San Juan Capistrano, CA - With 39 entries and 11 clean, the final qualifier of the Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix Series kept everyone on the edge of their seats and saddles, as top contenders raced to be the fastest, and, of course, clean. Four riders each had two horses in the jump-off, Brazilian Eduardo Menezes, Australian Lane Clarke, Brazilian Josephina Nor Lantzman and Enrique Gonzalez of Mexico, followed by last week's winner, American Susan Hutchison aboard Ziedento.
With several speed demons aiming for the top prize, it was Lane Clarke piloting MH Wardance (owned by MH Warbucks) who took the quickest route without a fault. Demonstrating true warrior mentality, 'Brave', as Clarke calls him, performed this feat even after pulling a shoe partway through the jump-off round.
FEI Course Designer Catsy Cruz of Mexico knew she had a competitive group of starters. "I have a very good group of riders and horses and a good number in the class. So I think I have to build a little more technical to be able to get some interesting development. So the course is playing with distances - a little long, a little short, and also with the material. I think some will have rails; and I think we'll have a good jump-off."
As expertly predicted by Cruz, a solid group of horse and rider combinations finished the first round without fault, including the aforementioned five riders and nine horses, plus Austrian Peter Petschenig and amateur competitor Michelle Kerivan.
First to return, Enrique Gonzalez with Chacna (Daniel Chavez Anicet, owner), was double clean in 43.01. Five riders followed but failed to catch Gonzalez, including Clarke and Semira De Saulieu (owned by Brookelane Farms), who had the time, 39.58, but dropped a rail at fence 11b.
Menezes on his second mount, Carushka, set the new time to catch, speeding around the course clean in 39.36, almost four seconds faster than Gonzalez and seemingly unbeatable. Clarke proved that, in fact, he could be faster, when he returned on his second mount, MH Wardance.
Turning quick and tight after the first fence, an oxer set along the rail, they held a fast pace until they landed off fence 6 and let loose at a full gallop to the second to last fence (16, a tall vertical) and continued over the last oxer, fault free, with the winning time of 38.68, just under a second faster than Menezes.
Clarke was fully aware that the competition was going to put the pressure on. "I knew it was going to be really fast from the beginning. Eduardo on Carushka was extremely fast, my mare Semira is extremely fast, so I knew I was going to have to go really fast on Brave. I really wanted to win the last Grand Prix [of the season], it's home and I love it here," Clarke explained. "I have never pushed my nine-year-old that fast. Every time there was an option, I left the stride out and went as fast as I could go. I really just put the pedal to the metal and trusted my horse was going to step up. I was extremely happy with him."
This was Brave's first grand prix win. "I'm just really happy with my horse and thankful for all the support I get from all the people around my home. Also, to the Percivals for sponsoring the horse, Mickey for all the coaching and all of my sponsors. And a special thanks to Brave. He's grown up a lot this year, he left his heart on the line and it was successful. I'm super excited for how good he was today."
With well over $50,000 in prize money, the Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix Final at The Las Vegas National is on the horizon, and Clarke has his eye on the possibilities.
$30,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix
Place - Entry - Horse - Rider - Owner - Faults/Time
1. 664 - MH Wardance - Lane Clarke - MH Warbucks, LLC - 0/0/38.684
2. 687 - Carushka - Eduardo Menezes - Eduardo Menezes - 0/0/39.364
3. 498 - Chello Z - Josephina Nor Lantzman - Josephina Nor Stables, LLC - 0/0/40.617
4. 319 - Chacna - Enrique Gonzalez - Daniel Chaves Anicet - 0/0/43.105
5. 686 - Balguero - Eduardo Menezes - Carlos Hank - 0/0/43.809
6. 388 - Semira De Saulieu - Lane Clarke - Brookelane Farms - 0/4/39.587
7. 718 - Felline - Enrique Gonzalez - Enrique Gonzalez - 0/4/42.721
8. 497 - Unlimited - Josephina Nor Lantzman - Josephina Nor Stables, LLC - 0/4/43.667
9. 262 - Saint Quentin - Peter Petschenig - Peter Petschenig - 0/8/43.624
10. 218 - Ziedento - Susan Hutchison - St Bride's Farm - 0/9/57.807
11. 467 - Colin - Michelle Kerivan - Michelle Kerivan - 0/16/45.516
12. 418 - Capitano - Trapp O'Neal - TKO Partnership - 2/85.836