Tampa, FL - April 5, 2012 - It was a muddy morning as the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center welcomed numerous horses to the third day of the Tournament of Champions. Luckily, the jumpers were able to dodge the effects of the inclement weather as they gathered in the Covered Arena to compete for the top prize. Today saw great opposition as riders entered the ring to vie for the coveted American Invitational Welcome Stake Championship. It was 17-year-old Claudia Billups and Quick N Easy who mastered the courses, walking away with the championship prize.
Jose Gamarra, the esteemed course designer more affectionately referred to as "Pepe", designed the challenging courses today for the American Invitational Welcome Stake presented by CWD. The course tested riders over 12 obstacles with 15 efforts including an oxer-vertical-vertical triple combination, a vertical-oxer combination and a daunting liverpool. The jump-off proved to be even more of a challenge with no double-clear efforts being attained.
The jump-off began over the first obstacle-a purple oxer and continued with a left turn through the tricky five-stride vertical-oxer line. From there the rider had to take a sharp right rollback over the eighth obstacle, a single vertical. Keeping a strong pace, the outside vertical-oxer double combination approached quickly, landing shortly after and moving forward with a left inside turn to an oxer in the middle of the ring and finishing with a right turn over a single vertical.
Claudia Billups was the third rider to attempt the challenging first round track. She picked up a strong pace with Quick N Easy, and guided him through the course with ease. As she tripped the timer in 69.307 seconds, the crowd applauded with encouragement as she patted her horse and moved immediately into the jump-off.
"I wanted to try to be smooth and get around. I just got Quick N Easy at the beginning of the HITS circuit," Billups explained. "It has taken us a little bit of time to grow comfortable with one another, and today was one of his nicer rounds, it was really great out there with him."
She expertly guided Quick N Easy through the seven obstacles, incurring four faults for an unfortunate rail over the final vertical. She blazed across the finish line in an astounding 36.469 seconds, well within the time allowed of 45 seconds. It turned out that Billups would be the only rider to attempt the short track this evening-managing to also qualify for the jump-off with her mount Rockefeller.
Using Rockefeller's scope and stride to her advantage, she picked up a flowing pace to the first obstacle and moved smoothly into the vertical-oxer line. It was the oxer that gave her a problem as the duo knocked a rail out of its cups. Fortunately, that was the only rail of the short track and she finished with the four-fault total and time of 37.301 seconds, falling just shy of the top spot with Rockefeller; however; very proud that she earned both the first and second place awards aboard her mounts.
"My horse, Quick N Easy, is quick enough as he is on the ground that there wasn't a need to press and make too many tight turns, he turns really nicely and is able to get the time without a problem," Billups described. "As long as you keep him smooth he is just fast naturally. He is a real hot horse and can get quick across the fences, so he really likes his job as a jumper and I think it is apparent when you watch him out there. He's honest and willing to do stuff, sometimes he gets too quick, but it is my job to sit up on him and be the calm factor."
Billups continued, "Rockefeller is a big lopey ride, he's quick across the ground but he jumps really high and is very careful. He usually doesn't touch the jumps and he is a real fun ride. He is my experienced ride. He is a been there done that horse. We have actually started to work with Rockefeller a little more with dressage techniques to help him with movement and keeping him in shape."
Alexa Adelson and Padie Blu Cardu, owned by Starbit Partners LLC of Scarborough, NY, took the third place honors as the fastest four-faulters ending with a time of 71.139 seconds. Elizabeth Bates of Toronto, Canada, rode Marvelous 6 to a speedy time of 72.123 seconds, but the pair knocked down the oxer in the outside double combination adding four faults to their final score and eventually earning the fourth place position. Megan Edrick also found fault at the same oxer, incurring four faults aboard Apollo Van Evandael, owned by Sally Clark and Trudy Biggar of Albany, New Zealand. Their time of 73.975 seconds earned the fifth place finish.
"We just got in last night, and luckily we were able to miss the bad weather. Today was my first day showing in Tampa, and I haven't been here in probably about four years. It is definitely a great show and is a lot of fun," Billups elaborated. "The footing was great, and the course was very well-designed today. I liked it a lot, it had its moments where you had to make decisions and really think. There were a lot of aspects I liked about it."
Billups also competed earlier in the day aboard two mounts in the Low Amateur-Owner Jumpers. She took the second and third place awards for her double-clear efforts, only being beaten by veteran Joy Slater and Silvester. "He is a McLain Ward cast-off," Slater said of Silvester. "He is such a good boy. He is originally a Dutchman but his passport reads Irish, Russian and Estonian, so I am a bit confused to what language he actually speaks. All I know is that he knows what he is doing and I realize what a good boy he is and how well he was trained by McLain."
Slater continued, "I went into the course knowing that I just had to go clear and pretty much stay out of Silvester's way. I made a really good cut-back to the vertical and then Silvester was a good man and took care of me through the combination. He is a good guy and I am lucky to have him. He always has my back and today is even more proof of how great he is. This is actually only the fourth show he has won!"
Slater has been riding at Tampa long before the grass fields were turned into rings. She admitted that she is sometimes nostalgic for those days, but she still enjoys the environment Tampa provides. "I have been coming here for years, and I have yet to be disappointed. They always give it there all to make the event something spectacular and I love that the two-week series ends with the American Invitational."
This week's highlight event is the 2012 $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational presented by G & C Farm, being held on Saturday, April 7, at Raymond James Stadium. The Tournament of Champions will continue through April 7 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, before coming to a close during the American Invitational beginning at 6:30 p.m. The top riders in the country will gather under the lights at Raymond James Stadium to compete for the crown jewel of show jumping.
For more information on Stadium Jumping, Inc. and the 2012 Tampa Equestrian Series please call (941) 744-5465. To download a copy of the prize list, please visit www.stadiumjumping.com.
Photo Credit: Claudia Billups and Quick N Easy earn the victory during the $10,000 American Invitational Stake Welcome Presented By CWD at the Tournament of Champions. Billups earned both top spots with her mounts as the only rider to successfully master the first round course. Photo By: Kendall Bierer/PMG.