Much like the Country Fair right outside the Dixon Oval, the schedule of events of Day 4 of Senior Week has something for everyone. Whether you came to see "the babies", the Young Hunter Under Saddle, Hackney Ponies, or the premiere of the Gaited horses, or the perennial crowd pleasers the Budweiser Clydesdales or the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon, the Dixon Oval was the place to be.
The sunny morning started off with the equine version of the Lead Line classes, from the various breeding divisions. As only babies can do, they whinnied, were a tad naughty, one even did a solo victory lap around the Dixon Oval without its handler, and Ringmaster Bobby Drennan was on the receiving end of a rambunctious Non-Thoroughbred Yearling colt's antics.
Hunter Breeding (aka Baby Day)
The Best Young Horse title was awarded to Holden handled by Kenny Wheeler. For the second year in a row, his now 3 year old gorgeous bay Thoroughbred gelding by Indian Ocean out of Hold The Dream has taken the highly coveted top overall honors in this extremely competitive division. Wheeler has had a lock on this award dating back before 2005 with his Spanish Spear, Capital Hill and now Holden all winning the award for 2 consecutive years. As many times as Wheeler has won the Best Young Horse, this year was the first year in recent memory that he captured the Leading Handler Award, which he was clearly moved by.B.J. Meeks and Best Young Horse Trophy
Hunter Breeding (aka Baby Day)
The trophy for the Best Young Horse is the Kenneth Wheeler Perpetual Trophy donated by B.J. Meeks. When asked why giving this award is so important to him, Meeks replied, "Because it's for Kenny Wheeler, and I just think he's a genius. He's my idol, and it's so important that he gets the recognition. When they asked me if I wanted my name on the trophy, I said no, because in a hundred years no one is going to remember B.J. Meeks, but everybody will remember Kenny Wheeler. He should have his name on that trophy for Best Young Horse, for all the horses that he has had win here, and for what he has done for the sport. I just think it's really important, I love Kenny Wheeler, and I wanted to be here for it."
The $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon
The names inscribed on the Celeste McNeal Harper Perpetual Trophy read like a who's who of American show jumping royalty so evocative of the tradition of quality and heritage for which this class stands. Pressurized, Mill Pearl, Budweiser Gem Twist, Serengeti, Twist Du Valon, Kroon Gravin, Royal Kaliber, and most recently McLain Ward and Sapphire in 2007, Darragh Kerins and Night Train in 2008 and McLain and Sapphire again in 2009 all have their place in history recorded on this very trophy.
The $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon
Twenty-one horse and rider combinations tried to become the newest members of this elite group, including 1996 Olympic Team silver medalist Peter Leone on Select, 2006 WEG silver medalist Margie Engle aboard Hidden Creek's Campella, as well as Todd Minikus and Ken Berkley riding their 2010 World Cup mounts Pavarotti and Carlos Boy respectively.
Course Designer Alan Wade of Cashel, Ireland built a big 1.55-1.60 course with 13 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts with a time allowed of 79 seconds in the first round. The bogie fence was number 6, a vertical near the In Gate. Four horse and riders attempted the course before Charlie Jayne on Athena was the first rider to post a clear round. He was joined by Callan Solem on VDL Torlando, Addison Phillips on Teirra, Jeanne Hobbs on Nielson B, Margie Engle on Hidden Creek's Campella, German Rider Andre Theime on Antares F, Peter Leone on Select, Christine McCrea on Romantovich Take One, and Kate Levy on Lirving de Volsin rounding out the 9 riders with clear rounds returning for the jump off.
In the jump off round it was the 2nd fence (a vertical after a triple bar) that immediately came down four times in a row for the first four jump off riders, due to the change to flat cups for the jump off. Jayne, Solem, Phillips, and Hobbs all tried but failed to go double clear, and it wasn't until the veteran Engle had landed off the last jump in a time of 38.244 that the first double clear round was posted. Ironically, the top three finishers went back to back in the jump off with Thieme following Engle posting a slower time of 38.685. Leone and Select jumped around with surgical precision, shaving off precious second to best Engle's time posting a double clear round in 37.681.
It looked like Christine McCrea who went immediately after Leone was going to take the lead from him, with a blistering time of 37.123, but an unlucky rail cost her the win, and Leone would be victorious. She was however rewarded at the end of the evening with the McDevitt Style Award presented to the rider who exemplifies the best style of riding during the Grand Prix of Devon.
Thieme's 3rdplace finish was worth the spur of the moment trip from Germany just for this class, "I've been in this country for 2 days. I was here many times this winter to show in Florida, I've come over with horses 5 times now. To show in Devon was a really quick decision. I got a call from the owners of the horse, one of which is from this area, and they somehow decided that I would be the right rider for this horse, and thank God they picked me as a rider. They wanted me to come and ride him once before they put him on a plane to Europe. I was so happy with the decision that I jumped on a plane and came over. I did one warm up class the day before yesterday. It's pretty rare that the second class is a Grand Prix like this, but the horse is just so unbelievable that he made it easy for me."
Engle who finished in 2ndplace thought, "It was a nice course, the footing was fantastic, and that's why you had so many horses jump well. I think for the field he had, Alan built a nice course." Engle goes on to talk about her mare, "She just started jumping the Grand Prix last summer and she learned a lot. I did her in the trials this year, but it was a little early for her, but she learned a lot. For her it was a big deal to walk in the ring without doing a practice class. I knew I left the door open in the second round, but when I went there was no one clean, and I didn't want the fastest 4 fault round."
The winner of the Grand Prix of Devon Leone couldn't say enough about his 10 year old partner Select, "He's careful, he wants to win, his character is fantastic, and that explains why I have been able to enjoy success so quickly on him. At this point there isn't any chance of doing anything for the US team in Europe, so this year I want to target some bigger money competitions, I would like to qualify him for the Pfizer $1 million Grand Prix in Saugerties, and hopefully have a good day on the right day. He did it at the Invitational, he did it in Wellington, and he did it tonight." Leone is hoping that he will have enough time to raise money to buy Select who is currently for sale. "I own a small piece of him but he is for sale. The reality is he's like a Geico horse he's so easy a cave man could ride him. He's an equitation horse for the 1.60m."
Photos: Budweiser Clydesdales, Best Young Horse Holden & Kenny Wheeler, Peter Leone & Select-Grand Prix of Devon Winner