Lexington, KY - Alison Robitaille has traveled to the Olympics as a first alternate, competed at the World Equestrian Games and won team silver at the Pan American Games, but in recent years, as she busily brings along young horses and two young children of her own, she has been continually knocking on the door of a grand prix win. On Saturday night at the Kentucky Horse Park she knocked the door all the way down and rode away with an impressive victory in the $50,000 Kentucky Summer Classic Grand Prix, sponsored by GGT Footing.
"I'm really so excited. It's been a long time since I've won a grand prix," Robitaille said. "I'm so proud of my horse. I got her at the end of her 7-year-old year and sort of stepped her up into the grand prix. I'm just really proud of her." The mare that Robitaille speaks of his Cassinja, a 10-year-old Holsteiner mare owned by Robitaille's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone. The pair of Robitaille and Cassinja was the ninth in the field of 41 to try their hand at the Florencio Hernandez-designed course set in Rolex Stadium, and they were the first to execute it without fault.
At the conclusion of the first round, six more combinations would join them on the clear list, advancing seven total on to the jump-off. As the first clear, Robitaille was also the first to return, and she laid it down again, finishing faultless with a time of 55.339 seconds. "I was thinking going in, 'it's a long jump-off.' So I wanted to put some pressure, but I wanted to really make sure that I was clean," Robitaille said.
While Robitaille's time seemed like it could be beatable, her strategy greatly paid off in the end. Lucas Porter and Sleepy P Ranch's Doma Sue returned next, finishing on five faults in a time of 58.633 seconds, which would end up being good enough for fourth as the next two to return did not fair quite as well. Both Scott Lenkart, on Fleur De Lis Farms' Ziezo, and Blythe Marano, on Riverview Farm's Quabelle, fell victims to refusals on course. Ziezo's refusal would result in a finish effort of 10 faults in a time of 63.834 seconds for he and Lenkart; Marano and Quabelle would be eliminated from the jump-off after Quabelle stopped twice at the fourth fence of the short course.
Sharn Wordley and Barnetta, owned by the Sky Group, came next, finishing clear but on two time faults after electing to take a slightly longer route to the last fence, finishing on a time of 59.259 seconds. Wilton Porter and Paloubet, owned by Sleepy P Ranch, followed Wordley, but the refusal bug would strike for a third time in the jump-off phase, resulting in Wilton electing to retire and finish tied for sixth with Marano.
From there the final chance to topple Robitaille's time was in Juan Ortiz's hands with Dulien Van De Smeets, owned by Synchronicity Group. It looked like Ortiz had it all the way to the end, but as he tripped the timers the scoreboard flashed 53.38 seconds - just tenths off of Robitaille's winning time. "By nature, she's not the fastest horse," Ortiz said of Dulien Van De Smeets. "She's a very scopey, powerful horse. Her advantage is to jump big classes with clean rounds, which is where other horses struggle. Going against a horse like Alison's, which is a little smaller and lighter on his feet, I had to make too many efforts, and there were not really a lot of places for me to eat strides." Ortiz just acquired the ride on Dulien Van De Smeets this summer after getting a call from McLain Ward.
"There was a chance to go to Pan Am Games. So, my friend McLain, one of my best friends in the world, calls me on the phone and says, 'Juan, I have the horse for you to go to Pan Ams,'" Ortiz explained. "I called the person in charge of the group, and said, 'McLain just called and said he has the horse for us to go to Pan Ams.' They said, 'well, Pan Ams are in two months, and you haven't ridden the thing.' I said, 'well, I trust him.' My partner believed in me, and McLain thought that it was the right horse for me, so I jogged the mare, jumped the first class, and in the first grand prix I jumped double clear. Since then, we've only jumped one grand prix that I haven't jumped double clear. It's been an unbelievable experience."
While Dulien Van De Smeets is a new mount for Ortiz, the winning partnership of Robitaille and Cassinja is one that has been three years in the making, and Robitaille was thrilled with the mare's quick jump-off performance on Saturday night.
"She's always been very brave and basically rideable. It's just been a little bit of a process learning how to go fast on her," Robitaille explained. "In the beginning, when I went to go fast, she thought that she was in trouble. She would be more looking back at me and worried. Now, in the last year, she's really picked up on it and is so much more with me. I feel like she gets it more in the jump-off now. It's really fun. It's a fun part of bringing young horses along - to feel it come together."
Robitaille continued, "I have to say a huge thank you to my parents. They've been supporting me for such a long time. And I'm so lucky to have my whole team and Efrain Vega who takes care of Cassinja. The whole team is really fantastic." Robitaille's team will head next to HITS Saugerties, after enjoying their past two weeks at the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows. "I love coming to Kentucky. We've been coming probably for 20 years," Robitaille said. "It's wonderful to be here and to get to ride out in the fields. We love the footing here. The horses seem to get better after being here for a couple of weeks, rather than feeling like they're sore and want to go home."
Sunday marks the conclusion of the Kentucky Summer Classic, and the jumper competition continues in the Rolex Stadium with the NAL/WIHS Child and Adult Jumper Classics beginning at 8 a.m.
Class : 651 KENTUCKY SUMMER GRAND PRIX II sec 2a Results
Place Horse Rider
1.CASSINJA ALISON ROBITAILLE
2. DULIEN VAN DE SMJUAN ORTIZ
3. BARNETTA SHARN WORDLEY
4. DOMA SUE LUCAS PORTER
5. ZIEZO SCOTT LENKART
6. QUABELLE BLYTHE MARANO
7. PALOUBET WILTON PORTER
8. REBECA LS BRIANNE GOUTAL
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Show series, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.