November 1, 2015 -- When it's a dash for cash, Kent Farrington is tough to beat--especially when he's riding the eccentric but swift Voyeur.
"He's pretty wild," Kent conceded with a wry little smile, noting the 13-year-old Dutch warmblood has a penchant for spooking and spinning. But when Kent points him at a jump, there's no need to count strides. Voyeur finds his way, as he did today in the $250,000 feature at the CP National Horse Show, winning the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Lexington in a marathon 13-horse jump-off.
Course designer Guilherme Jorge, who will set the routes for the Olympics in Rio next year, was doing his "what-ifs" after the class, thinking that if he had tightened the 79-second time allowed by one second, it would have been a smaller tiebreaker. He mentioned that maybe he also should have included more options, but I'm not sure why he was second-guessing himself.
Okay, some people said the course was "soft," because more than one-third of the 35 starters went fault-free in what I thought was an interesting first round. The last line, a vertical to a liverpool oxer, caught some major players, including Reed Kessler (Cylana), Paige Johnson, fresh off a win at Tryon with Luke Skywalker, Charlie Jacobs (Flaming Star) and several others.
But it was a real creme de la creme list that made it into the jump-off. And after European domination at the Washington International Horse Show last weekend, it was nice to see two U.S. riders at the top of the heap today.
As Gui pointed out, the size of the arena means it's nearly like jumping outdoors (especially after the tight confines of Washington's Verizon Center) but the excellent footing also enables the horses to be at their best, with optimal stabling and plenty of warm-up space playing into that equation as well.
Explaining how he was playing the game here, the designer said, "We wanted to start a little easier and make it tougher throughout the week, but it looks like the riders had the same plan as I did, because they kept jumping better and better. I thought the course today was a big track, but obviously not that big, because they jumped it really well."
The National had to play second fiddle this time around to racing's Breeders' Cup, which dominated things in Lexington Friday and Saturday, when attendance at the show was understandably light. Everyone, apparently, was at Keeneland. The National made a big effort to coordinate with the Cup, though, and since both horse racing and show jumping have Longines sponsorship, it was a natural marriage.
There was off-track wagering at the Alltech Arena, in a room where people could place a bet, catch a race on one of the many TV screens around the room, then wander out into the stands and see a class. It was cool to watch American Pharoah alongside so many enthusiastic people, who cheered wildly when he won the Breeders Cup Classic.
So with no racing today, the National expected, and was rewarded with, a bigger crowd. And I think they got their money's worth with the big jump-off for their afternoon's entertainment.
The winner of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington, the Netherlands' Harrie Smolders on Emerald, had the unenviable task of going first in the jump-off. That is one marvelous horse ("a freak" someone behind me said, using a word that is a term of praise in the jumper world.) But two rails down put him out of the placings--he didn't even get a ribbon.
After that, the clean rounds kept getting faster and faster. Last year's winner, Beezie Madden, had a clocking of 34.26 seconds on Breitling. But she was only fourth to go, and with Kent lingering further down in the line-up, I'm sure Beezie wasn't counting on having her name engraved on the trophy again.
After Kent blistered around in 33.19 seconds, I told a friend that he had it.
"Laura will try to get him, but she won't quite make it," I predicted about Laura Kraut, who is still getting to know Deauville S, her mount today. And indeed, she was close, but 34.05 was still off the pace. Belgium's Olivier Philippaerts, one of the set of twins who are a double threat in any show ring, was just 0.02 seconds from Laura's clocking. He would settle for third with H&M Challenge V/D Begijnakker Z, who is blind in one eye but doesn't let that stop him.
Laura, who wound up as the show's Leading Lady Rider, said she has only had Deauville since March, so she is thrilled with his effort.
"I was lucky. I went after Kent, and had the advantage of at least being able to see him go, which was helpful," she observed.
"I tried to stay on with what he has done, but I couldn't get the momentum to the last fence. I thought I'd be second or third, so I played it a little safe going to the last."
She got the horse from her partner, Nick Skelton, whose style didn't jibe with that of Deauville. When he handed the Holsteiner off to Laura, she won the first class she went in with him.
"Well that's it," Nick declared. "I'm never riding him again." He did, however, go to Laura's clients, Old Willow Farm, and suggested they buy him for her. Which they did.
Before she left, Laura and I had a chat about her plans. Click on the video to hear what we talked about.
The CP National is an enormous undertaking. For example, yesterday's first round of the Maclay started at 6:30 a.m., and the show jumping didn't wrap up last night until after 11 p.m. Today, the Maclay finals for the top 30 started at 8:30 a.m., and it was after 5 p.m. before workers began dismantling the arena set-up.
I talked to show manager Hugh Kincannon about what it's like to put on a show such as the National. After all, with a history that began in 1883, there are stringent standards and tradition to uphold. Click on the video to hear what he had to say.
The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League has been slimmed down this season, so it becomes even more of an elite honor for shows to host the qualifiers. It's quite a race, and one that's far from over.
The lead in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League still belongs to Hardin Towell, who was fifth today on Emilie de Diamant A S. He has 50 points, to 40 for Samuel Parot of Chile, who has been dominant in western qualifiers. Quentin Judge has 36, to 34 for Laura. Beezie is only one point behind her, and Kent is two points back of Beezie. So it's going to be a battle royal in 10 days at the Royal Winter Fair in Canada, scene of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto.
I'll be there to fill you in. Can't wait to see if Laura gets the upper hand next time.