It was a good Friday for junior rider Morgan Geller as she topped an impressive field of 44 entries in the $10,000 USHJA International High Performance Hunter Challenge during week three of the Blenheim Spring Series. And the junior rider reign did not end there. On Saturday, hotshot high school senior Lucy Davis fired around the jump-offs, claiming the top prizes in both the $10,000 1.35m Jumper Classic and the $50,000 Royal Champion Grand Prix.Morgan Gellar
With a very inviting first round for the High Performance Hunters, course designer Scott Starnes offered several options for riders to illustrate style, manner and flow. The thirteen who returned for the Handy Round all scored in the eighties or above. Amongst a group of eleven riders (John French rode three of the thirteen horses) four junior riders made the cut, Destry Spielberg and Rumba, Whitney Downs on Coffeetalk, Samantha Sommers aboard Small Kiss and Morgan Geller riding Fabricio. The Handy Round included a tall white coop as fence one, a very tidy turn to an oxer at fence two, a jump out of the field at fence five and back in again as fence nine plus a hand gallop to the final jump. Rails, refusals and circles ensued for quite a few including 2010 Champions Parker and Katie Gardner, who had won the first round. Of those who mastered the handy aspect, Geller and her mount Fabricio earned scores in the nineties plus bonus and handy points for the win.
Saturday was stellar weather-wise and otherwise at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. Olaf Petersen, Jr. designed some of his trademark courses, technically challenging with a tight time allowed. Thirty-three horse and rider combinations galloped on to the International Field for the $10,000 1.35m Jumper Classic with seven going fault-free. Lucy Davis riding Old Oak Farm's Hannah turned in the fastest double-clean ride in 34.04 for the win, just ahead of barn mate Saer Coulter on Asgard 17 (owned by Copernicus Stables) with 34.94. Also close but not close enough were veterans Mandy Porter on Pacifica Riding Club's Eastwood and Susie Hutchison on SIG International's Sig Feng Shui who stopped the clock at 35.20 and 35.38 respectively finishing third and fourth.
Thirty more horse and rider couples competed for prizes in the late afternoon $50,000 Royal Champion Grand Prix. Again course designer Olaf Petersen, Jr. asked multiple questions and gave a precious amount of time to answer them. One tenth of those who attempted were clean - Canadian Samantha Buirs on Total Touch, American Lucy Davis on Nemo 119 and Australian Harley Brown on Angelli.
"The challenges were spread throughout the course," commented the German designer, "and it was good to see the faults were also spread throughout." The 1.50m track tested scope in the oxer-vertical-oxer triple combination at fence four, as well as adjustability and accuracy in the next bending line with a tall vertical at fence five to the open water and continuing on to a vetical-oxer combination. The testing continued through the final fence thirteen, a sizeable oxer with two large three-dimensional red diamonds set just past the in-gate.
Second to go in round one and returning first in the twisty eight fence shortened course, Buirs rode Total Touch without touching a rail. Her turns were tight and she galloped where she could, truly setting the pace at 50.92 for the other two competitors. "I wanted to go clean and give Lucy something to run for," the young Canadian explained.
And run she did, as Davis and Nemo 119 had a very forward pace and even with a bit of a slip in the final rollback turn, crossed the timers in 49.44. "I watched Sam go. She was very fast. I felt I had been a bit slow early on so I picked up the pace. Then I couldn't get him back so I had to leave one out," said Davis of her ride. Both girls agreed the course was thoughtful, technical and certainly challenging.
Third to go Harley Brown on Angelli (owned by Paige Harryman) rode a touch more conservatively time-wise and had one rail at the final fence for four faults and third place. Fourth went to the team of John McConnell and Rancho Corazon's Katie Riddle who rode the first round without lowering a jump but crossed the timers a mere .6 seconds too slow for one time fault. The fifth through eighth place ribbons went to the four fault scores - Kyle King on Capone 1 dislodged fence two, Susie Hutchison and Cantano had fence eleven down, Saer Coulter's third entry, Cash 51, had a toe in the water mid-course and Michelle Parker on Xei Ha had a fence down in the combination.
After a terrific three weeks of competition at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, Blenheim EquiSports takes the show down to the Del Mar Horse Park starting with the Showpark Spring Festival, April 28th – May 1st and then the Ranch & Coast Classic, May 10th – 15th.
$50,000 Royal Champion Grand Prix
1. Nemo 119 – Lucy Davis (Old Oak Farm) 0/0/49.44
2. Total Touch – Samantha Buirs (Samantha Buirs) 0/0/50.92
3. Angelli – Harley Brown (Paige Harryman) 0/4/51.14
4. Katie Riddle – John McConnell (Rancho Corazon LLC) 1/79.60
5. Capone 1 – Kyle King (Corrine Super) 4/75.19
6. Cantano – Susan Hutchison (El Dorado 29) 4/75.23
7. Cash 51 – Saer Coulter (Copernicus Stables) 4/75.50
8. Xei Ha – Michelle Parker (Tula Prinella) 4/78.43
9. Gaja 20 – Jocelyn Neff (Donna Neff) 5/79.09
10. Zico 13 – Tammy Chipko (Tammy Chipko) 7/81.59
11. Bristol – Rusty Stewart (Grey Fox Farms) 7/81.59
12. Archie Bunker – Hap Hansen (Linda Smith) 8/78.52
$10,000 USHJA High Performance Hunter Challenge
1. Fabricio – Morgan Geller (Morgan Geller)
2. Havana – Nick Haness (Carolyn Mittler)
3. Cr Masterpiece – Jamie Taylor (Melanie Selleck)
4. Pimm's Cup – John French (Whitney Miller)
5. Triompf (7) – Holly Shepherd (Sarah Patterson)
6. Coffeetalk – Whitney Downs (Whitney Downs)
7. Small Kiss – Samantha Sommers (Iwasaki & Reilly)
8. Gaston – Peter Lombardo (Janie Andrew)
9. Paddington – Michelle Decker Rumanes (Liberty Lane Farms)
10. Rumba – Destry Spielberg (Dogwood Hill LLC)
11. Parker – Katie Gardner (Caroline Miguelez)
12. Clooney – John French (Oscany Inc.)
About Blenheim EquiSports
Blenheim EquiSports, an equestrian event management company based in San Juan Capistrano, CA, produces over 30 events per year in three locations: San Juan Capistrano, Del Mar and Las Vegas, NV. The events include 18 USEF "A" or "AA" rated hunter-jumper shows featuring several World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix events, USHJA International Hunter Derbies, Pony Finals, Medal Finals and more.
Photos: Morgan Geller and Fabricio; Lucy Davis and Hannah; Lucy Davis and Nemo 119. Photos © Flying Horse Photography.