Devon, Pa., Sept. 19, 2004 -- I don't care what the calendar says. As far as I'm concerned, summer ended today at the $75,000 Lincoln American Gold Cup. In my version of the seasons, the Gold Cup and its chrysanthemum-decorated jumps always signal the start of autumn. It's the last big outdoor show jumping competition of the year in the Northeast, and it means something very special as a result.
I'm not the only one who feels that way. Robin Sweely, who finished third in the Cup this afternoon on Qarco V'T Merelesnest, summed up the concept perfectly from a rider's viewpoint.
"It's really nice to come here and do well; it feels important to do well here," she said. "You're getting toward end of year, and whether you stop or go on to indoors, it's nice to add the Gold Cup. There's a lot of prestige to that for sure."
But now I've gotten ahead of my story, so let me backtrack and tell you what happened on a sun-sparkled afternoon that followed a day of discouraging rain at the hallowed Devon showground on Philadelphia's Main Line.
To set the stage: The $25,000 qualifier for the Cup was held Friday night. Todd Minikus -- recovered from a nasty fall at the Hampton Classic -- won the evening class with Flier, nearly two seconds ahead of Kim Frey on Couletto K. James. But since riders can have only one horse in the Cup, he picked Viktor, tied for sixth on Friday, as his mount for the Cup.
His victory that night gave him the coveted last spot among today's 26 starters, but he had the third fence down and was out of the running. Viktor wound up in a seven-way tie for sixth that included last spring's Devon Grand Prix winner, Goldika, with Olympic team silver medallist McLain Ward up.
Pepe Gamarra built a course for the Cup itself that was just hard enough, yielding an all-female, five-horse jump-off, which is exactly what he predicted. Well, the number, anyway, not the gender.
"I have witnesses," said Pepe with a chuckle about his accurate forecast. "But I was lucky. It's not easy to guess."
He had a problem, too, because the top show jumpers have been going in so many directions over the last couple of weeks. There were the Olympics, Spruce Meadows, the HITS shows and this weekend, the Samsung Nations' Cup finals in Spain. (Bulletin: The U.S. finished fourth there to stay in the prestigious league for 2005, while France won the overall title for 2004).
Okay, back to Pepe. (Gee, I'm jumping around here as much as the horses!) I asked him what he thought of the field he had to work with here and he admitted, "It wasn't the best. You had the riders, but the horses were not the first-team horses. I had to try to make it a very competitive class and help these horses to come up."