August 31, 2013--Longines' debut as a Hampton Classic sponsor has been high-profile, with giant watch replicas in the arena and jumps painted with the name of the company in charge of timing for the show. Today's featured competition, won by Richie Moloney of Ireland on Carrabis Z, was renamed the Longines Cup with $40,000 in prize money, rather than $30,000 as in previous incarnations. So, if you were on the grounds this afternoon, you couldn't miss the fact that Longines had arrived at the moneyed Hamptons in a big way.
A parade of representatives from other U.S. horse shows were hoping they could cash in on the watchmaker's cachet, not to mention its largesse. Juan-Carlos Capelli, the company's Swiss-based vice president who serves as its head of international marketing, was busy meeting yesterday with suitors seeking to have Longines involved with their competitions. They trooped into the well-appointed Longines Chalet flanking the grass grand prix arena to make their pitches. He gave them time and attention, but no commitments--yet.
Longines has a major presence in horse sports in Europe and the Middle East. Now, he said, "we want to see what we can find in North America."
The Classic, which he called "fantastic," is the first show in the U.S. where Longines has been a sponsor, but it won't be the last as he looks for competitions that share the attributes "and philosophy" of the Classic and Longines.
You'll remember that Longines signed a 10-year sponsorship agreement in December 2012 with the FEI, the international equestrian federation. It was described as lucrative, although a specific figure was not mentioned.
"We never speak about money," said Juan-Carlos, waving away the obvious question with a smile while in a chalet where diamond-studded watches glittered, securely on display behind glass.
But it's enough to know that Longines is making itself a big player in the sport and it plans to expand its presence in the U.S.
The Classic was an obvious first stop, because it's all about posh and elegant, words that also describe Longines' product.
Longines, which has had involvement with horse sports since 1878 and show jumping since 1926, sponsors racing in the U.S. and abroad, show jumping and endurance. Might the company get involved with another discipline, perhaps three-day eventing or dressage?
The canny Juan-Carlos, who you have realized by now isn't in the habit of showing his cards, pointed out that as sponsor of the 2018 and 2022 World Equestrian Games, the company will be involved with all eight FEI disciplines. So who knows where it will go from there?
"Step by step, we will discover other disciplines," he said.
Longines is relying on the FEI for some direction.
"We trust our partner," he explained.
On hand in the chalet was a representative of that partner, London and Lausanne, Switzerland-based American Lisa Lazarus. Formerly in the FEI's legal department, she is now its marketing honcho.
Discussing the "landmark" deal with Longines, she said, "Our thinking behind it was we wanted it to be a genuine partnership, where not only would they be putting money (into) the sport, but they would really be thinking with us about how to grow it, and not just grow it in Europe, but grow it all over the world.
"There also was an opportunity for us to assist Longines to be in contact with organizers of important shows around the world. We're delighted Longines has taken a very serious interest in North America."
Lisa noted, " For me, it makes a whole lot of sense to start with the Hampton Classic, because it is one of the most important shows in the U.S., at least from my standpoint.
"I think it represents the right community and the right sort of positioning for them. The Hamptons are sort of where the people that Longines is trying to reach spend their summers. As an FEI representative, but also an American, I'm really proud Longines has chosen the Hampton Classic as their first foray into horse sport in the U.S. They came here to see what it was like and how the Americans do things. My sense is that their experience has been very positive and as a result, they'll start to look at other shows in North America. The other strong jumping shows on the East Coast would likely fit their interests."
One thing the Longines folks want to see is a good crowd, and they got it this afternoon. The class brought only three riders from a field of 42 through to the jump-off, and surprisingly, Kent Farrington and McLain Ward weren't among them. McLain won yesterday's qualifier for today's $250,000 FTI Grand Prix with the irrepressible Rothchild, a favorite to score his seventh victory in the class. He'll have to beat defending champion Kent Farrington with Voyeur, however. Both riders were aboard their second-string horses today.
Who knows, though. Maybe the winner will be a surprise. Richie Moloney certainly wasn't the odds-on favorite to take the Cup this afternoon, but he did it by managing the only clear round in the tie-breaker, though his clocking of 43.86 seconds was the slowest of the group. However, Catherine Pasmore, who set the pace with Zaragosa and would have been fast enough to win, dropped a rail to finish second in 41.01 seconds. Another Irishman, Ronan McGuigan -- who has been riding against Richie since the two were showing ponies as children in Ireland -- also had a rail with Capell Zidane and wound up third in 42.08.
Longines is giving a $30,000 Leading Rider award tomorrow. McLain is ahead for that, with 169 points, while Richie has 149. Brianne Goutal is third with 127 and Ronan fourth on 117.5. Richie fell off in the Grand Prix in his first Hampton Classic two years ago, so as he said, he's hoping things go better tomorrow in that class. I'll bet they do.
Find out what happened by coming back to EquiSearch tomorrow for my postcard wrapping up the show.