Todd Minikus, the U.S. Olympic Team Alternate at Sydney, won the $100,000 Cosequin® Grand Prix at HITS Catskills IV in Ellenville, New York, today aboard What Nu. Minikus out-jumped a field of 29 that included six Olympians--three of his Sydney teammates, two U.S. Team Silver Medallists, and seven-time Canadian Olympic team member Ian Millar. In a seven-horse jump-off that produced six double-clear rounds, Minikus, 39, of Loxahatchee, Florida, was the fastest, beating Margie Engle on Hidden Creek's Jones by just .285 seconds. He also placed third with his Olympic team mount, Oh Star.
"It's nice to have a pair of horses that are international caliber, world-class horses. I'm a lucky guy to be able to ride them and to know that both of them are extremely careful especially under the pressure of the speed that I go at," said Minikus. "Oftentimes people say, 'Todd rides too fast in the jump-off', and I don't think that's true. I think the horses are too slow. Finally I've got a pair of horses that can go as fast as I can ride."
Minikus was presented with an embroidered Cosequin U.S. Grand Prix League cooler, an engraved silver tray, certificates for 650 pounds of Agway horse feed, and checks for $42,000 in prize money--What Nu earned $30,000 for owner Amy Lefferdink, and Oh Star earned $12,000 for owner/rider Minikus.
Ken Krome of Westminster, Maryland, designed the course. For Round One, Krome built 13 jumps that included water at Fence No. 6, an oxer-vertical double at Fence No. 9, and finished with a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination in front of the VIP tent. Time Allowed was set at 96 seconds.
Of the seven Olympic veterans competing in Round One, Minikus and Engle both qualified two horses, and Millar went clean on one of his two entries. The other Olympians did not fare as well. Nona Garson rode two horses, including her Olympic horse Rhythmical, but had faults with both. Lauren Hough rode one entry, Windy City, but had a rail down. Anne Kursinski, two-time U.S. Team Silver Medallist and member of four U.S. Olympic show jumping squads, rode two horses but a clear eluded her today. Peter Leone, Atlanta U.S. Team Silver Medallist, elected to retire on course.
"It was a tough course," said Course Designer Krome about Round One. "If things didn't go right for you then you were in trouble quickly. The riders really stepped up and the horses really stepped up. Everybody seemed to be at the top of their game today."
For the Jump-Off, Krome's course required riders to start at the oxer at Fence No. 3, turn left to the red-and-white Rio Vista vertical, turn left again and take a long gallop across the arena to the water at No. 6, turn left to the 13B oxer, then turn right for another gallop to the No. 14 Agway vertical, followed by a turn back to the Cosequin oxer at No. 1. Time Allowed was set at 55 seconds.
Jeffery Welles, 39, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, was first in the Jump-Off order on Riviera who lowered Fence No. 14 for four faults in 43.209, taking seventh place and $4,000 for owner Gotham Enterprizes. Next was Engle, 43, of West Palm Beach, Florida, on her Olympic mount, the 10-year old Westphalian Hidden Creek's Perin, who set the pace with a clear in 44.281, but ended up fourth, taking home $8,000 for owner Hidden Creek Farm. Marilyn Little, 19, of Fredenick, Maryland, put in the next clear round on Pico de Gallo, but her time of 45.611 placed her fifth. As owner/rider with Raylyn Farm, Little earned $6,000.
Minikus went next with his 10-year-old Belgian-branded stallion, Oh Star, and snatched the lead from Engle with a blazing fast clear in 42.520, but ended up in third place. Millar, 54, was the fifth rider on course and clocked in clear with his Ivar, but their time of 46.787 was only good enough for sixth place and $5,000. Engle returned for her second trip and grabbed the lead back from Minikus by fractions of a second with Hidden Creek's Jones, who cleared the course in 42.180, but ended up in second place, earning $20,000. Minikus came back as the last rider in the Jump-Off and rocketed around the arena with the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding What Nu in 41.895, taking the lead away from Engle for the win.
The exchange of leaders in the jump-off was as exciting to Krome as it was to the spectators that filled the bleachers and VIP tent surrounding the ring. "I've never seen anyone go that fast. They went fast and faster and faster. When you draw [the course], that's your idea to have an exciting jump-off that can really show off the speed and the turning abilities, but it's the riders and the horses that give the show. They really stepped up to the plate and gave us an exciting class. Your spine was tingling right to that last jump. They all had to make decisions coming out of that last turn, whether or not to really go for that really long one. Todd took some pretty big gambles and it paid off for him. It was great."
Minikus said that he thought he'd won it with Oh Star, but when Engle nipped his time, he came back with a plan to catch her on What Nu. He'd left the door open at the rollback to the second jump when Oh Star put in extra strides turning, and he planned to shave fractions there, but instead What Nu also got hung up in the turn. Minikus said he put on speed going to the next jump and made up the time. Then What Nu slipped at the vertical before the last fence.
