Memorial Day Classic Going Gangbusters

The Memorial Day Classic (May 24-28) is always a fun and popular show, and this year is no exception. Things got under way with the $5,000 Open Welcome Stake on Friday afternoon.

Fifteen horse and rider teams took on Danny Foster's course, but just three made it to the jump off: Susie Artes on Zamiro (Alix Fargo, owner), Lane Clarke on Casseur de Prix (Granville Equine, owner), and Rusty Stewart on Bristol (Grey Fox Farm, owner). Susie rode first, but picked up four faults. Next was Lane who rode a clean, consistent round with a time of 48.050 seconds. Last in the jump off came Rusty, who felt confident in his position.

"Bristol jumped really well in the first round and I was in the best spot coming back last for the jump off," he commented. "Lane had a clear but slow round, so I knew I just had to go clean and just a little bit faster." Rusty succeeded handily and took home the blue ribbon with a clean round in 42.956 seconds.

Bristol is a special horse, as Rusty explained, "Bristol is a home bred that we raised and he was the first baby we had on the farm." Now, Bristol is all grown up with two years of grand prix experience under his girth, and he navigated the difficult course under Rusty's guiding hand. "Danny Foster always sets tough courses, but the course was very good," Rusty added. "Danny did a good job and there were just the right amount of clean rounds." Rusty and Bristol will be competing in the $30,000 Memorial Day Class Grand Prix on Monday, a class that Rusty has competed in before. "Coming to the Memorial Day Classic Grand Prix is a lot of fun. There's always a lot of excitement and the crowd is great."

Riders in the $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior-Amateur Owner Classic, a selection trial for the Zone 10 North American Junior Championships, took on a challenging course on LAEC's historic grass field, but only Alicia Gasser (Mark Bone, trainer) had all the answers to Danny Foster's questions. She and Audi's Reflection (KMG Equestrian, owner) blazed a trail through the course that no one else could follow, jumping clear in just 84.205, over seven seconds faster than the time allowed. With all other riders picking up faults, there was no jump off and Alicia claimed the blue ribbon.

"She's really hot and really fast, and I love that," Alicia said of her mount, a horse she has only been riding since March. "She's honest and trustworthy, and she loves her job. I'm leasing her from Eduardo Menezes. We've been working on fixing our little problems and putting things together, and today everything just came together. It was pretty exciting to be the only clear round, but I haven't done very many jump offs on her so I'd like to do more for the experience." Alicia is hoping to qualifying for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships this summer, as well as the indoors for Prix des States.

Saturday night brought round two of the Memorial Day Classic Equitation Challenge, where teams made up of one professional, one amateur, and one junior rider work to get the highest team score. The winning team nabs a week's stay in Maui for the professional member, while the amateur and junior each get beach bikes.

The round two course required careful thought and planning if riders were to hit every stride and score well. "The first round's course was a more straightforward equitation course," explained course designer Chris Collman. "Tonight's is more technical and less forgiving. While there were more options last night, tonight they need to get the strides exactly right or they will arrive at the fence on a half stride." Chris used a pen complex throughout the week, consisting of a circle of fences to jump in and out of, plus satellite jumps--including a bounce made with hay bales--that added an interesting element to the hunter and equitation courses.

The top eight teams after round one took on Chris's challenge, and several riders showed they were more than up to the task by smoothly and handily getting each distance and scoring in the 80s. The team Show Me The 90, consisting of professional Carleton Brooks, amateur Kylee Arbuckle, and junior Avery Worthington, were determined to get out of eighth place and put in an especially good round. They accomplished their goal, scoring 84, 86, and 83 respectively and earned the high team score of the night of 253. However, it was not enough to make up for the previous night's lower score, and they settled for fifth place overall.

