Bridgehampton, N.Y. - Karen Polle said that being the fourth and final rider in the jump-off of the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix, Presented by Longines, wasn't the advantageous position it usually is--because none of the three riders before her had finished faultlessly. The grand prix provided an exciting climax to the 40th Annual Hampton Classic.
"When you have to go clear to win, it actually adds a lot of pressure. It's usually a nice position to be in, but this time it was a lot of pressure. It's sort of yours to lose at that point, so I was definitely nervous," said Polle, 23, who lives in New York City.
But she and With Wings did complete the round perfectly, finishing in 47.96 seconds. Todd Minikus, of Wellington, Fla., took second place on Babalou 41 (4 faults/43.89 seconds), Chris Sorensen of Canada took third on Bobby (4 faults/46.23 seconds), and Meagan Nusz, of The Woodlands, Texas, took fourth on Dynamo (8 faults/47.58 seconds). "This is definitely the biggest win in my career, and I can't believe it," said Polle. "I can't believe I won this at the Hampton Classic!"
Minikus, 53, used to train Polle, and he said of her, "She's always been a very good rider, and she's won a lot. And With Wings is a very special horse-they're a great match. Japan is lucky to have her." He then added, "The one thing that she forgot, though, is that when you're in the jump-off, you have to let the old guy win. So she wasn't the best of students, obviously."
Polle, who's about to start her senior year at Yale University, claimed her Japanese citizenship in 2014. She's hoping to qualify for the Japanese Olympic team-which, she said, just earned an Olympic berth last week-in 2016 and when Japan hosts the Olympics in 2020.
The three top-placed riders each received a Longines timepiece selected for them. Sorensen, 33, told Juan-Carlos Capelli, Longines vice president and head of international marketing, "Thank you for the watch, because I've been trying to get one of these for a long time. I've been close but not quite done it."
While four of the 29 starters finished the first round with no faults, three horses retired on course, and 11 finished with 12 or more faults. One of those was 2014 winner Shorapur, ridden by Kevin Babington, who finished with 12 faults.
Still, course designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil insisted that it was "a good result." He explained that he certainly intended to create a challenging course, with so much prize money at stake and a field that included half a dozen Olympic riders and four previous winners. "This is a proven international event," he said, comparing it to such famous international shows (which also have grass fields) as Dublin (Ireland), Hickstead (England) and Spruce Meadows (Canada).
"It's always a long grand prix course here, and I always try to incorporate the double of liverpools and the open water, because you don't see those very often and they are part of our tradition," said Jorge, who'll be designing the show jumping courses for the 2016 Olympics. "It takes a special horse, a horse that has more experience, and we saw many less experienced horses and riders making mistakes."
Capelli presented a fourth Longines watch, and a check, to Shane Sweetnam of Ireland, winner of the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Challenge, who finished sixth (with 4 faults) in the Hampton Classic Grand Prix on Chaqui Z. Sweetnam was the only rider who scored points in all 10 of the week's open jumper classes, winning two of them, and he'd achieved an unbeatable lead by the end of Saturday's $40,000 Longines Cup. Sweetnam's total of 355 pints easily outdistanced Minikus (170) and Paul O'Shea (165).
"It was a great week all week. Even today, I still finished sixth with the last rail down, which was my fault. The horse is only 9, so he's still going to get better, and hopefully we'll win next year," said Sweetnam, who competes for his native Ireland but lives in Wellington, Fla. "This award is a great thing for the riders, because we don't often get this at a show. So I started from the first of the week to push for it," he added.
Further information on the Hampton Classic Horse Show is available at the Hampton Classic website at www.hamptonclassic.com