chris Kappler set a speedy pace of 39.740 seconds with VDL Oranta, as the gray mare gobbled up the ground. Then Margie Engle came in on her World Equestrian Games mount, Hidden Creek's Quervo Gold, and bettered his mark by 0.03 seconds.
It looked blazing to me, but Margie said she knew she could be beaten after her horse stumbled and her neck snapped back, breaking the flow of her ride.
Michael Whitaker, that veteran of veterans, was the man to do it. The mainstay of so many British teams made the right cuts look easy on Insul Tech Portofino (with the exception of just narrowly missing a flowerbox) and he would up with the wining time of 37.02 seconds.