When it came down to the top three teams, things really started to heat up. Two Trojans & A Bear, the team from Elvenstar, including professional Katie Gardner, amateur Taylor Marie Harris, and junior Morgan Geller, came into round two in third place but clearly weren't planning to stay there. Katie started off the team with a beautiful ride that earned her an 85, then Taylor really stepped up the game and earned a 90. With Morgan's score of 79, the team moved into the lead with a final tally of 493. The team from Far West Farm, Jenny Karazissis, Sheila Hart, and Molly Peddicord, came next and showed their mettle with Jenny earning a 94, but their final score of 483 wasn't enough to catch the Elvenstar team. The 2010 winners, Southern Comfort, coached by Karen Healey, came into the second round as the leaders. Professional Tasha Visokay, amateur Michelle Morris, and junior Savannah Jenkins needed a score of 239.5 for the round to catch Two Trojans & A Bear and fell just short with 236, which gave them a grand total of 489.5 and put them in second place.

"We were in a good spot, coming in third, so there was less pressure," Katie commented. "My horse and Taylor's are both just seven years old, so they were tense last night. We were all a little more relaxed tonight, so it's nice to be in that position. We just imported the horse I rode, Zeraton (Star Lane Farms, owner), from Europe in January, so we just wanted to get him in the ring and get used to it. I wanted us all to put in smooth, consistent rounds, and I think we did that." The team's rounds were indeed smooth and consistent, and thanks to their efforts, Katie will get to enjoy a vacation in Maui later this year. "I think my boyfriend is more excited about going to Maui than I am," Katie joked after the class, although he denied it. "I've never won a trip before, but I always say I should just go ahead and go to Hawaii and never get around to it. This is awesome."

The “bear” on the winning team, a student at University of California, Berkeley, Taylor Marie Harris rode a great course on Vancouver (Elvenstar Farm, owner). As the amateur on the team, Taylor rode second and explained, “I was a little nervous after Katie went and scored so well, but I focused on picking up a good canter, being really smooth, and riding the tracks. This is my first show on Vancouver. I was going to ride my horse, but unfortunately he got sick, so Jim Hagman was kind enough let me ride Vancouver. In the first round, I didn’t know him as well, so in the second round I was able to finesse some details and help him out when he got deep.” Taylor improved her score from 79.5 in first round to 90 in the second.

Taylor enjoyed both courses in the Equitation Challenge and added, “Sometimes you feel like the course is trying to trap you because it’s so difficult, but I found both courses to be very welcoming. I thought the pen complex was really fun. It’s something different and the horses were all really great about it.” In addition to the course design, Taylor also loved the team aspect of the class. “There’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s fun with the team around to encourage you. We had a ton of our Elvenstar riders here so it was nice to have everyone here cheering.”

Although the Maui trip is the highlight of the class, Morgan Geller was just as happy to win the bike. "I study business at University of Southern California starting in the fall, and the bike is really going to come in handy getting around campus," she remarked with a laugh. Like Taylor, she really enjoyed the team aspect of the class and the design of the course. "The course was really huntery and open. It was a nice change of pace, and I liked riding in the Equidome. The pen complex was really fun; it was like riding in a derby."

Elvenstar's Kay Altheuser coached the team to their win and was thrilled with the results. "They did a really good job. They were at a disadvantage coming in third, but the horses settled in well and were really good. I like this class because it's fun, but it's good for the professionals to get back into doing some equitation."

There is more jumping excitement to come at Memorial Day Classic, with the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, $7,500 1.35M Jumper Classic, the exciting $30,000 Memorial Day Classic Grand Prix, and more.

For more information about Memorial Day Classic, including prize list, schedules, and complete results, visit the LEG website.

Photos: Rusty Stewart and Bristol show how it's done in the $5,000 Open Welcome Stake Photo: Flying Horse Photography; Alicia Gasser answers all the questions in the $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior-Amateur Owner Classic Photo: Flying Horse Photography; Two Trojans & A Bear: Katie Gardner, Taylor Marie Harris, and Morgan Geller team up in the Memorial Day Classic Equitation Challenge Photo: Flying Horse Photography