Gulfport, MS - March 14 - “I want to thank the exhibitors, trainers, owners and my staff for the best winter shows we have ever had in Gulfport. Both Janet McCarroll [Co-Chair of the Winter Classics] and I are thrilled that our shows went so well and were so well attended. It’s always sad when all the horse trailers and campers start leaving after a circuit, but all good times must come to an end…until next year.” Bob Bell of The Classic Company said Sunday evening as crews began the task of packing up.
This was the most anticipated week; exhibitors were on pins and needles awaiting the announcements for this year’s Circuit Awards. Aiken, SC based Daniel Geitner was the first recipient, taking the Grand Champion title in both the High Performance Hunters with the Robin Hughes owned Living Color and the Green Conformation Grand Hunter with Allison Mills’ Stature, via text Geitner said he was thrilled with the news and had enjoyed the weeks of competition in the Gulf greatly. Jordan Siegel of the Flower Mound, TX based Summer Hill Farm garnered two Circuit Awards beginning with the 1st Year Green Working Hunters partnered with Cherry Stone for owner Fallon Bock and later in the Performance Working 3’6-3’9 Hunters piloting Jetset for owner Castle Point Farm, LLC. And Memphis, TN based pro Phoebe Sheets grabbed a pair of Circuit Awards as well, first in the Baby Green Hunters with Jean Tuttle’s Ring Ling and in the Performance Working 3’3 Hunters aboard Casino for owner Cheryl Rubenstein.
And the awards just kept on rolling out- 2nd Year Green Working Grand Hunter went to Purple Heart ridden by Tom Brennan of Hillsboro, VA for owner Lynn Rice, Pre Green 3’ Grand Champ for 2011 is Rio Mio owned by Margot Sutherland and shown by Sarah Young of Belleville, IL and the Pre Green 3’3 Grand Hunter is Raise Your Glass toasted by Southlake, TX’s Kristen Blomstrom for owner Brooke Blomstrom. And the finale USHJA Hunter Classic found Grand Bay, AL’s favorite Holly Shepherd with Figaro B (owned by Linda Bobrik) once again taking the top spot. Just as coveted were the Jumper Circuit Championships such as the Adult section won by Camden, SC based Kaitlin Porath riding Zen for owner Meadow Hill Stables. For the Children’s Jumper the Grand Champ is Sarto with owner-rider Adriane Tritask of Carmel, IN and the High Child Adult Grand Jumper is La Keisha with owner-rider Shannon Valley of Kildeer, IL. This year’s Young Jumper Champion is Zenith Dance, owned by Bridlebourne Stables, LLC, partnered with Lebanon, OH resident Theo Genn and the Grand Prix Circuit Champion was a tie between Happy Z and Copyright 3 both owned and ridden by Wilhelm Genn of Lebanon, OH. A complete list of the Circuit Champions can be found online at www.horseshowsonline.com .
Sunday morning began the swan song for jumpers with the $10,000 Budweiser Junior-Amateur Owner Meter 1.40 Classic. International great Michel Vaillancourt returned to design duties this week, creating a technical challenge that included one of his infamous hidden bogies- for this classic the tricky spot, according to victor Sara Ketcham of Columbus, NC. “Was the triple combination, it caught several riders by surprise. You were going uphill and the horses had to really push to get through it clean.” Something her 9 year-old Dutch bred mare Vodka Bay had no issue with as they bested the jump off field of 6 with a clean winning time of 36.201.
Official Results of the $10,000 Budweiser Junior-Amateur Owner Jumper Classic:
1st Vodka Bay with Sara Ketcham for owner Still Creek Farm
2nd For Farina with Theo Genn for owner Wilhelm Genn
3rd Indian Creek’s Mighty Magic with owner-rider Kelsey Van Ackeren
4th Jolly Mon with Ryan Genn for owner Wilhelm Genn
5th Inside Out with Erin Nelson for owner Lazy Creek Ranch Holdings, LLC
6th Aphrodite with owner-rider David Gacharna
7th Madagascar with Bryn Sadler for owner Showcase 81, LLC
8th Recover with owner-rider Savannah Talcott
As the afternoon’s featured event, the $25,000 Budweiser Grand Prix approached, the crowd around the grass field thickened and excitement reached a near fever pitch. For the grand finale Vaillancourt designed a 12 obstacle [15 effort] track to test both horse and rider’s prowess as well their ability for quick thinking, all in under 84 seconds. Lebanon, OH based Wilhelm Genn and his explosive Dutch bred mare Happy Z rose to the challenge and conquered tight roll backs, steep combination jumps, and the length of the vast grass field to post one of only three clear rides in round one with a time of 83.294. Joining her was Copyright 3 with Genn again clear in 82.435 and Nepal with owner-rider Jay Land of Alpharetta, GA posting a time of 77.757 and zero faults. “It was a good course, I expected a few extra horses clean but it was a good course. What surprised me a little bit was the triple combination, because when we walked it didn’t seem that hard but it gave a lot of horses’ trouble. I’m not sure if the horses were a little distracted there because of the road or what, but you had rails not just there but at different jumps which made for great course work.” Genn shared.
