September 14, 2015 -- The American Gold Cup CSI4*-W event, has had many incarnations. I remember the grand prix from its days at the cavernous JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, but it also had stops in Cleveland (in two different centuries!), Tampa and at the Devon, Pa., showgrounds during its 45-year-history, before finding a new home at Old Salem Farm in toney Westchester County, N.Y.
Its trophy--yes, it really is a gold cup-- is one of the most coveted in the sport of show jumping, engraved with the names of many legends, from Idle Dice and the "red rider," flame-haired Rodney Jenkins, to Michael Matz and Jet Run. Just looking at the trophy gives you a short but impressive history of the sport.
The Cup's current home, however, may be its most spectacular venue. Old Salem Farm has a magnificent stable and surroundings. The Gold Cup was an instant fit when it moved there in 2012. As each year passes, the Cup feels more and more at home in North Salem, N.Y., making the most of the charming and picturesque setting, exuding prestige and tradition.
On Gold Cup day, the grass grand prix field is surrounded by white tents housing all manner of shops; mostly horsey, of course, but with plenty to empty the wallet even for non-riders, if you're in the market for antiques, a car or real estate. An appreciative crowd filled the bleachers and spilled out onto the side of a slope going down to the ring, while VIPs watched from a two-tiered tent where the menu included salmon, watermelon salad and an array of fabulous desserts. Corks popped all afternoon as bartenders poured the perfect accompaniments to an afternoon of show jumping.
I reminisced about the class I have covered so many times when I chatted with Michele McEvoy Grubb, who was there from the Cup's first day.
The Cup took on extra luster this year as part of the new Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League. Its official name is the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York, one of seven stops on the East Coast (there are seven on the West Coast, too), with competition not only in the U.S., but in Canada and Mexico as well. The prize money is a minimum of $2.4 million for the series, which will qualify 14 riders for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping finals next year in Gothenburg, Sweden.
With all that is at stake, including $215,000 in prize money, course designer Alan Wade put together a route that had plenty of challenges, including two 1.60 meter verticals set at a 45-degree angle to each other, just before the oxer that was the last test on the 14-obstacle course.
Not the least of the demands on competitors was the terrain. Old Salem's grass field is scenic, but it has little uphills and downhills, which often make it difficult to find the right approach to a fence, calling for a far different way of riding a course than if it were in a level ring with all-weather footing.
Four of the 38 starters were either eliminated or retired, but the rest found a way to cope in some fashion, with an elite group of six making the tie-breaker.
It was an interesting lineup. Colombia's Daniel Bluman, who entered my consciousness several years ago when he was the upset winner of the first $500,000 grand prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival, set a quick pace of 43.38 seconds. But he and Conconcreto Sancha LS, a 12-year old mare by the wonderful Chin Chin, ran afoul of fence 3B, the second part of the Longines double combination that had helped dash the hopes of seven entries in the first round. It left 4 faults on their score, but the time was what the others would have to shoot at.
Catherine Tyree and Enjoy Louis (is that a great name, or what?) had a rail at the sixth of nine jump-off fences, but was more than a second slower than Daniel.
Speedster Laura Kraut (she won Saturday's $85,000 Fidelity Investments Classic with Andretti S) set off fast, just as I expected, with Deauville S. But 3A in that Longines combo got her. At that point, she stepped on the gas, looking to be the fastest 4-faulter and achieved that in 43.27 seconds.
"I was going for a slow clear," she explained, but when the rail dropped, "I knew I had all of them behind me. I went in to give them something to beat, but I just chickened out on the turn (to the combination). I saw the one (stride) to leave out, and I thought it wouldn't be a very good angle for him, so I just swung out one more stride and I just got there too dead.
"It was totally my fault. Once I had that, I was doing the math in my head, and thought `I better speed this up.' I got lucky today and ended up second."
She rides Deauville in a hackamore, noting, "it's been great. I could ride him in a halter, actually, I think. He's so easy to adjust."
After three 4-faulters, I was wondering if anyone would go clean, or whether it would just be a race among the riders who had rails down. And then Richie Moloney came along.
He also was a winner at the show on Saturday, taking the $35,000 Hermès Sellier speed derby. I mention these riders' Saturday victories because it's an example of how good they really are.
For the Gold Cup, Richie crafted a careful but quick enough round with the 12-year-old Carrabis Z, a horse who was difficult early in his career but is now playing on the same team with his U.S.-based Irish rider. While his time of 45.74 turned out to be the second-slowest in the jump-off, his tidy mount left all the rails in place to produce what would be the only clean round.
Unlike Laura, who is vying for a chance to get her ticket to Gothenburg, Richie isn't sure if that would be the trip for him.
He went to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Las Vegas in April to watch, and "saw how hard it was and wasn't sure I had a horse or two horses it would suit," he commented.
Richie was followed into the ring by Peter Lutz on Robin de Ponthual, a 10-year-old stallion who also met his match in fence 3A. His time of 43.95 seconds would put him fourth, a special placing for a fellow who grew up in the area.
There were high hopes for German rider Andre Thieme, last to go on the gorgeous gray Holsteiner Conthendrix, but his problems started early at fence 2 and continued at the pesky double combination, so he finished sixth.
Richie now stands third in the rankings to qualify for the finals, behind Daniel, third in yesterday's class, and Russian Ljubov Kochetova, who is in the lead, finishing seventh yesterday on Veyron with a single time penalty. Laura is tied for fifth in the standings, but I would bet she'll be moving up the ladder. We'll see her at the qualifiers in Washington and Lexington, Ky., this fall.
Richie was mobbed by fans, all seeking autographs or selfies, but we managed to get him away from his public for a few minutes to talk about the class and his horse.
Rain had been predicted, but it held off until after the jumping concluded. I took it as another sign of the Gold Cup's importance. This amazing venue may someday host the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping final, which has been held every year in Barcelona, Spain, so that would be a feather in its cap if it happened. But when it does, you can be sure the Gold Cup will be staged a few weeks before that. Now that it has found its perfect destination, the venerable class isn't leaving town.
This was a beautiful afternoon (pre-rain, of course) in the midst of apple orchard country. So next year, put the Gold Cup on your calendar, save a little time to pick your own apples and have a wonderful day in one of the Northeast's loveliest areas.
For more photos from the American Gold Cup, go to www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman and also look for a photo gallery on Tuesday.