Lauren Hough and her consistent Windy City rode off not only with first place in the 4th annual New Albany Classic held on Sunday, September 23, 2001, but also with $15,000 in cash and a two year lease on a new 2002 Land Rover Freelander - a coveted prize for the winner of this unique event. This was Lauren's first time at the invitational event in New Albany, Ohio at the estate of Les and Abigail Wexner, and she made the Richard Jeffery-designed course look like a part of the Maclay regionals, with a textbook first round and a fast, careful jump-off. Twenty-six of the best horse-rider combinations in the country competed in the $50,000 Invitational Grand Prix, with all five Olympians in attendance.
The course was gorgeous, with every fence elaborately landscaped and the fences themselves from Steve Stephens' Stephens Designs. Before the one class event, Richard Jeffery commented that his only concern was the footing on this brand new surface. The Wexners installed a new ring - twice the size of the previous one -- to provide improved footing in case of adverse weather. Mr. Jeffery's only hesitation about his scenic course was that he had too much time to set up the course - a luxury not frequently afforded to him - and he was tempted to make improvements along the way.
There were 13 numbered obstacles in the first round with a time-allowed of 96 seconds, an in-and-out at 7AB, and a triple combination late in the course at 12ABC. Although the faults were evenly spread around the course, the top pole fell most often at fence 3, the red, white and blue American jump, a 5'3" vertical that may have had a shadow on the top rail. Todd Minikus on Playboy, third to go in the order, used one of the options from 6 to 7AB, adding a stride, and had the first clear round of the class. Just three rounds later Chris Kappler on Ursa Major also went clear. The next clear round wasn't until the 23rd in the order when Laura Kraut went clear on Wet Paint, who looked particularly game, leaving out a stride from the tall verticals from three to four. Immediately following Laura, Kim Frey, who won this event last year, also went clear on Bergerac, making the fences and the course look effortless. Lauren and Windy City were the last to go in the first round and were clear, making it five for the jump off.
Todd and Playboy went first in the jump-off, with an efficient path and a fast time of 41.795, but having four faults. Chris Kappler and Ursa Major turned in a more conservative, but clear, jump-off in 43.898. Laura Kraut and Wet Paint stepped on the accelerator, flying over the America jump, but had four faults in 40.855. Bergerac was also game to go, with four faults and a fast time of 41.460. Windy City had the advantage of going last in the jump off and with a little luck in the two stride 12AB, he left the fences up with the winning time of 41.774, taking the familiar place at the front of the victory gallop.
Lauren, the daughter of prominent hunter judges Linda and Champ Hough, has had a remarkable career for a 24-year-old professional. As a junior rider, Lauren earned hunter championships in all major divisions. In 1993, she made her debut on the grand prix circuit, earning the title of Pacific Coast Horseman's Association Rookie of the Year at the age of 15. After numerous placings in grand prix events across the country, in 2000 Lauren placed ninth in the $100,000 Rolex/U.S. Show Jumping Championship presented by the AHSA and the USET to advance her to the final U.S. Olympic Selection Trials in California where she placed 4th to earn her berth on the Olympic Show Jumping team. In the Sydney Olympics Lauren rode Clasiko to a sixth place team finish and a tie for 15th place in the individual show jumping competition. Following her Olympic appearance, Lauren placed second in the $100,000 President's Cup at the Washington International Horse Show in Washington, DC. Following her ride at the New Albany event, Lauren said that "Windy City really jumped fabulously today. I had the advantage of going last, which always helps. I had an idea of Chris's time, and I watched Todd go in 41, so I knew I could go about that pace." Earlier in the afternoon Todd Minikus predicted that Lauren would be the one to beat. When reminded of his statement, Lauren said that she had "told him he could call it more often!" When asked why she traveled to the Midwest to compete in this one-class event, Lauren said that she had wanted to come every year, but she was usually in Europe and, in fact, was supposed to be in Spain for the Nations Cup final. When her travel plans were canceled due to recent events, she was "thrilled" to be at the New Albany Classic instead. After her New Albany Classic win and media interviews, Lauren said that with two great grand prix horses, Windy City and Clasiko, she couldn't be happier and was "trying to enjoy it as much as I can." Lauren has 12 horses in her stable right now, including a seven year old who will start in grand prix in 2002, and a couple of promising six year olds. Along with her horses, she also teaches her student, Vanessa Haas, who Lauren described as being very talented. Lauren's advice to others is that "the most important thing is to be in this sport and business because you love the horses. That is first and foremost. When the horses know that you love them, they'll do anything for you. That may sound mushy, but I really believe it. The horses need to be your friend in order to do things like this for you."
