November 20, 2016 -- Riding sixth in a seven-horse jump off, Germany’s Christian Heineking and AJE Cluny had their work cut out for them, especially with Enrique Gonzalez of Mexico having laid down a blazing jump-off trail that looked pretty hard to beat. It was especially daunting when Cluny does what he sometimes does: get behind the leg and buck, in this case while passing the in-gate on a mid-course loop to the 1.6m wall.
When Christian crossed the timers after racing to the final big blue oxer three jumps later, it took him a while to read the clock right. “I didn’t think I had it. I thought I had just missed it!”
In fact, they’d shaved 1/100th of a second off of Enrique’s time. As a press officer said later, “Good thing we have Longines with their precision timing!”
At that point, there was still a countrymate to go, and a wicked fast one in young German Guido Klatte, Jr. Despite it being the finale of what’s been a whirlwind of winning tour for Guido, it wasn’t his night. He and Qinghai went through, rather than over, the final element of the Longines combination in the jump-off.
The win in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas Saturday Nov. 19 vaults Christian into seventh place in the NAL Eastern League. He is based in Texas and competes frequently in the West and sometimes the Midwest. In fact, he has a remarkable four-out-of-the-last-five-years winning streak going at the Omaha Burlington Grand Prix held at the CenturyLink Center where next year’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals take place.
He demurred on the likelihood of being able to put the experience of four years of victories there to great use next March at the Finals. “I still think we have a long ways to go,” said the Reitlehrer FN (master certification from the Germany Riding Academy) who moved to the United States in 2008.
To learn more of Christian's strategy for his round, click on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video below.
The Las Vegas victory is AJE Cluny’s biggest yet. The 12-year-old Oldenburg has been with Christian for two-and-a-half years and is now fulfilling his promise as a Grand Prix prospect. What he may lack in ground speed, he makes up for in affinity for tight tracks and jumping out of tough spots when needed.
Enrique is past the point of being surprised by Chacna, the 9-year-old Hanoverian mare with whom he won the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Del Mar just a month ago. She was third in the big class at HITS Thermal the week prior to Vegas and, per her rider, has yet to be fazed by anything she’s come up against.
With a firm goal of going to Omaha, Enrique was thrilled to learn that Saturday night’s second-place points put him atop the NAL Western Sub League with just two qualifiers to go. He looks forward to returning to his native Mexico, specifically Guadalajara, where he based his business for eight years, to contest the league’s next round in January.
Behind Christian and Enrique, Tina Dilandri Yates enjoyed a happy sort-of homecoming by finishing third in her World Cup outing with Zelote VDL. “I had no expectations whatsoever,” said the former West Coast junior star who is now based in Florida as a young professional. “I’m a bit on cloud nine.” Judging from her confident ride and bold pace in the jump-off, Tina and 12-year-old Dutch stallion have plenty of potential. “He’s a little bit older and it’s taken a long time to succeed with him. We have a great partnership and a bond that’s indescribable.”
Jamie Barge and Luebbo finished fourth, showing off the results of a skill-sharpening summer in Europe. The agile little horse made quite a fuss about entering the ring in the first round, then settled to work and finished with a conservative track that was two seconds slower than the winner’s in the jump-off. Hanna Mauritzson of Sweden and Parkmore Lux were double clear, but slow in fast jump-off company, to finish fifth.
Egypt’s Nayel Nassar and Lordan would have had yet another big win but for a rail at the Longines combination after angling sharply to it. They had to settle for sixth. And behind Guido Klatte, Jr. in seventh, it was Russian rider Ljubov Kochetova and Balou Du Reventon, who were clear but with a time fault in the first round.
A field of 58 on Thursday night whittled down to 33, representing 13 countries, come show time on Saturday. The riders praised Rio track builder Guilherme Jorge for a route that was tough, but fair, and one that produced a nice jump-off for the enthusiastic fans waving neon wristbands and halos.
Working in what feels like a very intimate ring, Guilherme laid a track of 16 efforts into the South Point Arena without making it look cramped. At least, that’s the vantage point of a pedestrian walking the course. The late-course skinny planks three strides away from the in-gate looked like they might be a frequent problem, but instead the rails were spread fairly evenly with the imposing Longines triple combination taking a high share of victims.
Guilherme described it as a little “short and scopey” and it indeed dashed several clear round hopes, as well being an elimination site for two unlucky contenders.
It was a big night for all. The organizers, Blenheim EquiSports, were presented with a nice thank you from the South Point Hotel to honor 10 years of staging the Las Vegas National there. In that time, the show seems to have grown to capacity, at least in the jumper division. The main arena began at 8 a.m. every morning and went continuously late into the night with many classes of 60 riders.
News also broke that the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals will come back to Las Vegas in 2020, (albeit a new venue), a fact celebrated by all in attendance.