September 3, 2016 -- The most recognizable names of U.S. show jumping, Rio Olympic silver medal teammates McLain Ward and Beezie Madden, along with the likes of Todd Minikus and Leslie Howard, had to step aside this afternoon as 21-year-old Mattias Tromp took the $50,000 Longines Cup at the Hampton Classic.
Even casual fans whose only brush with grand prix jumping is an annual trip to the ritzy show are familiar with McLain and company, but Tromp? It's unlikely, since the Cup was his biggest win to date.
The youthful professional topped an eight-horse jump-off populated by young people and relative unknowns, with the exception of U.S.-based Irish rider Shane Sweetnam.
The field of 42 was a tough one for which to build a route, with a mix of experienced riders on their second- or third-string horses or newer mounts, along with less experienced riders. But Irish course designer Alan Wade, who has been tapped to lay out the Longines FEI World Cup™ finals in Omaha next spring, was up to the task.
It looked a little dicey at the beginning, as three of the first four starters went clear, but then others came up with knockdowns, time faults or refusals to insure the group for the tiebreaker would be compact.
“It's quite a difficult class to judge,” Alan conceded. “I was just trying to find the balance. It wasn't easy, but I think we had good sport today. I take it on the chin if I had too many or too few; you just go with your gut feeling for the day, what you think is right. If 15 jump it clean, if five jump it clean, so be it.”
Mattias rides out of Beyaert Farm in North Salem, N.Y., where he runs the business with his sister, Emmy. His brother, David, who helped start the farm, has gone out on his own in Saugerties, N.Y.
It was only this spring that Mattias started riding his Longines Cup mount, Avon, a 12-year-old Swedish stallion by Quidam de Revel.
Despite their short acquaintance, the two were totally in sync for the Cup, wasting neither time nor ground to finish in 38.34 seconds with a clean round.
“It never feels as fast as it is on that horse. When you look up at the scoreboard and realize what the time is, you're surprised,” said Mattias.
U.S.-based Colombian rider Pablo Mejia Villa on Reglisse Top was fault-free, but more than two seconds slower in 40.96 to claim the red ribbon.
Pablo had competed in young horse classes at the Classic, but the Cup was a step up. Luckily, the atmosphere that is so much a part of the show didn't faze Reglisse.
“My mare is very relaxed. She doesn't care much about what is around. She is very focused on her job,” said Pablo.
Mattias, who said he woke up in the morning hoping only to jump a clear round, suddenly found himself the center of unaccustomed attention, enjoying a champagne toast and being sought out by photographers and reporters.
After the hubub subsided, I had a chance to talk to Mattias while the jumps were being cleared from the arena. Click on the arrow to see the video.
Third place for a 42.76-second clear round earned Catherine Tyree enough points to take over the Longines Leading Rider standings from Richie Maloney, while McLain stands third. The title and $30,000 will be awarded to whoever has the most points following Sunday's $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix, presented by Longines.
Even if she doesn't take home that check, it's an especially nice honor for 21-year-old Catherine to be able to wear the sash in the grand prix. She suffered a tragedy in January and was out for more than five months with a fractured foot after her horse, Free Style VH Polderof, collapsed and died, falling on her rider when she was preparing to go into a jump-off round as the Winter Equestrian Festival got under way.
Word of her new status after the Cup made Catherine's eyes sparkle.
“I'm very excited and honored. I'll be riding a newer horse tomorrow but I feel very confident,” she said. “It is a great testament to the horses that I'm lucky enough to have, and the program we have at North Run (the stable run by Missy Clark and John Brennan). I know that whenever I walk into a class, there is nothing my horse and I can't do.”
The $300,000 grand prix traditionally ends the summer season and is a highlight for riders and spectators. Concern about tropical storm (formerly hurricane) Hermine, however, prompted a change in the Sunday schedule to run the class earlier.
I spoke with the show's executive director, Shanette Barth Cohen, about the situation.
Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what she had to say.
Be sure to check back tomorrow night, when I'll fill you in on the happenings of grand prix day. In the meantime, go to www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman to see more photos from the Hampton Classic.