Colts Neck, N.J., June 24, 2007 -- "Sandron had a golden horseshoe today," Tracey Weinberg told me, and that was no exaggeration.
The final afternoon of the three-day Wachovia Jumper Classic belonged to Joe Fargis' Sandron stables and those associated with it.
First, Tracey won the $15,000 Junior/Amateur Classic with Cromwell, and wound up champion in the division with another of her horses, Larone, as Cromwell tied for reserve.
Then Juan Gudino, a groom at Sandron, won the show's raffle for a sporty Mercedes.
And finally, Joe himself took the biggest prize, the $50,000 Budweiser Grand Prix, on the 18-year-old spring chicken, Edgar. You should have seen this horse leaping around in the victory gallop!
There were thousands of people at Stacia and Frank Madden's Beacon Hill Show Stables for the competition, which drew an impressive crowd of both spectators and exhibitors even though this was just its fifth year.
This is showing the way it used to be, with one gorgeous grassy arena, instead of rings as far as you can see hosting a jumble of classes. The VIP tent, with lovely food and service, offers a good view of the proceedings, and there's a nice line-up of shops in an area behind it. Colts Neck is very horsey (the name doesn't lie), so it's a perfect place for a competition like this one.
I asked course designer Richard Jeffery to talk about the character of the show and the grand prix field from his viewpoint.
Tracey cited the hospitality of the Maddens and the novelty of riding before such a big crowd as key factors in her enjoyment of the show (though I think her success also had something to do with it.)
"They make it special for the exhibitors," said Tracey, a long time friend of Frank Madden.
"He's so proud of this farm and this horse show he put on. I've been teasing him all week, he hasn't stopped smiling. His grin is from ear-to-ear because of the pride for what he's done."
Tracey is a career woman with a marketing and public relations agency in Baltimore, so she can't ride much. This was just her second grand prix, and she acquitted herself well on Linda Z, making the jump-off.
"Oh my God," I heard her say in delighted surprise as she finished her ride in the first round with all the fences still standing.
I wondered how she manages work and competition at such a high level.
"It's hard to juggle. I ride maybe once a week and then meet the horses at the horse show, so it's hard for me to switch focus," she explained. "But I'm fortunate because I think I'm with the best. Joe is such a wonderful steward of my horses and has allowed me to find my way from the hunters to the jumpers."
The grand prix was rather challenging, with four of 34 entries eliminated. At the other end of the scale, nine horses made the jump-off, and it wasn't easy to do. The hilly terrain, set against the backdrop of the big, white Beacon Hill barn, not only is tiring for the horses, but it also taxes a rider's judgment, in that some fences require a special approach because they're set either downhill or uphill.
The final fence in the first round, the Animal Planet vertical five strides from an oxer of red and black planks, was particularly difficult on a slight downward slope. At one point, it ruined three potential clean rounds in a row--Lisa Jacquin (Obourg), Eliza Lehrman (VDL Platini) and Todd Minikus (Olinda).
The crowd was wondering if anyone would be able to go clean when Joe, ninth in the order, did it and received a well-deserved ovation. His trip was what you'd expect from an Olympic double-gold medalist. At 58, Joe has quite a resume--not only the two golds from the 1984 Olympics, but also a team silver from the 1988 Olympics, not to mention scores of other honors. It's nice to see him still going, and the same for Edgar, with whom he has a 10-year partnership. Joe plays it wisely with an older horse. He said Edgar won't start again until the Hampton Classic in late August.
Eight others besides Joe and Tracey made the jump-off, which was kind of by-the-numbers except for a cut to the last fence, a vertical.
Joe's mark of 36.613 seconds for a clean round was impressive. Todd Minikus on a new mount, Romy, didn't go quite as all-out as usual. He had only shown her three times and was cautious on the approach to the triple bar, the third fence in the tiebreaker. In retrospect, he said, he didn't need to make as wide a turn as he did, but not knowing the mare, he erred on the side of caution. His time of 37.084 would be good enough for second.
This gray mare looks as if she could be a new star for Todd. In fact, she reminds him of Thrilling, the horse with which he first made his big impression on the grand prix scene.
I hope you took in Todd's sound byte. If so, you'll have noted his "hero to zero" reference.
That's how it went, and back again, for Laura Chapot, a two-time winner of the Beacon Hill competition. She got a perfect trip out of Little Big Man, who she's taking to the Pan American Games. (Todd is also on the team, but with another horse, Pavarotti.) Then, last to go with the gray mare Samantha, she had a refusal at the second fence. When they approached the oxer again, Samantha really put on the brakes and Laura found herself on the ground.
Minutes later, Laura was back in the saddle of Little Big Man, putting in a 37.106-second trip that got her third place in the grand prix.
I told her I was amazed she took the fall in stride and could bounce back, here is what she said to me
I was surprised Laura didn't go faster; I thought maybe she was being conservative because Little Big Man (better known as Pony) is going to the Pan Ams.
But she hadn't realized exactly where the timers were. Richard tries to make riders think all the way past the finish line; they're not through after they clear the last jump.
Todd said the first and last thing you do when walking a course is to check where the timers are, so there's a tip for all you aspiring jumper riders. He noted he and Joe actually talked about it; I guess poor Laura wasn't in on that conversation.
Tracey had two fences down to finish ninth, but that's still great for an amateur in such company. Fourth went to Kim Prince on Carnivale, followed by Candice King on Courage with the last of the clean jump-off rounds. Candice is one great gal, and I really loved seeing her (in full riding attire, yet!) on a motorcycle in Frank's usual parade of these "hogs" just before the grand prix. They're his hobby, so why miss out on a chance to mix pleasure with business?
Candice also was sixth with the fastest 4-fault round on Tarco, followed by Madden associate Max Amaya on Church Road. Max is also headed to the Pan Ams, where he will represent his native Argentina. Christine McCrea finished eighth on Vegas after he ran by the last fence before finally clearing it successfully.
Oh, I should mention that our own superstar junior blogger on EquiSearch.com, Maria Schaub, made an auspicious grand prix debut with Marga. In fact, I thought she was going to go clean, her round was so nice, but the last element of the triple and that Animal Planet fence caught her. Still she came in 18th, which is excellent for a first effort.
I really enjoyed this afternoon. It was showing the way it used to be, when it was fun for competitors and spectators, all about enjoying the moment instead of trying to collect points for some far-off goal.
It would do the sport good if there were more shows like the one at Beacon Hill, which is admirably managed by Oliver Kennedy. I'm not holding my breath, but given the success of this fixture, maybe someone else will try it. I hope so!