The abbreviated finale round 7 fence -8 effort had a time limit of 48 seconds, along with some serious turns that began at the far end of the field and snaked back to the in gate. “It was a fun jump off. Jay [Land] is a good friend of mine, he’s a great rider and very experienced. He always goes for it so I knew I had to be fast, I had to go before him with both horses so I knew he was going to come after me on the time! I had to push it!" laughed Genn. And push the envelope Happy did- landing clear in a quick 43.952. Land and Nepal gave their best but when the timer stopped it was still the fiery chestnut Happy Z on top.
Afterwards a jubilant Genn said of their time in Gulfport, “I think this was an awesome circuit! Because of the great weather, good course designing, good jumps, fun competition- just super nice people!” Team Genn will enjoy a week off to relax and prepare for their upcoming competitions for Spring.
Official Results of the $25,000 Budweiser Grand Prix:
1st Happy Z with owner-rider Wilhelm Genn 0 43.952
2nd Copyright 3 with owner-rider Wilhelm Genn 4 Faults 43.521
3rd Nepal with owner-rider Jay Land 4 Faults 43.787
4th Indian Creek Coraggi with Christian Rogge for owner Jessica Nileson 1 Fault 84.958
5th Paradox with Theo Genn for owner Thomas Bruinsma 2 Faults 85.262
6th Marlo with Ryan Genn for owner Wilhelm Genn 4 Faults 78.014
7th Ultaire with Maggie Sarmiento for owner Janet McCarroll 4 Faults 81.053
8th Cincinnati with Vicky Miller for owner Showcase 81, LLC 4 Faults 83.925
9th Winchester with Wilhelm Genn for owner Bridlebourne Stables, LLC 4 Faults 87.488
10th L’Etoile with Theo Genn for owner The L’Etoile Group 7 Faults 86.082
11th Carl Loui TSP with owner-rider Christian Rogge 12 Faults 82.941
12th Livius with owner-rider Margaux Wheeler 12 Faults 83.627
Between rounds of the Grand Prix there was a deeply emotional and moving Tribute to the Career to one of show jumping’s great athletes- Continental B owned by Lila Sessums of Clinton, MS-crowds gathered close to the fencing applauding, cheering, and shedding a few tears as “CB” [as he’s fondly known], wearing a cascading blanket of 20 years worth of awards, made a special walk to accept pats of love from his many, many fans. In for the occasion was former owner-rider-trainer Dennis Murphy who shared how the 24 year-old Thoroughbred gelding began his illustrious career path in an unusual manner, “We actually raced him as a 3 year-old and broke his maiden, then we waited to race him the next year but they [co-owners at the time] decided not to race so someone said let’s take him to a horse show. We did, then my son came up to me saying, “Dad I jumped him 6 feet” and I said who-what? He said “Continental B!” I said well we better start training him! He [CB] really found himself, not from us finding him.” This big jump was at age 4 and on a youngster’s whim-little did they know CB didn’t think it a fluke. Murphy shared an antidote on the selling of the precocious gelding, “Great story about that, we went out to a horse show with a friend of mine and I said I’ve got one who can jump 6 feet and I can’t sell him. He said if he jumps 6 feet I’ll buy him, I walked out and jumped 4’6, 5’6, 5’9 and 6’. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said I ain’t got that kind of money!”
Lila Sessums rode him a few times and purchased the 5 year-old as a prospect. Murphy continued as CB’s trainer and rode him to several major Grand Prix victories, but always shared the ride on him with Sessums who was building her own amateur career in the High Junior-Amateur Owners divisions. When CB turned 12 Sessums assumed the fulltime riding position, taking CB “all around the country-West Palm Beach, Calgary, New York, Harrisburg, Washington International winning multiple national championships and even Grand Prix titles.” Murphy added. “Everytime I put my foot in the stirrup and swing my leg over- I have a feeling of privilege and I’ve never taken anything for granted with him. He’s such a special horse.” Sessums said of CB. Victories aside, the bond of partnership and love between Sessums and CB is immeasurable, Sessums shared with a heartfelt laugh how CB at one point had free roam at home and was often know to walk right up to the big open bedroom window and stick his head inside as if to say “Hello, whatcha doing?”, but when he attempted to enter the house via the marble floor the decision was that maybe it’d be in everyone’s best interest to put some restrictions in place.
No need to feel sorry for CB, his private pasture lies just outside Lila’s window and includes all the lush grass he could want and even a private pond. As to what retirement holds in store for CB, Sessums said, “We’ll continue our daily trail rides and still jump a little at home. I’m guessing the first time we try leaving for a show with my young prospect he’ll be chasing after the trailer calling “Where you going without me? I need to teach that youngin!” And who knows, I’ll probably pull over and say hop in.” Judging by the many admirers reaching out to pet and wish him well as he strolled among the crowd, CB will be greatly missed and often remembered-especially here at “his hometown event” the Gulf Coast.
As for the 2012 Gulf Coast Winter Classics, plans are already under way for the construction of an additional 500 permanent stalls and other new upgrades. “We’ll have six glorious weeks of competition next year and a ton of new and/or improved things from the grounds to classes to office features! It’s going to be a stellar year! And we can’t wait to welcome you all back!” Bell concluded.
Photos: Wilhelm Genn & Happy Z, Lila Sessums & Continental B ©Flashpoint Photography