November 18, 2013--Saturday at the Las Vegas National was a spectacular display of show jumping at its finest, plus some sky-high entertainment. The first of two highlight events was the $10,000 SmartPak Winning Round Classic, with forty-seven entries and the top ten returning for a lightning fast second round. Later in the evening, the $50,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix CSI-W had forty-two entries with eight pairs going clean, resulting in a nail-biting jump-off.
In a unique format, the $10,000 SmartPak Winning Round Classic brought back the top ten for the second round in reverse order of score from round one. All ten were clean, so time was the determining factor. As round one was coming to an end, time was of the essence as one rider after another edged out the previous competitor by fractions of a second. Last to go, Joie Gatlin on The Flying Ham (Haley Farms, LLC, owner) made the top ten going clean in 71.800, just beating Karl Cook and Banba's time of 71.814.
Returning first in the jump-off, Gatlin sizzled with The Flying Ham going lean and clean in 32.682. No one could top that time until the final two entries. Ann Knight Karrasch aboard Coral Reef Aajee finished with a time of 32.344, barely surpassing the leading ride. All eyes watched the clock as Nayel Nassar and Dunsoghly Junior, last to go, sped to the finish without fault. Their time was 32.349, five thousandths of a second slower than the winner, Karrasch and Coral Reef Aajee.
Later in the evening, opening ceremonies for the grand prix paid homage to the eleven countries represented with a parade of flags. An enthusiastic crowd cheered on the athletes as they were introduced. In true Las Vegas style, silk performers treated the audience to a spellbinding aerial performance before the first horse galloped on course.
As the class commenced, course designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil explained the aspects of building to spec.? "This is a World Cup qualifier event so we have some standards to keep. The maximum height is a 1.60m and we have today three verticals at 1.60m, and we have oxers at 1.50m high with a maximum spread of 1.60m. I've got a triple bar at 1.90m spread. I think the riders have plenty to work with."
Course questions included a vertical on the rail next to the audience, a difficult scope test with a plank vertical in a forward three to a wide, square oxer; around the corner to a large triple bar in a line with a tall 1.60m vertical; a triple and a double combination; and finishing on a liverpool vertical with the 'water' at the back side.
Forty-two entries gave the course their best effort, with eight managing to master the questions asked. Francie Steinwedell-Carvin and Taunus (Prentiss Partners, owners) were the first to return for the jump-off. They laid down the gauntlet going double clean in 35.60. Next to go, Copernicus Stables' Springtime with Saer Coulter had the time but a bit of trouble resulting in eight faults in 34.05. Mandy Porter and Plum Creek Hollow Farm's Con Capilot were flawless until the last turn away from the in-gate when the stallion broke to a trot, but Porter managed to still go double clean in 35.74. Sean Crooks aboard Armegedon (Glen Youell, owner) had trouble early on in the jump-off and ended up with 12 faults in 38.92.
Enter Andrew Ramsay on his relatively new mount, Adamo van't Steenputje. They were smooth and slick, and set the new time to beat at 34.32. Fence five, the Las Vegas skinny vertical, came down for both Duncan McFarlane on Mr. Whoopy and Vinton Karrasch on Coral Reef Baloufino. Last to go, Christian Heineking on NKH Selena made a gallant effort but couldn't catch Ramsay, stopping the clock at 34.37, a mere 0.05 off the winning time.
A California native, Ramsay spent the last four years riding in Europe. When asked about the challenging course the winner explained, "I thought the course was great. In hindsight, I took a bit of a gamble to the last fence, because I thought we were much tighter on the time then we were. It was a nice jump-off. It was perfect for this horse because I don't know him too well. There were no? questionable things where you really had to know your horse. So that played to my advantage. I knew I would be here in the States through this show, so it's nice to finish up on a high note."