The New Albany Classic event truly had an all star cast. All five Sydney Olympians were there (with three in the jump-off!), Peter Doubleday was in the announcer's booth, Eugene Mische and Michael Morrisey provided technical support, and of course, course designer Richard Jeffery looked on with Steve Stephens and others. The setting was magnificent on what could not have been a prettier day, with the ring nestled among trees on the property of the hosts, Les and Abigail Wexner. Mr. Wexner, the founder of the Limited companies, was in attendance, but it was his wife, Abigail, as gracious as she is eloquent, who welcomed the 9,000 in the audience before asking for a moment of silence to remember those in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania whose lives were taken, as well as those contributing so much of themselves in the recent tragic events. The Invitational is just one part of a full day of events held to raise funds for the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, an organization founded by Mrs. Wexner to end family violence in Central Ohio. The event is not just a Grand Prix, but a full day of other activities, including an exhibition by the Russian American Kids Circus, carnival rides for the children, face painting, clowns, jugglers, dancers, bands, The Ohio State University Alumni Band, Cheerleaders and mascot, Brutus the Buckeye, a rock climbing wall, a silent auction, and more. With the Wexners underwriting the expense for the event, all proceeds go to the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence. In the press conference held before the grand prix, Mrs. Wexner expressed concern about the timing of the event in light of the recent terrorism attacks. She said that they decided to proceed with the event, and that "being here is a statement not just about hugging your own children, but about hugging your neighbor's children."
What is truly impressive is how the event also brings the equestrian community to the community at large - a challenge for all horse shows and high profile events looking not only to raise money, but also to take show jumping to the next level with the support and sponsorship that can only be provided by the business community and the general public. Not only did the event raise $1 million on Sunday for the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, it has raised nearly $4 million over the past four years, while drawing thousands who may or may not know anything about show jumping. When the riders were asked why they would come to compete in one class in the Midwest, Todd Minikus said that the competitors recognized this huge fund raising effort and its importance, while complimenting the fantastic job done in organizing and putting on this event. McLain Ward reflected that being part of a family business, he recognized the connection to family activities and was pleased to contribute to a great cause held in a great setting. McLain commented that the crowd attendance was great, saying that there is a need for more of these types of events in order for the sport of show jumping to grow. Margie Engle, at the New Albany event for the first time, said that she has heard about the event for years, and was impressed by the setting, organization, and community involvement.
I sat down for a few minutes with Lauren Hough, I should say, I sat down next to Lauren as scores of fans approached the riders' tables for autographs. Fifteen riders sat under a tent, all in a row, signing t-shirts, programs, tickets, and whatever else was put in front of them, for at least an hour. The riders were relaxed, smiling and laughing in front of giggling girls (and admirers a little older, too), who were tickled to meet the Olympians and other riders who gave of themselves for this event. With the struggle to bring the American community to show jumping, perhaps this is one way to bring show jumping to the community. Well done by all.
The final placings in the New Albany Classic were:
1. Lauren Hough - Windy City 0/0 41.774
2. Chris Kappler - Ursa Major 0/0 43.898
3. Laura Kraut - Wet Paint 0/4 40.855
4. Kim Frey - Bergerac 0/4 41.460
5. Todd Minikus - Playboy 0/4 41.795
6T. Judy Garofalo - Heinnes & Moritz Corrmint 0/.25
6T. Sheila Burke - Jamison 0/.25
Copyright 2001 by Laura A. Hauser. Laura competes in the Midwest in the amateur-owner jumper division, and supports her equestrian habit as a trial lawyer in Columbus, Ohio with the national law firm of Thompson Hine LLP. Laura.Hauser@ThompsonHine.com.