Thursday night at the LA National started off with a bang with the $31,000 Welcome Stake. Twenty-five horse and rider combinations took on Anthony D'Ambrosio's course in the Equidome, LAEC's indoor arena . In this speed class, faults are converted so time is a big factor in claiming a piece of the prize money.
Prior to the start of the event, Course Designer Anthony D’Ambrosio speculated about the class. "If the riders want to go really fast and win, there are a few problem places. However, it shouldn't be a problem for the younger horses, and we do have some in the class. I think this course will be a good stepping stone to the more challenging courses."
He left some opportunities for riders to shave off time, including two inside options, some striding options and bending lines, and a rollback in the corner, but riders had to choose carefully and watch their approaches if they wanted to minimize faults. Several rails fell at fence 6, a big oxer set at an angle, and a few at 7, a vertical that faced the in-gate. After the long gallop from 11 to 12, a few got a little too flat over the final oxer and dropped the rail there.
The first few riders were conservative, generally taking the outside options, but when Rich Fellers entered the ring on McGuinness (Harry and Molly Chapman, owners), he made it clear the game was on. He rode fast, and he rode tight, taking a daringly inside track. McGuinness poured on the speed, and even with one rail down, their converted time of 63.71 vaulted them into the lead.
The gauntlet was thrown, and Eduardo Menezes accepted the challenge. His trip with Calavda (Francisco Pasquel Q, owner) was just as daring but not quite as fast as Rich's. When he crossed the final timer in 62.10 with every rail in place, he took over the top spot and held fast. Rider after rider tried to repeat his performance and wrest his lead away from him, but none managed it. Kirsten Coe made a good go of it with Baronez (Ilan Ferder, owner), and her clear round in 64.08 was good enough for third, leaving Rich with the second place ribbon.
"He's a new horse for me," Eduardo explained of Calavda. "I've only had him four months, and his first international grand prix was with me at the Las Vegas National. My strategy was just to go as fast as I thought he could go without risking him. He has a really big stride that covers a lot of ground, so we were able to take the options to do fewer strides. I was also really lucky that Rich had the four faults. I really liked the course; Anthony D'Ambrosio always does amazing courses. It tested us just enough to help us get ready for Saturday night."
Friday was a full day of intense competition, starting with the $5,000 Pre-green Hunter Championship. Patrick Spanton (Mary Gatti, trainer) set the bar high by scoring 87.5 in the first round with Undeniable (Kelly Straeter, owner), but John French took up the challenge aboard Catarella (Kristen Emery Orr, owner) and nearly caught him with a score of 87. Coming back for the second round, Patrick rode early in the order and stepped up his game even more to score an 89, bringing up his overall average to 88.25.
"At that point, I figured the rest of us were riding for second place," John French said. "When I went in, I decided my round had to be good if I had a chance. Everything went really well, and on the way to the last fence, I decided to give her the reins and show her off a little, and I think the judges saw that and liked it." Like it they did, because they rewarded him with a score of 92, bringing up his overall to 89.5 and clinching the championship.
"It was a great class," John continued. "The course (Joe Lombardo, designer) was a little more challenging than usual for pre-green, which I think is a good thing. There were some bending lines and a lot of single jumps so I could really show off Catarella's way of going between jumps. I've had her for a couple of years, but she only did a couple of shows in 2010, so this was really her pre-green year. She's very much my style of horse to ride. You can loop the reins to her and let her go, and she just has a very pretty look to her." Catarella had a great week, winning seven of her eight classes in the Pre-Green Hunters and Pre-Green Working Hunters, winning champion in 3'3" Pre-green Working Hunters and reserve champion in 3' Pre-Green Hunters.
That night, John had two beautiful rounds on Columbus (Taylor Thibault, owner) in the $3,000 USHJA National Hunter Classic, scoring a total of 170. However, amateur rider Karrie Rufer (Diane Yeager, trainer) and her My Way were hot on his heels, taking advantage of the higher option jumps to pass him up with a final score of 174. Karrie's victory in the 39-horse field was all the sweeter when her other entry, Declaration, placed third with Jenny Karazissis in the irons.
"It was really exciting," Karrie said. "This was my first year doing the derbies, and My Way is only eight years old. I think these classes are a nice break from traditional hunter classes. I like being able to get creative and tailor the options to suit my horse. I chose to take all of the higher options in the first round, but in the second it was handier to sacrifice one of them and take the inside turn. I hoped that by being handier, we would pick up more points than the one we lost by not taking the option."
My Way's diminutive size, at 15.1 hands, allows him to take tight turns with ease. "He turns on a dime," Karrie added. "He's so small he has to gallop, which is good in the derbies because the judges like to see that. He gets to show a lot of freedom in his stride."
