Tampa, FL - It was with speed and grace that Jeffery Welles was able to capture tonight's victory with his top mount Armani during a three-horse jump-off. The pair raced through the finish line in 44.36 seconds after completing a clear short course during the 2010 $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational presented by G & C Farm at Raymond James Stadium.
Peter Leone tried to catch his time with Select, who also left all the rails intact, but the duo's time of 44.87 seconds would fall just short and take second place. Mac Cone lowered the heights of three fences for a 12 fault score and third place honors.
2008 Olympic course designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL, designed tonight's difficult course. The 13 numbered obstacles featured three double combinations, including a double liverpool combination, an aqueduct wall, a triple bar, and a tall plank fence vertical. The most difficult fences proved to be the first part of the double liverpool combination and the plank fence.
Leslie Howard and Lennox Lewis II were one of nine riders to fall victim to the liverpool combination, but they stopped the clock at 83.01 seconds to be the fastest four-faulter and earn the fourth place award. Howard was one of six four-fault riders, which also included Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, Cara Raether, Georgina Bloomberg, Michael Morrissey, and Hugh Graham.
Canadian Mac Cone and Ole, owned by Sara Houston and Larry Evoy, was the fourth rider on course and the first to complete a clear effort. Nine rounds later it was Jeffery Welles and Aramni, owned by Abigail Wexner and Triton Ventures, that managed to cross the finish line without accruing any faults, guaranteeing a jump-off. Peter Leone was not going to be left out of a final round after waiting almost 10 years to show in the American Invitational again. He rode Select, owned by Lionshare Farm and Ger Poels Horses, to clear round and joined Cone and Welles to compete for the top prize during the short course.
The jump-off round began over a single vertical, and riders made a bending line to an oxer before making a sharp right turn to another single vertical. They then had to jump through a long oxer-to-oxer double combination before making another sharp right turn to a single oxer. Riders then made a long left turn to a tall vertical, and finished over the triple bar and the aqueduct wall.
Cone and Ole were first in the ring to show over the shortened course. They were able to clear the first five obstacles without fault, but after completing the double combination the rails started to fall. The duo lowered the height of the next oxer, the single vertical going away from home, and the aqueduct wall, for a 12 fault score in 46.00 seconds and the third place ribbon.
"My horse was a handful and he mentally took a lot out of himself," said Cone. "I usually use a class during the week to tone down his nerves a little bit , but he spent a lot of nervous energy tonight. During the first part of the jump off he was fantastic and it was like all of a sudden he ran out of gas on me."
Next to compete in the jump-off was Welles and Armani, and Welles knew the pair had to complete a good effort with Leone showing next. Welles and Armani carefully made their way over the fences, gaining ground during the first sharp turn and slicing the last single oxer. The duo left all the rails in their cups and blazed through the finish line in 44.36 seconds to jump to the top of the leader board and lead tonight's victory gallop.
"I did not want to be silly and go flat out with just one horse behind me," explained Welles. "I knew Peter's horse had a big step, but other than that I do not know Peter's horse that well. I just tried to be as smooth as I could be. I felt like the first three fences and the combination was good. During the jump-off I was a little wide to fence 10 where Peter was much more direct than I was, which almost cost me the class because I went a little wide there."
The last to attempt tonight's short course was Leone aboard his new mount Select. The pair maneuvered their way easily over each fence with Select tightly tucking his legs and carefully avoiding any faults. They raced to the final fence and tripped the timers at 44.87 seconds. Leone and Select were just 5/10ths behind Welles, and their double-clear effort earned them the second place prize.
"The fact is I know how fast Jeffery is with Armani, so even without Jeffery leaving it all on the field I knew he was fast," commented Leone. "This was my fourth grand prix on Select. I wanted to try and take a shot in the jump-off, but still stay within myself. I know I was slow to the third jump in the jump off but other than that I felt pretty good. I am really proud to have even gotten within half a second of Jeffery's time."
Welles has ridden in the American Invitational many times and has placed second twice, but this his only time winning the first place title. "I have always loved this class," he smiled. "Armani was second here in 2005 so this was only his second time competing in the class. It was great to come back and do so well for myself and his new half-owner Abigail Wexner."
Armani and Welles have been paired together for eight years and they have a very strong bond. "Armani is very sensitive and has quite a lot of blood, so he suits my type of ride. I prefer to not have to kick to the back rail of oxers. He is a horse that really stretches for the back rail and I can just sit quieter because I know that I have the scope behind me. I know him so well at this point so it is just so great to still have him and have him jumping like this."
Tonight marked the 37th anniversary of the American Invitational, and all of the riders were excited to be a part of the unique event. "G & C Farm was wonderful to step up and support this class because it is the last special class we have in our country," said Leone. "This class has always been on the tour and it is very demanding."
Cone added, "Venues like this are special places and that is what really makes the sport. Gene [Mische] is a big part of how strong the US has come in show jumping worldwide. He was the one who started it all."
Welles continued, "It was nice to see Gene Mische here tonight. He has done so much for our sport over the years. He has given so much and it was really nice for him to be recognized tonight."
For more information about the 2010 $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational presented by G & C Farm please visit www.StadiumJumping.com.
RESULTS:2010 Gene Mische American Invitational
1 14 ARMANI JEFFERY WELLES USA 0.00 88.05 0.00 44.36 TRITON VENTURES ABIGAIL W
2 22 SELECT PETER LEONE USA 0.00 89.00 0.00 44.87 GER POELS HORSES LIONSHAR
3 4 OLE MAC CONE CAN 0.00 85.92 12.00 46.00 SARA/LARRY HOUSTON/EVOY
4 8 LENNOX LEWIS 2 LESLIE HOWARD USA 4.00 83.01 LESLIE & PETER HOWARD
5 10 TRISTAN NICOLE SHAHINIAN-SIM USA 4.00 87.77 ILAN FERDER
6 25 UBLESCO CARA RAETHER USA 4.00 88.65 TRELAWNY FARM
7 12 CIM CHRISTO GEORGINA BLOOMBERG USA 4.00 89.49 GOTHAM ENTERPRIZES
8 26 CRELIDO MICHAEL MORRISSEY USA 4.00 90.22 MICHAEL MORRISSEY
9 23 FIFTH ESTATE 3E HUGH GRAHAM CAN 4.00 90.59 KING RIDGE STABLES
10 17 URBANUS CHARLIE JAYNE USA 6.00 99.00 ALEX R. JAYNE
11 5 VICOMTE D MARIO DESLAURIERS USA 8.00 83.63 JANE F. CLARK
12 21 HIDDEN CREEK'S CAMPELLA MARGIE ENGLE USA 8.00 83.79 HIDDEN CREEK FARM
Photo Credit: Jeffery Welles produced a double clear effort with Armani to win the 2010 $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational. Photo By: Anne Gittins.