May 7, 2015 - Del Mar, CA - Brisk winds and ominous gray clouds didn't deter a huge field of horses and riders in the $25,000 1.40m Markel Insurance Grand Prix at the Showpark Ranch & Coast Classic. Of the 68 competitors, only five were able to negotiate all the questions asked within the time allowed.
The Markel Grand Prix serves as an excellent warm-up class for Saturday's grand prix as well as an ideal class for new grand prix pairs. So course designer Oscar Soberon had his work cut out for him in designing a track to challenge every level of experience in the field. "It's all about the material chosen for each jump and making sure the distances are challenging enough but still fair," he explained.
Notably, nearly every fence on the course came down at least once, but the standout four-fault scores appeared at fence 7, a wide oxer with tricky striped poles out of a three stride; and fence 10, a liverpool oxer, set on the rail with black poles. The tight time allowed of 84 seconds also caused faults for a majority of the entries.
With the riders in mind, Soberon made an interesting choice to build fence 8b out of a double combination and fence 9 as option fences, with a choice of a more technical inside track or a more time-consuming but smoother outside track. "I built option fences because the time allowed is tight. The more inexperienced riders have the option to take their time on the outside option and finish their track more easily, but it will be easier to make the time allowed if riders take the other inside option," he said.
As the class progressed, the skies opened with a brief but intense rain shower, as faults accumulated for rider after rider. Twenty-first to go, Andrew Kocher on Eagle Valley Partners, LLC's C'Havinia turned in the first clear round, followed several rounds later by a California favorite, Richard Spooner, aboard his own Chivas Z.
Another large percentage of the class passed with unsuccessful attempts at clear rounds before Francie Steinwedell-Carvin on Lapsus Du Lavoir (owned by Prentiss Partners) galloped in twenty rounds later for the third clear round. Eduardo Menezes on his own Catalina became the fourth clear, with the fifth and final clean round from Lauren Hester aboard Hester Equestrian, Inc's Wender.
Kocher and C'Havinia returned first. The St. Louis, Missouri rider and 8-year-old KWPN mare have kicked off 2015 on a successful note, most recently earning a top ten finish in the $25,000 Ralph Suarez Grand Prix and scoring numerous other top grand prix placings this past winter competing on the circuit in Gulfport. Kocher zipped around the course to stop the timers with a clear round in 38.31 seconds.
Spooner and Chivas Z were next to race for the top prize. The "Master of Faster," whose name is synonymous with grand prix wins on an international scale, had a blazing time until an unexpected stop at the final fence left them with a four-fault score in 51.17 seconds.
The final three riders each had one rail on course as they contested Kocher's clear round. Steinwedell-Carvin and Lapsus Du Lavoir brought down fence 12 but had the quickest time in 36.66 seconds, while Menezes and Catalina had a rail at 13b in 37.87 seconds. Last to return, Hester and Wender proceeded carefully around the course, aiming to be the second clear round until the final fence dropped for a four-fault score in 40.52.
Kocher praised C'Havinia and explained his strategy. "It's the first grand prix she's ever won. We're just starting to get used to going with speed - she can jump a lot of clears but has been having a little trouble with speed. I was medium quick today but I got lucky enough."
The East Coast rider is on his first West Coast tour and plans to return. "This is our first time in California; we did the Spring Classic series in San Juan Capistrano, then Flintridge, Del Mar National, and now here. It's our first time at Showpark and we're liking it a lot," he said. "We're planning a couple more weeks here for early summer then maybe Colorado. We'll definitely be back next year and stay longer - the weather is a little nicer than middle America!"
The action continues at Showpark Ranch & Coast with Friday's $10,000 USHJA High Performance Hunter Derby. Saturday will conclude the week's showcase classes with the $7,500 CashCall Mortgage Futurity before the afternoon's $60,000 Grand Prix of California, presented by EQU Lifestyle Boutique.
$25,000 1.40m Markel Insurance Grand Prix
Place - Number - Horse - Rider - Owner - Faults/Time
1. 852 - C'Havinia - Andrew Kocher - Eagle Valley Partners, LLC - 0/0/38.318
2. 153 - Lapsus Du Lavoir - Francie Steinwedell-Carvin - Prentiss Partners - 0/4/36.669
3. 972 - Catalina - Eduardo Menezes - Eduardo Menezes - 0/4/37.870
4. 312 - Wender - Lauren Hester - Hester Equestrian, LLC - 0/4/40.526
5. 811 - Chivas Z - Richard Spooner - Richard Spooner - 0/4/51.173
6. 360 - ASB Conquistador - Eric Navet - Signe Ostby - 1/84.945
7. 421 - Celina - Ray Texel - Jack O'Neill - 2/85.554
8. 147 - Ecuador - Francie Steinwedell-Carvin - Woodacres Stables, LLC - 2/85.947
9. 460 - Pacifico - Eduardo Sanchez-Navarro - Eduardo Sanchez-Navarro - 3/86.812
10. 971 - Caruschka - Eduardo Menezes - Eduardo Menezes - 4/79.503
11. 651 - Katie Riddle - Will Simpson - Monarch International - 4/80.598
12. 854 - Ciana - Andrew Kocher - Eagle Valley Partners, LLC - 4/80.633