Lexington, KY - November 3, 2011 - It was an incredible night of competition at the Alltech National Horse Show, 128th Edition, as 14 of 35 entries qualified for the jump-off during the $75,000 Double H Farm International Open Jumper class. There was one quick round after another, but at the end of the night it was McLain Ward and Rothchild, owned by Sagamore Farm of Oyster Bay, NY, who posted a double clear effort in 36.10 seconds and led the victory gallop.
Pan American Individual and Team Gold Medalist Christine McCrea of East Windsor, CT, followed in second aboard Avenir with a fault-free effort in 37.72 seconds, while Lauren Hough and Quick Study, owned by Laura Mateo, were third after setting the pace at a clean 37.73 seconds.
For tonight's first round, Richard Jeffery challenged riders with 15 obstacles that included an oxer-vertical double combination, a triple bar-oxer double combination, and a final vertical-vertical double combination going towards the gate. Fourteen horse and rider combinations cleared the opening round to compete during the tiebreaker, which proved to be a far more difficult task. The jump-off began with an oxer-vertical bending line followed by the oxer-vertical double combination. Riders then made a tight inside turn to a tall vertical before making a bending line across the middle. They finally turned left and headed home over a wide oxer.
"I don't think that Richard wanted that many clear, but he probably wanted to have a nice confident class for the horses going into a very big Grand Prix in two nights," explained tonight's winner, McLain Ward. "I think Richard probably expected 10, but it's a great group of horses here and a great group of riders. The footing is phenomenal so the horses really jump off of it. There is also a considerable amount of prize money on the line, so I think people are trying to be on their game, and I think that is the result when that happens, I think it is a pretty high level of competition."
With three fantastic efforts starting the short course, it became a game of catch-up for the riders that followed, but they were not able to master the plan. Hough and Quick Study were the first horse and rider combination to qualify for the jump-off. The duo managed to leave all the rails untouched and crossed the finish line at 37.73 seconds, setting a pace that eventually earned them third. McCrea and Avenir were next and they just barely edged Hough out of the lead, breaking the beam at 37.72 seconds and garnering the second place award.
Ward was hungry for a victory following a second place finish last night, and with his veteran partner Rothchild he quickly took over the lead. Using a tight inside turn after the double combination, and leaving out a stride across the middle, the successful combination quickly jumped to the top of the leaderboard. Each fence remained intact and they blazed across the finish line in 36.10 seconds, an unmatchable effort that scored the lion share of the final prize.
"I was little upset to get beat last night," admitted Ward. "Todd [Minikus] had a great round, but I actually thought I had done enough when I went, and obviously I hadn't. I think that definitely factored into tonight a little bit; I wanted to press it a little bit harder. Rothchild is a fast little horse and he has a big stride, and he felt like he was jumping well so it felt like a good time to take a bit of a risk. With 14 or 15 clear you can't really leave a lot on the table. It worked out. Actually, sometimes in those classes it is better to go early you kind of do the best you can and then the other people come to chase you and make mistakes."
"I went as fast as I could go, but I added a stride down the line in the middle," noted McCrea. "I did nine and McLain did seven, he's insane, I didn't see seven, but I wish I would have done one less there. Avenir was jumping great and he was turning right with me, so he made it easy. He is a super fast, intense, hot horse, so I have to really be careful with him not to push his buttons too much. I have to be a little bit gentle with him."
Lucy Davis of Los Angeles, CA, and Old Oak Farm's Nemo 119 eventually placed fourth after going seventh in the return order and producing the only other fault-free effort. They stopped the clock at a more conservative 41.89 seconds for the red ribbon. Fellow young rider Saer Coulter of San Francisco, CA, and Victory Da did not lower the height of any of the fences, but their careful effort proved timely on the clock. The pair incurred two time faults after tripping the timers at 43.92 seconds for fifth place.
Tonight's event benefited the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, and the action will continue tomorrow with the Chansonette Farm $15,000 Amateur-Owner Jumpers, the Sleepy P Ranch $15,000 Junior Jumpers, and finally the Spy Coast Farm $60,000 International Open Jumper Speed Stake. The top horse and rider combinations will return to the Alltech Arena to vie for the winning honors, while also supporting the Kentucky Equine Humane Canter. For more information about the 2011 Alltech National Horse Show, 128th Edition, please visit www.nhs.org.
Photo Credit: McLain Ward and Rothchild won the $75,000 Double H Farm Open Jumpers at the Alltech National Horse Show, 128th Edition. Photo By: Shawn McMillen.