September 4, 2016 -- The sporting life and the social life come together here at the Hampton Classic. The show fits perfectly in one of the country's most exclusive and expensive regions.
Want to win a $300,000 grand prix? This is where you come if you have the right horse and sufficient talent.
Want to hobnob with celebrities? Get a table in the VIP tents for $7,500 to $25,000, depending on the location, location, location in said tents. Oh, and that table is yours only for the Tuesday-Sunday run of the eight-day show. Want to be there on opening day? That's extra.
For those not competing at the top level of the jumper ranks, there are plenty of other options, including hunters, equitation, amateur-owner jumpers and young horse classes. But make sure you and your horse are up to it.
“This is the Academy Awards of the horse show world,” observed Laura Troffa of Oldfield, a Long Island village west of the Hamptons. Her daughter competed at the show in the past, but it has grown ever more prestigious and competitive in its 41 years. Now the Troffas are content to participate by taking a table, decorated with stunning arrangements of red roses.
Each table seems more ornate than the next, set not only with masses of flowers, but also horsey statuary and accessories of various kinds, not to mention an incredible array of food and of course, champagne.
Outside the VIP area is a boutique village of shops with pricey luxury wares, including boats and SUVs. For a look at the non-equestrian part of the Classic, click on the right-pointing arrow to watch this video.
The highlight of the show is the closing day grand prix, with prize money increased to $300,000 this year. Presented by Longines, the class is difficult not only because it is held on a large grass field, but also because of the ambience. When the spectators get really involved, it ups the wattage for any event. From the VIP tents and the sponsor chalets, to the crowded grandstand reaching toward the sky, those watching were empathetic, cheering success and moaning in unison when things didn't go right for a competitor. That was often the case in the triple combination, which required energy coming in off a left turn.
The triple involved an oxer “a boxy” two strides from another oxer that was one stride from a vertical, so riders had to push at the beginning of the combination, then hold up a bit for the third element. If they didn't do it right, the middle element was most likely to hit the ground.
A field of 29 was narrowed to a five-horse jump-off by Alan Wade's testing course, with two new fences added to the route for the tiebreaker. It was at one of these, a black and white vertical, that Richie Moloney's horse, Carrabis Z, had a hard rub as the rider “took a bit of a chance” in the way he dealt with the fence.
Would the rail stay up? Yes indeed, and then there was only one more obstacle between this entry and the finish line. He was a speed demon whose clocking of 39.57 seconds could not be touched, but it's worth noting that everyone in the tiebreaker jumped clean; just slower than Richie.
Charlie Jacobs had a great trip on Cassinja S in 41.12 seconds to be the runner-up, while Andrew Welles was just an instant behind him to finish third in his Hampton grand prix debut on Brindis Bogibo (41.15).
Beezie Madden, who last won the class in 1993 when she was still Beezie Patton, finished in 41.33 to be fourth on Quister, ahead of last year's victor, Karen Polle on With Wings (41.54). McLain Ward, who has won the class six times, couldn't make it a seventh time on Friday's qualifier winner, HH Carlos Z, when he had one fence down to finish seventh with the fastest 4-fault trip. Danielle Torano had a single time fault on Callas III to come in sixth.
Richie's performance earned him not only the $99,000 first prize, but also--for the third time--the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider award. Since he lives only 40 minutes from the showgrounds in Bridgehampton, he sets his sights on this show every year. He and his team “try to have the horses in top form for this week. It means a lot to win the grand prix here,” he said.
“My horse has been amazing...I'm very lucky to have him.”
And now he also has two Longines watches, one for the grand prix victory, one for the leading rider title, or to put it another way, one for each arm.
Alan, one of the world's leading course designers, has been everywhere, so I was interested in his view of the Classic. Click on the right-pointing arrow to see his video.
One thing that was apparent during this show is the fact that there's a whole new group of wonderful riders coming up and succeeding in big classes. For example, Mattias Tromp, just 21,who won the $50,000 Longines Cup yesterday.
Andrew is part of the younger group that is making waves and is thrilled to do so. The experience of doing well at the Classic is nothing new for Richie, but for Andrew, it was incredibly special. He didn't have to win; third place in such a prestigious class worked magic for him.
Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch this video and hear his thoughts.
There's also a generation behind the Andrews and Mattiases. Sophie Simpson is a great representative of that group. She is the daughter of two U.S. Equestrian Team veterans, Nicole Shahinian Simpson and Will Simpson, a team gold medalist from the 2008 Olympics. One day, she likely will achieve the same level of success as her parents, and winning the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Style Award here for the second straight year in an indicator of that.
Click on the right pointing arrow to watch her video.
The summer show season is over, even though the calendar may say otherwise. I'll be back with you next Sunday from HITS, where I'm covering the $1 million grand prix. Be sure to check out facebook.com/practicalhorseman in the meantime for more photos from the Hampton Classic.