Wayne, Illinois- It was only two months ago that Freddie Vazquez and Esprit De Vie were paired up for a whirlwind journey to Toronto, Canada for the 2015 Pan American Games. The 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare gave him all her heart, never saying "no" to Vazquez, and although they did not medal at the Pan American Games, Vazquez came away with a look at how bright the future would ultimately be while in the irons of Esprit. Saturday afternoon, their hard work and determination culminated in the final moments of the $30,000 Showplace Grand Prix where they bested the competitive field and cleared Brazilian course designer Guilherme Jorge's technical track to capture the victory in their first major career win together.
"Esprit is still very new to me," Vazquez said. "After the Pan American Games, I needed fuel to get to the right place. I needed to work on our combination and the intricate details that would get this mare to the best of her abilities. I feel like we are just scraping the surface."
Jorge's track only saw seven go clear in the first round, an ideal number out of the 20 original starters. He challenged them with a liverpool, vertical-oxer combination, vertical-vertical combination, a skinny and a triple bar.
"How lucky are we to have the course designer who is building for the 2016 Olympic Games build for this grand prix? To have Guilherme designing is always a pleasure," Vazquez said. "I am happy to be on the course, and I consider myself fortunate to ride in the class. I love his designs and his style. I hope that everyone here understands how fortunate they are to be riding his courses. The fact that Pat brings that type of talent here is a gift. It was a really fun track. He had only seven clear. He could not have designed it any better."
Lisa Goldman had the odds of winning in her favor on Saturday afternoon, having qualified four horses for the jump-off. She set the pace early in the class with Hindsight, breaking the beam with a double-clear effort in 41.330 seconds. She returned two rounds later with Centurion B, duplicating her earlier round and slicing seconds from her time to stop the clock at 40.738 seconds.
Maggie Jayne followed next with Pony Lane Farm's Splendor. She used a neat inside strategy to take the lead from Goldman by nearly a second, clearing the final oxer in 39.986 seconds. Although Goldman attempted to move back into the top of the ranks with Morocco, a rail at the final fence would seal her fate as the fastest of the four-fault efforts, clocking in at 37.637 seconds. Nick Novak and Climbus would finish just behind her with four faults in 38.728 seconds.
When Vazquez entered the ring aboard Esprit De Vie, he had already formulated a plan from his previous mount of the class, Bachelor 4, which he competed with as the second to return in the order. Aboard Bachelor 4, he had posted a clear short course with a conservative time of 43.494 seconds, yet he knew that Esprit De Vie would be the one to chase Jayne's leading time.
"She has so much heart," Vazquez said of Esprit De Vie. "That is my favorite quality about her. The mare had traveled by air to a different time zone into strange surroundings with a new language when she came to me in Toronto. She did not know a single horse in her stable, and she had a new groom and a new rider. At any point in time she could have lost composure, but she didn't. She was there for me every step of the way. A lot of people say that when you find a great mare, they are hard to beat. She is that. She is fast. I have never ridden a horse as fast as I think that she can be."
Vazquez stuck to a tidy track that allowed for him to shave some seconds and make up time in the long runs. They covered the ground with a forward pace, and even though they added from the first fence, Vazquez knew that he could make the time up with larger angles to the fences. They tripped the timers in 38.694 seconds, with the lead changing hands for the final time.
Vazquez described his round, "I knew that I couldn't throw away the class in an attempt to make the seven happen in that line. I knew I was going to have to make it up somewhere, and I did. She was just fast. Everything kept showing up. When I landed from the skinny and I saw the distance to the final jump I just went for it."
"I pushed her pretty hard today, but there is more in there. She can be faster at much bigger fences," Vazquez smiled. "I knew that Lisa [Goldman] was next in the ring; she is very hard to beat, but Esprit is going to be a top contender in these classes. I think she proved that today." Goldman fell just a hair shy of Vazquez's time, earning the second place with Rocs to Riches in 38.765 seconds.
Vazquez has been working with Esprit De Vie over the last two months to build a more cohesive partnership. "She has to like me, and we have to establish a relationship with her. After what she did for me at the Games, putting her in that type of scenario and that pressure, it was so difficult and so big, it only made me fall in love with her even more," Vazquez said. "I knew that if we could put everything together, then things would really mesh. I am excited for the future. I felt great about the win. She is a wonderful horse."
Earlier in the day, the Showplace Fall Classic Championship held the $5,000 NAL and Marshall & Sterling Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic, sponsored by Old Barrington Farm, where Red Coat Farm clinched the first and second place finishes. Kyle Perkovich and Roc My World proved to be on point to take the win ahead of 18 contenders. Their speedy jump-off put them straight to the top of the leader board early in the order, and the trailblazers held their leading time of 34.965 seconds for the win.
"Roc My World is a great horse, and I can always count on her," Perkovich said. "I love the way she jumps, how fast she is, and she is always alert. We were out there to have fun, and winning was just the icing on the cake. I thought the course was great. It was technical; if you did not place them right and if you weren't there to help them, then they would drop their feet."
Barn mate Louisa Brackett aboard Memphis Belle picked up the second place in 35.653 seconds. Third place was awarded to Samantha Wagner and L'Etoile for their double-clear time of 35.759 seconds.
Showplace Productions Fall Classic Championship will conclude tomorrow with the Illinois Hunter Jumper Association (IHJA) Medal Finals, commencing at 7:30 a.m. Live Streaming is available for Sunday's Finals, and all classes from the weekend are available on demand atFor a schedule of the Showplace Fall Classic Championship, click here.
For more information, directions or prize list, please visit www.showplaceproductions.com.