Traverse City, MI - July 17, 2011 - The $30,000 Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix thrilled spectators today at Horse Shows by the Bay, with Blythe Marano achieving an astonishing double win. The expert equestrienne earned both first and second place in this exciting open jumper class. Wilhelm Genn came in third on Happy Z, with Freddie Vazquez rounding out the top four on Carpe Diem 8. Out of a starting lineup of 28 horses and riders, these four were the only pairs to clear two rounds, with Marano doing so twice: first on Urban, with whom she garnered the top prize, and then on Askaban, her partner in second place. High temperatures couldn't keep fans away from this exhilarating event, which served as a fitting halfway point for the month-long Horse Shows by the Bay equestrian festival.
In the initial round of today's competition, Greer Hindle and Viper P set a challenging standard with a clear turn as the first pair on the course. Denise Wilson and Big Brother also mastered their first round, finishing a few seconds faster than the 80 allowed. Most of the other riders and horses were eliminated by just a single rail, with many finding it tough to clear a triple combination flanked by hanging baskets. The combination's final oxer saw its top rails toppling quite frequently, although one horse managed to bounce the rail right back into its cups, much to the relief of spectators.
Clear rounds were relatively rare in the first round, as designer Guilherme Jorge's course required precise pacing and bold maneuvering. Making it to an exclusive jump-off were Hindle and Viper P, Wilson and Big Brother, Genn and Happy Z, and Marano on both Urban and Askaban. Scott Lenkart and Impulsive, who have won several Horse Shows by the Bay grands prix in the past, were also included in this talented group, as were Yvonne Bryan and Palm Sunday.
With fences set at 1.50m, it was no surprise that only half of these competitors cleared a second round. Upon Urban, Marano sailed over the jumps as if they were mere stepping-stones on the road to victory, finishing in only 36.431 seconds. Wilhelm Genn and Happy Z were also sure and steady, achieving their clear jump-off round in 38.996 seconds. As the last rider to attempt the jump-off, Marano boarded Askaban and impressed the crowd with not only a second fault-free turn, but a swift one as well, as she and her mount came in slightly faster than Genn and Happy Z with a time of 38.979 seconds. Upon Carpe Diem 8, Freddie Vazquez seized the day, as well as the chance to place fourth with the only other clean jump-off of the afternoon.
"They're completely different," Marano said of the two horses she rode in today's Grand Prix. "It's like riding two different courses on two different days. If I walk one line one way, it rides completely different on the other horse. Askaban jumps really high over the oxers, and goes behind so that the lines ride forward. On Urban, I'll go to move up, and and I can almost leave it out. Urban is super sensitive. Today I feel almost as if I were too slow to number 2 in the jump-off, and then I kind of planted him. After that, I'm going around, and I realized I could have almost just 'told' him the jump-off. He was just perfect. When I went in on Askaban, he really doesn't have much experience here - I did one other jump-off with him in a $50,000 Grand Prix in Kentucky, where he was fourth, but he's still kind of young and green. I've had him since he was six years old and he's now eight. If he's good the first half, I thought when I was out there, I might as well do the inside turn because I trust him, and he can certainly jump, so it was great."
Describing her rides, Marano noted, "in the first round, a lot of people had trouble with the line across the middle, jump number 5 to the liverpool, and it was just kind of a dead-on bending 7 to the 2, but if you went out too far, one way or the other, it could get really awkward. So I think everyone was trying to fix it too much; my horse just went straight, then straight again, and we were fine. I hate flat-out running. I don't like it. I always feel like it's going to come down, and it always does come down! So if there's a possibility of some inside turn, I'm doing it."
"In the jump-off," Marano continued, "I knew Urban would be fine. With Askaban, I wasn't sure, so I always go in and try to rehearse my turns, and show them where they're going to go." She added, "I went in there thinking 'I really want to be first and second, but this horse has only done, about two grands prix,' so I wasn't sure. I was even asking the groom beforehand, 'do you think we can do this inside turn, because I think we can, but do you think he can?' He said, 'I don't know, try it!' Marano's trying certainly paid-off, as both of her horses performed spectacularly in today's difficult contest. Both Urban and Marano and owned by Riverview Farm, LLC.
While the jumpers amazed audience members, additional highlights complemented the action in the Grand Prix ring this afternoon. Tom Pierson and Rachel Ory were back with another entertaining reining demonstration, while pint-sized equestrians earned their own blue ribbons in a leadline exhibition. A local color guard added some patriotic flavor, with Maggie Ferguson providing the national anthem. A VIP sponsor luncheon took place in the main tent overlooking the Grand Prix ring, and was again generously sponsored by Craig Rosenberg of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Door prizes were given out following the luncheon, with the lucky winners receiving a Bowers Harbor Winery gift bag, a spa manicure and pedicure at Studio 415 in Traverse City, dinner for four at the Traverse City Golf and Country Club, and a golf and lodging package at the Treetops Resort in Gaylord, MI.
Today's event was the second of four open jumper grands prix to take place at Horse Shows by the Bay this July. Last week's $30,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City was won by Brian Shook aboard Courage 68, a duo that also participated in the $30,000 Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix today. The class is conducted and scored under USEF Table II, sec. 2(a). All grands prix at Horse Shows by the Bay will occur in the prestigious Grand Prix ring at Flintfields Horse Park, and will benefit from the recently-installed Ebb and Flow synthetic sand mix footing in the ring.
The multi-series Horse Shows by the Bay will continue to offer riders and fans the ideal horse sports venue throughout the next two weeks. Series III, which occurs July 20-24, includes a $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, a $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Amateur-Owner Jumper Prix, and a $30,000 Grand Prix of the Great Lakes and VIP Sponsor Luncheon. During the fourth and final week of competition, notable events include the $30,000 D-BRAIDER Cherry Capital Classic Grand Prix, as well as a $10,000 Children's/Adult Jumper Prix and VIP Sponsor Luncheon. Over half a million dollars in prize money will be awarded by the conclusion of this month-long celebration of equestrian athletes.
For more information or to view schedules, please visit www.horseshowsbythebay.com or call 231-267-3700.
Photo: Blythe Marano, Urban, and Askaban Credit: Katie Anich/PMG