Spectators crowded the stands for tonight's Gambler's Choice as the riders warmed their horses in the Gold Ring. The Gambler's Choice, a traditional Devon class, requires riders to create their own course, choosing jumps based on their points and difficulty. What makes the Gambler's Choice difficult is the course selection--it requires riders to pick jumps they know they can tackle, while also balancing their turns and gathering as many points as possible. Mistakes, like down rails, don't earn points, and the fence is then unusable for the rest of the course, so riders must pick carefully.
The sun was only beginning to set when Laura Chapot took to the ring on Bradberry, quickly sweeping the course and setting a high score for the other competitors. Her tight, precise turns made up for two of her down poles, and it seemed as though Laura would hold the lead, as riders came and went, coming close but never meeting her score. For many, the 120 point diagonal oxer was particularly challenging. It was one of the most-knocked fences tonight. Every rider tried the joker fence, a 200 point, airy, skinny obstacle set to five feet, two inches. For some, taking the "gamble" paid off, but for others, the 200 point deduction moved them back in the ranking.
When Kevin Babbington entered the ring, his horse soared over the jumps with ease, barely coming close to the rails. The competition was fierce as he sailed over the last jump and galloped through the timers, and the spectators roared when he beat out Chapot for first. Unfortunately, his approach to the joker was not quick enough, and even though he cleared it, the time allowed had passed. Shorapur remained in first, however, seemingly sealing his place as the list of competitors dwindled.
But then with only two riders to go, Todd Minikus rode in on Tuxedo, tearing through turns, flying through the air in a spectacular show of athleticism and talent. It quickly became clear that he would challenge Babbington's score. The air was tense with anticipation as the numbers stacked up on the board. When he broke through the timers, a score of 1140 flashed across the screen as the sun set, and that set a score that proved untouchable for the rest of the night. When the final competitor left the ring, Minikus rode in to a thunder of cheers and whistles. In second was Kevin Babbington, and Laura Chapot came in third after her strong opening ride.
This year the Gambler's Choice kept riders and spectators on their toes. Just as it seemed one rider pulled comfortably ahead, another came and swept the ring. Until the very end, the competition was intense in a true show of power, skill, and teamwork between horse and rider. Next year should prove to be just as wild. Be sure to make it out and enjoy the show!