New York, NY - U.S. Open Show Jumping commenced at the second-annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show in Manhattan's Wollman Rink on Thursday evening with a $40,000 FEI Speed Class, presented by Canadian Pacific Railway, and the $25,000 Under 25 Grand Prix. Ireland's Conor Swail, who also took top individual honors in the 2014 $50,000 "NYC vs. The World" Team Speed Challenge in Central Park, jumped to victory again in the FEI Speed, this time aboard Simba De La Roque.
International designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil set the track for the $40,000 FEI Speed Class, presented by Canadian Pacific Railway, which served as an opening round to the U.S. Open $212,000 FEI 3* Grand Prix, presented by Rolex. Twenty-seven competed in the speed test with faults converting to points and carrying over to the U.S. Open Grand Prix on Friday, Sept. 25.
Swail and Simba De la Roque entered the ring, backed by the New York City skyline, from 14th in the original order, and the nine-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Kannan x Allegreto)left all the rails intact in Jorge's 13-effort course. He stopped the clock clear and fast in 57.36 seconds for owners Susan & Ariel Grange.
Swail's time bumped fellow Rolex Central Park Horse Show veteran Todd Minikus (USA) from the lead into second. Minikus and Quality Girl, owned by Quality Group, finished as the runner up in 58.10 seconds. Daniel Bluman and Conconcreto Believe capped the top three in 59.33 seconds for owners Blue Star Investments and Colombian colors. Hardin Towell (USA) and the aptly-named New York, owned by Jennifer Gates, LLC, took fourth in 61.57 seconds, while Kent Farrington and RCG Farm's Uceko rounded out the top five finishers on 62.17 seconds.
Coming off a win in the $125,000 New Albany Classic last week, Swail and Simba De La Roque have enjoyed a string of recent successes, topped by Thursday's U.S. Open win. "It's great to be here again. The horse was great and the venue is just amazing," said Swail. "The course builder wanted us to ride it a certain way and I don't think there was any other way to do it. We all did similar numbers all the way around."
Swail gave credit to Simba De La Roque for being careful and accurate in striking surroundings, but acknowledged that his challengers were sitting on horses with similar talents. "The 1-2-3 horses are all very careful and very shifty with quickness off the ground. You need to be on something that can be that way in this atmosphere. Now and again you try and make the horse fit the venue and I think it's working so far," he added.
Bluman agreed, saying, "It's about picking a horse that can jump like it's an indoor competition. You also have to have a horse that can walk into a very impressive venue right off the bat, feel comfortable with the crowd and rise up to the occasion." Bluman and Conconcreto Believe jumped near the end of the order, leaving Minikus' time with Quality Girl from the 9th place in the order intact.
"My plan was not to go as quick as I did, and when I came in the ring, Quality Girl seemed like she woke up a little bit. I overrode the first jump, but then she felt on her game and we just tried to stay on the same page the whole way around," said Minikus.
All three top riders agreed that the class was the perfect preparation for Friday's signature event. The U.S. Open $212,000 FEI 3* Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, takes center stage in Wollman Rink on Friday at 8 p.m., when riders will not only aim to take home the blue ribbon, but an exciting bonus as well. While cashing in on their share of the $212,000 purse, the winning rider will be presented with an additional $25,000 for the U.S. Open honor.
After Thursday's win, Swail set his sights on preparing for Friday, but was quick to acknowledge his gratitude for being invited to the Rolex Central Park Horse Show, and to Canadian Pacific Railway for their dedication to promoting horse sport.
Canadian Pacific's President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Creel joined riders at the closing press conference and expressed his satisfaction with being part of the second-annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show. "I was here last year and this exceeded expectations again - it's phenomenal," he said. "I sat here sending pictures to my wife and my daughter - it's just an incredibly special place for a competition and was first class. We're so happy to be a part of it."
This year serves as the unveiling of the U.S. Open at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show, a concept that Mark Bellissimo, International Equestrian Group (IEG) CEO, is confident will expand. "We're already seeing the riders bringing their better horses this year and I think it will just continue in the right direction," he said. "Over time, we want this to be one of the greatest stops in show jumping. Bringing something to the market like this is very different and I think there's an amazing opportunity for the sport here."
Final Results: U.S. Open $40,000 FEI Speed, presented by Canadian Pacific Railway
Place Entry # Horse Rider Time
1 5 SIMBA DE LA ROQUE CONOR SWAIL 57.36
2 23 QUALITY GIRL TODD MINIKUS 58.10
3 21 CONCONCRETO BELIEVE DANIEL BLUMAN 59.33
4 2 NEW YORK HARDIN TOWELL 61.57
5 4 UCEKO KENT FARRINGTON 62.17
6 26 CONTHENDRIX ANDRE THIEME 62.27
7 41 CALENO 3 GEORGINA BLOOMBERG 63.32
8 7 HH CISKE VAN OVERIS MAGGIE MCALARY 63.88
9 72 KISMET 50 CANDICE KING 64.21
10 10 ROBIN DE PONTHUAL PETER LUTZ 64.85
11 22 CAT BALLOU MOLLY ASHE-CAWLEY 66.30
12 24 WARRANT KIRSTEN COE 67.07
For more information, visit www.centralparkhorseshow.com