My Way has done several derbies this year, but John's mount Columbus was a green horse he was really just taking in for experience. "I didn't do the options since he's a baby, and he's never done a handy course before," John explained. "The fact that he was right in there with all those horses was great. The derby courses were really nice, with a lot of single jumps. The handy course had a lot of long gallops and tight turns."
Allon Equestrian sponsors awards for the top placing amateur and junior riders to reward them for riding against the professionals. Karrie earned the Allon High Scoring Amateur along with her win, and twelve-year-old Tylor Nowell (Nina Alario, trainer), the only junior in the top ten, was Allon High Scoring Junior aboard Askaban (Alyssa Bansbach, owner). Her score of 146 put her in eighth place.
The WCE Junior-Amateur Medal Final is a challenging jumper style medal with two rounds and a work off for the top 15. Demi Stiegler (Robyn Stiegler and Archie Cox, trainers) set her sights on it earlier this year, and after winning the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search-West and earning the reserve championship in the 2011 ASPCA Maclay National Championship, her confidence was high. She put in a strong first round and showed the 39-rider field that she was there for the title and would accept nothing less. Her score of 92 tied her with Adrienne Dixon for the top spot in the round, although Savannah Jenkins (Archie Cox, trainer) showed she meant business with her 90.
In Round 2, riders needed to stay consistent in order to stay in the game. The two triple bars at fences 3 and 10 proved to be spooky, and there were a few stops and dropped rails as a result. Another trouble spot was the rollback from fence 6 to the oxer at 7a, where several riders took the inside turn option and left little room to take off and clear the first rail. Adrienne had some trouble spots and earned a time fault, and her score of 58 for the round dropped her to 15th in the standings. However, Demi had no trouble and sailed through the course in good time. She was rewarded for her efforts with a score of 91, and she moved forward to the third round in first place with 91.5. Savannah refused to be intimidated, riding fast and tight to earn another 90.
The top 15 rode in reverse order on a jump off style course, and Jamie Hlavacek (Kost Karazissis, trainer), who entered the round in 10th place, set the bar high with a final score of 161. She held on to her lead for several rounds until Kilian McGrath (Rudy Leone, trainer) rode faster and tighter to finish with a score of 167.5. Her lead stood until Demi rode through the gate last in the order.
Demi rode the course like a pro, taking advantage of the long spaces to put on speed, but taking care through the tight rollback from fence 4 to 5 where several riders dropped a rail. Her masterful ride earned her a score of 88 for the round and 179.5 overall, which gave her the win by a wide margin. Kilian claimed the reserve championship, while Savannah settled in third with 164. Laura Ware received an award for being the top-placing amateur rider, placing fourth, and Jamie ended up in the fifth spot.
"My heart was going a million miles a minute before I went in for the final round," Demi recounted. "I went in there, and after the tight rollback to the fifth jump, my horse jumped in really deep. Most of the riders had eleven strides across the diagonal to fence 6, but that wasn't an option for us the way we landed. I went for ten, and my horse was right there with me. He's done grand prix, so I knew he'd pick his legs up when we got there."
"This was her last medal final as a junior and the last show of the year," Demi's mother and trainer Robyn explained. "She really wanted it, and she rode like it, and the course was really good for her and her horse Parrandero (Katie Harris, owner), because he's adjustable and really likes to go. I also want to add that CPHA did an amazing job with the award presentations. It makes it really special for the winners, and it gives the up-and-coming riders something to work toward so they can be a part of it."
That night, Zone 10 recognized the accomplishments of jumper riders throughout the year at the annual Celebrate Jumpers! banquet. Year-end award winners, horse of the year winners, and the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships teams were recognized. Larry Langer presented his Chairman's Award to George Chatigny for his many years of service to the industry and dedication to supporting what is best for the horses and the sport. "It's all about the horses," George said in his acceptance speech. "Thank you to those of you who bring your horses to the shows. Keep doing it."
Marnye Langer, President of Pacific Equestrians, presented the Visionary Award to Robert Ridland of Blenheim Equisports, who has excelled in many different aspects of the sport and continues to be active and support the industry. "I'm very honored, grateful, and surprised to receive this," he commented.
There is much more to see at the LA National as riders get in their final championships, points, and memories for the year. Stay tuned for LEG Up News coverage of the Legisequine.com $50,000 Grand Prix of Los Angeles, the Onondarka Medal Final, and more!
For more information on the LA National, including a prize list and complete results, visit http://langershows.com/laec/show_details.php?show_id=193.
Photos: Eduardo Menezes and Calavda fly in the $31,000 Welcome Stake; John French and Catarella put in two beautiful rounds in the $5,000 Pre-green Championship; Karrie Rufer takes top prize in the $3,000 USHJA National Hunter Classic; Demi Stiegler does it again, this time topping the WCE Junior-Amateur Medal Final Photos: Flying Horse Photography