Del Mar, CA - After fifty entries galloped on course in the $25,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Welcome Grand Prix, twenty negotiated the track without fault. Second to last to go in the jump-off, Devon Bridges and ACE Equestrian's Amadeus topped some of the nation's most talented and experienced riders for a sweet and emotional victory.
FEI course designer Oscar Soberon (MEX) took on an interesting challenge in today's class, designing a 1.40m track for a group of competitors that ranged from up-and-coming U25 riders to former Olympians and FEI World Cup Champions.
Essentially the future of the sport mixed with the veterans, so the course needed to be challenging yet not overwhelming. Twenty entries answered the questions asked, leading to a competitive jump-off among some of the best West Coast grand prix riders.
When asked about the course, Dickerson said, "It was so much fun to ride. I personally love what they are doing now with combining the Markel and the U25. The technicality of the course is at such a level that - when you have riders like Rich Fellers and Joie Gatlin and Will Simpson and Richard Spooner - you have to up your game."
Those internationally-acclaimed riders Dickerson mentioned all returned for a thrilling jump-off, along with other well-known West Coast names such as Josephina Nor Lantzman, Nayel Nassar, Michelle Parker, Kyle King, Peter Petschenig and Chris Pratt.
It was clear that those returning would have to race against the clock for the win. Peter Petschenig started off the pack of seasoned riders with his horse Colour Your Life and set a conservative clean ride.
"Master of Faster" Richard Spooner, aboard his own mount Chivas Z, stepped in next, eager for a chance to take the lead. Leaving out a stride down the first line, the pair stopped the timers in 36.03. This speedy effort remained on top for the next eleven attempts.
Going double clean wasn't enough to top that time, and when the popular pair of Rich Fellers and Flexible (owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman) entered the ring, they knew exactly what they had to do. Kicking into gear immediately, Fellers kept tidy through the turns and stole the lead away from Spooner by two-tenths of a second, in a time of 35.83.
With seven rides remaining, the buzz among the spectators was that this would likely be another win for the famous Irish stallion, Flexible. As the nineteenth jump-off effort came along, there were already thirteen double clean scores, so in order to earn a piece of the prize, you had to be both clean and fast.
In came a new horse and rider pair on the scene, Californian Devon Bridges and Amadeus. Against all odds, Bridges threw down the gauntlet. With a big step, and a tidy track, the pair finished by leaving out a stride down to the last fence. A risky move that paid off in spades, they clocked in at 35.56, just under three-tenths of a second faster than Fellers for the win.
An awestruck Bridges couldn't believe he was at the front of a victory gallop with many of his idols galloping behind him.
How did he win? "I think I was a little bit tighter coming around to the liverpool oxer. I caught it on a right to left angle where a lot of people were coming out too far, trying to get straight so they had a good turn back to the double. I also caught the double a little right to left and put a little shape in it," Bridges explained.
"Other than that, my horse is just really good. We practice a lot on the flat with galloping and then coming back and he has really strong hind quarters, so he does the 0 to 60 mph really well."
A first and fabulous win, Bridges performed the feat on the eleven-year-old KWPN gelding he's only ridden in seven grand prix events. "The first win for me and first win for this horse in a grand prix. We got him right at the end of Thermal, so we just started showing together this spring."
A class for the record books, this pair certainly has the potential to continue to impress. Click here for current standings in the 2016 Markel Insurance Grand Prix Series.
The host of showcase events continue this week in Del Mar at the Ranch & Coast Classic. Tomorrow the hunters will compete for top prizes and special awards in the $10,000 USHJA International Derby on the grand prix field.
The jumper highlights include the second Interactive Mortgage Horses 10&U Futurity qualifier of 2016, and the $60,000 Grand Prix of California on Saturday, May 14th. SmartPak Grand Champions and High Score Awards will be presented to wrap up Blenheim's second World Champion Hunter Rider week on Sunday.
$25,000 Markel Insurance 1.40M Grand Prix
1. 701 - Amadeus - Devon Bridges - ACE Equestrian - 0/0/35.569
2. 295 - Flexible - Rich Fellers - Harry and Mollie Chapman - 0/0/35.836
3. 824 - Chivas Z - Richard Spooner - Richard Spooner - 0/0/36.038
4. 616 - Thumb's Up - Joie Gatlin - Linda Starkman - 0/0/36.645
5. 539 - E Unanime de la Haie - Will Simpson - Monarch International - 0/0/36.904
6. 647 - Cupilor - Michelle Parker - Cross Creek Farms, Inc. - 0/0/37.117
7. 849 - Lordan - Nayel Nassar - Nayel Nassar - 0/0/37.192
8. 284 - Saint Quentin - Peter Petschenig - Pam Bilek/Peter Petschenig - 0/0/37.430
9. 832 - McLord's Othello - Kyle King - Mickey Hayden - 0/0/37.540
10. 523 - Chello Z - Josephina Nor Lantzman - Josephine Nor Stables, LLC - 0/0/37.544
11. 191 - Caretol - Marc Grock - Moonlite Beach, LLC - 0/0/39.102
12. 755 - NJK No Regret - Nicole Haunert - NJK Showjumpers, Inc. - 0/0/40.065