Temecula, CA - Jennie Brannigan and Nina Gardner’s Cambalda made their plane trip to the West Coast worthwhile, by winning the inaugural CCI3* at the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event on their dressage score of 46.0. The reward for their effort was a $7,000 check. Cambalda, an Irish Sport Horse gelding, overcame a miscommunication at fence 4 in the show jumping today, before making a spectacular effort to leave the rails up. The clean round—finishing exactly on the optimum time—gave them the victory over Alexandra Slusher on Last Call (49.2) and James Alliston on Jumbo’s Jake (55.8).
“I’m in shock right now,” said an ecstatic Brannigan, 23. “I always struggle with keeping him in front of my leg, and the mistake at fence 4 was my fault. He’s only 8, and I can’t imagine what he’ll be like next year, because of how much he’s improved this year. He’s won four FEI events this year. He proved he’s a good horse.”
Brannigan also thinks the Galway Downs has proved itself too. “Galway Downs is just as good—or better—as any place else,” said Brannigan. “I think this three-star is going to show that eventing is not all about the East Coast. I think the West Coast deserves more credit than it gets.”
Slusher moved into top contention after Tamra Smith didn’t present second-placed Corner Street at this morning’s final horse inspection. Slusher and Last Call put in a lovely double-clear round to take home the red ribbon and a check for $5,250. “I’ve got a good vibe going with this place,” said Slusher, 23. “I have a lot of confidence here, and I needed this to be my last event of the year. I couldn’t have asked for my year to end any better.
“To finish in the 40s in a three-star—I couldn’t have dreamed this week could go so smoothly,” she added. Alliston, who lives in Castro Valley, Calif., but represents Great Britain, and Jumbo’s Jake moved up steadily all weekend, and added only 1 time fault to their score today, to take third. The bay Irish Sporthorse is owned by Alliston’s girlfriend, India McEvoy. “This is my biggest result for sure. I’m stoked,” said a happy Alliston, 26. “It was really exciting to finish clean yesterday on both horses.” He also finished seventh on Parker II.
Slusher’s great weekend continued when she and Juicy Couture won the CCI2*. They dropped one rail in today’s show jumping, but they had it in hand and finished on a score of 53.2. “It’s really special to me to win on her, because she’s been the most difficult horse to ride,” she said. “It’s been such a long process, and it all came together this weekend.”
Jolie Wentworth and GoodKnight continued their upward mobility by jumping clean today to finish second in the CCI2*, on their dressage score of 58.1. “I thought it was a very difficult course,” said Wentworth, 29, of the show jumping. “There wasn’t much let up; it was boom, boom, boom. I think I really had an advantage because I had a clean round on my one-star horse, so I knew what to expect.”
GoodKnight is a recent purchase for Wentworth, who said that one of the main reasons for purchasing him was his clean jumping technique and history of clean rounds. She had hoped to ride him in the CCI3*, but they lacked one of the necessary qualifiers. “I would have really liked to have ridden in the three-star,” she said. “I’ve been coming to Galway Downs since it started and I was a young rider, so nothing would have made me happier than to do the three-star. But now I’ll have to do it next year.”
Amber Levine and Nantucket Red (58.2) lowered one rail to drop behind Wentworth by just .1. They had a an awkward moment in the triple combination, and then lowered the jump that followed it as Levine struggled to regain her reins and composure. “He jumped in [to the triple] great, and then he thought too much about it—he thought he needed [to add a stride] to jump it well,” she said with a laugh.
Still, she was thrilled to finish third in their first start at the CCI2* level. “It will probably hit me on the ride home,” she said. “He was plenty fit. He looked great this morning, and he felt great this afternoon. Now I hope to do the three-star next year.”
Show jumping caused only minor shuffling in the CCI1* standings. Overnight leader Lindsay Connors and Balingowan Pizazz lowered one rail to drop to second (49.6), while a clean round vaulted Maxance McManamy and Project Runway (47.5) to the top of the leaderboard. “This weekend was such a big learning curve for him,” said, McManamy, 18, of her pinto Trakehner. “He’s grown up quite a bit. He’s only 6, and he really proved himself to me this weekend and felt like a big horse. I felt a little nervous today, because he’s my baby. My goal was to finish on his dressage score, and he did that.
“I love everything about Galway Downs,” she continued. “It’s my favorite event. It’s just such a fantastic experience every time I come here.” Connors, 27, had set the modest goal of “just staying on,” and was not disappointed to finish in the runner-up slot. Fresh off her team silver medal at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Hawley Bennett-Awad moved up steadily to claim third with Five O’Clock Somewhere, finishing on their dressage score of 53.7. Bennett-Awad also had a hand in Slusher and Brannigan’s successes. They are both former students of hers, the first to compete at the advanced level, and she found both of Slusher’s horses and Brannigan’s former advanced mount Cooper.
“To me this is huge. These are my first two advanced students, and I’m so proud of them,” Bennett-Awad said with tears in her eyes. “Having this vent here has now changed the game for the West Coast. Now we don’t have to spend $10,000 to go to Fair Hill [Md.], and all the young riders come here and see that they have a chance, that riding in a three-star is doable. I think we are all very, very lucky to have the three-star here at Galway Downs.”
The Galway Downs CCI3* offered $21,000 in prize money. All told, the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event offered $33,000 in prize money and more than $50,000 in total prizes. The generous presenting sponsorship of Professional’s Choice equine products, Point Two Air Jackets USA, and the Professional Riders Organization help make these prizes possible. Additional sponsors provide prize money, prizes and other support to the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event. Those sponsors include: Auburn Laboratories Inc., Big Horse Feed, CWD Saddlery, Doug Hannum Equine Therapy, Equine Insurance of California, Revere Saddlery, Riding’s Publications Inc., SmartPak Equine, and Sonoma Saddle Shop.
For more information on the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event, visit www.galwaydowns.com or call 951-303-0405. To learn more about eventing, visit the U.S. Eventing Association’s website (www.useventing.com).
Photo: Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda (Josh Walker/US Eventing)