Highlights from the $50,000 Blenheim World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix, presented by the OC Register Friday evening – September 11, 2009

Could we say that this class was an early in the season World Cup wake up call? While some of our top finishers from the last qualifier were away at Spruce Meadows, the thirteen efforts set by Michel Vaillancourt challenged each of the twenty-four entries in the second West Coast World Cup qualifying class, as not one managed to ride fault free.

One serious course culprit was the tight time allowed of 67 seconds. Only a third of the class rode within the time, the remaining sixteen riders accrued at least one time fault. The bend from jump one to two that began the course rode well for all, and not a single rail dropped in the option seven or eight oxer vertical line. Even for those who chose to ride the seven, time faults still accrued. Just a few dropped rails in the tight turn off the rail leading to fences three and four – an oxer to a tall plank vertical in a long three. Again very few had trouble with the immediate bend in seven strides to the left to fence five, the liverpool. The triple combination took its toll – a triple bar-vertical-vertical that rode very snug and forced the riders to continue on in four forward strides to an oxer – well over half the class caught one or two rails somewhere within that line. In this indoor setting the oxer at jump eight came up immediately after a right turn in five strides to a very forward one with a wide oxer as element B. Multiple riders did not make it across the width coming out of the double combination. Seemingly straight forward the oxer at fence ten came down a surprising amount of times – possibly due to riders thinking about the time allowed? The course finished up with a vertical at the top end of the ring, one other spot where there was no room to ‘add’ strides in the corner and make the time. Finishing to a left turn coming home over an airy gate in a long four strides to a sizeable oxer.

Becky Smith and Galan 195 (Audrey Halle, owner) were the only pair who managed to jump around without dropping a single rail. Recently imported, the big chestnut and Smith have only been in the grand prix arena together for the last month. Stopping the clock in 67.29, she finished with one fault. Usually a heartbreak score, on this auspicious day it was best of the class for the win. Placing second with just one rail at fence seven and within the time allowed was Percynality and Mexican rider Eduardo Menezes. The fabulous pair of Susie Hutchison and El Dorado 29’s Cantano came close, just a rail at 9A and just one tenth of a second over the time allowed for five faults. Good enough for third. The other five faulter, just touching the end fence enough to lower its height and finishing in 69.61 for fourth place was Helen McNaught on her own Caballo.

The next ribbons went to eight fault scores – both of these riders stopped the clock within the time but had two rails along the way. Joie Gatlin and Cameron Hills Quick Dollar and Lane Clarke aboard Kiss the Sky each had combination rails – for Gatlin it was jumping into the triple at 6A and the other coming out of the long double at 9B. And for Clarke 6C and 9B were the downfalls. Rounding out eighth through twelfth were the nine faulters each with two rails plus a time fault. Notable that two of these top twelve finishers were teenagers – college-bound Saer Coulter was eighth on Chalan and Stefanie Saperstein was tenth aboard El Sueno’s Quanto VL. The next World Cup Qualifier is next week at the Los Angeles International Jumping Festival.

Celebrating With Robert Ridland

By Jackie McFarland

Having the opportunity to speak with the Rolex FEI World Cup Manager of Show Jumping, Robert Ridland, who also happens to be the President of Blenheim EquiSports, both before and after the event was a profound experience.

First let it be said that when Robert Ridland has a job to do, whether that job involves his family, his horse business or the business of our sport, he is completely focused on the task(s) at hand. Getting his attention pre-event was next to impossible, which is commendable for those he is working for – the horses and riders coming to the World Cup. His unwavering goal is to make this event the best it can possibly be for show jumpers worldwide. When asked what he does to help horses and riders settle in once arriving in Vegas, his answer was simply “Everything!”

We did have a celebratory conversation on a day post the final West Coast World Cup qualifier in late March and pre the World Cup Final in mid-April. “This day is unprecedented,” he exclaimed. “What just happened is the most amazing demonstration of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed.” The happening he referred to was when both the fourth and fifth ranked World Cup West Coast League riders stepped aside to allow the sixth-ranked rider to compete in the World Cup Finals this year. Gold Medal Olympian Will Simpson (ranked 4th) and previous World Cup competitor Jill Humphrey (ranked 5th) voluntarily stepped aside to allow Rich Fellers (ranked 6th) to be the fourth rider from the West Coast. Since the FEI World Cup is not a team competition, hats off to Will and Jill for acting as team players in an instance where it is not required or even expected. “It leaves us with a good feeling,” Ridland commented.

Ridland was also excited about the West Coast riders who earned spots to compete in Las Vegas – Mandy Porter, Ashlee Bond, Richard Spooner and as mentioned Rich Fellers. Although not the top finishers this year, “Our riders made us all proud,” said Ridland. “They were well-prepared and confident.”

Regarding the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final, the consensus from rider, attendee, press and management was overwhelmingly positive, although bittersweet, knowing the event would not return in 2011. A bit spoiled after having the World Cup Final come to the states, namely to Las Vegas, five times in the last nine years, everyone was wondering – would the World Cup return to the US? To Las Vegas? If so, when? Ridland had the answer and shared it with the press, who in turn get to spread the good word.

Once the three top riders in the world, Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER), second by only two seconds and no faults McLain Ward (USA) and third by just over 4 seconds and no faults Albert Zoer (NED), had been questioned and congratulated at the press conference on Sunday, the parting comment regarding having the event return to Vegas was “this production is on par if not above any other show in the world.” At this point Sven Holmberg, FEI Vice President, stood at the podium and expressed disappointment that Las Vegas Events withdrew their bid for the 2011 and 2013 events. He then introduced Robert Ridland. After ten years of participation, Ridland took the time to honor some of the many names that made this phenomenal event possible year after year, including John Quirk, Bob Maxey, Shawn Davis, Tim Keener and Pat Christensen, among others. He then stated that Blenheim EquiSports, with the full support of Las Vegas Events, would be making a bid to bring the FEI World Cup Finals back to Las Vegas in 2014. “This team, this event is too good to give up,” he said. In response to this announcement Holmberg replied with a smile that the 2014 bid would be “very well received.”

After the amazing competition we were lucky enough to see this year – literally history in the making and potentially never to be repeated. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum wins her third World Cup Final, the second one she’s garnered in Vegas, and as she so aptly stated “I think this was a great event – it was very, very close. This was the hardest win I’ve ever had. McLain made it difficult, he left no room for error. It was also my most perfect win – winning all three days on a once in a lifetime horse doing this at age 16.”

Think positive, go ahead and mark the dates in your calendars. In just five short years, the FEI World Cup Finals will once again return to Las Vegas. Now that is reason to celebrate.