"It seemed like it took him a little while to get his footing back on the way to the last jump," said Minikus. "He gave a miraculous effort at the last jump to leave it up and have the physical capability to pull himself together after slipping and then me spurring hiM--to get himself all organized to leave the ground--that was an athletic feat that not too many people noticed but I appreciated."
Engle said that when Minikus took the lead from her and Perin, she pulled out all the stops on Jones. "I thought, I've nothing to lose on Jones. I've never really gone that fast on Jones in a jump-off, but I thought I may as well take a shot and I went as fast as he could go. But you always know that there's a little room left for someone to catch you if their horse is naturally a little bit faster. Todd's just able to nip them by a couple of tenths of a second. He's just right behind me, always coming up right behind me. But it was exciting because the class just seemed to get faster and faster as it went."
Minikus recently competed against Engle in an international competition held in California and took the lead and the win from her in a similar scenario to today's class. "Nothing like good competitive competition," said Minikus. "It's fun battling it out with Margie because in this sport you learn to not only appreciate wins but to appreciate the efforts of other riders and other horses. Especially the horses when they do a good job."
Today's class was the second consecutive Grand Prix at HITS Catskills in which the riders all wore green polo shirts embroidered with sponsor logos-HITS and the manufacturer Romfh. Minikus stated last week that he would like to see the idea carried further into racing silk-type shirts. He reiterated the idea today. "That way spectators can identify the shirt or jersey with the horse." He also added, "But there's still something about putting on your pink coat, and getting dressed and looking at yourself in the mirror, wondering if you turned all the little stones to make sure you're ready. I guess that's the tradition to it."
Engle commented, "I personally enjoy the shirts. This is the only sport I know of where it's 80- or 90-degree weather and you're out there in long sleeved shirts and wool coats. This makes a lot more sense. It's a good alternative. When it's cooler out it's nice to have the jackets. I think it looks nice that everyone's wearing the shirts. The shirts are definitely comfortable. They're lightweight and they're great shirts."
The majority of the riders who competed in today's Grand Prix returned for the Autograph Session that was the highlight of the annual Kids Day at HITS Catskills. They signed HITS Catskills show programs for a long line of kids and their parents. "People come out and spend their afternoon watching us and being entertained by the show jumpers. Sponsors come up with the money and time and effort. It's a small payback that we should probably just be expected to do," said Minikus.
Engle was in agreement. "I think autographs are a great idea. They get the exhibitors into it. The Kids Day is really a good idea. It gives the kids something else to do at the show. It's great for the spectators to be able to meet the riders. It gives them a little more incentive to come out, and gives them a little more personal insight, to be able to relate to the riders a little bit better."
Minikus, who was recently named the U.S. Equestrian Team Athlete of the Month, summed up today's event, "There ended up being some very high quality riding. All the Olympians in it--that's testimony to the quality of horses that were here. I was proud and glad to be part of it."
$100,000 Cosequin® Grand Prix, July 29, 2001
HITS Catskills IV, Ellenville, New York
Course Designer: Ken Krome
Pl#/Horse/Rider/Owner/Prize Money/Rd 1 Faults/J-O Faults & Time
1/What Nu/Todd Minikus/Amy Lefferdink/$30,000/0/0-41.895
2/Hidden Creek's Perin/Margie Engle/Hidden Creek Farm/$20,000/0/0-42.180
3/Oh Star/Todd Minikus/Todd Minikus Ltd/$12,000/0/0-42.520
4/Hidden Creek's Perin/Margie Engle/Hidden Creek Farm/$8,000/0/0-44.281
5/Pico de Gallo/Marilyn Engle/Raylyn Farm & Marilyn Little/$6,000/0/0-45.611
6/Ivar/Ian Millar/Millar Brooke Ltd/$5,000/0/0-46.787
7/Riviera/Jeffery Welles/Gotham Enterprizes/$3,000/0/4-43.209
8/Julius/Jeffery Welles/Daybreak Farm Inc/$3,000/ ½/NA
9/Ransom/Lynne little/Alex Carl/$3,000/ ½ / NA
10/Cosequin's Chapie/Debbie Stephens/Centennial Farm Inc./$8,000/ ½ / NA
11/Rhythmical/Nona Garson/Kamine Family & Nona Garson/$2,000/4/NA
12/Jasmine/Jeffery Welles/Sagamore Farm/$2,000/4/NA
13/Windy City/Lauren Hough/Peppercorn Ltd/$1,500/4/NA
14/Eros/Anne Kursinski/The Eros Group/$1,500/4/NA
Number of horses who competed in this class: 29
Class Prize Money: $100,000
HITS CATSKILLS 2001 SHOW JUMPING ACTION:
HITS Catskills I, May 23-27
HITS Catskills II, May 30-June 3
HITS Catskills III, July 18-22
HITS Catskills IV, July 25-29
HITS Catskills V, August 1-5
HITS Catskills VI, August 29-September 2
May 27 $100,000 EMO Grand Prix 1pm
June 3 $100,000 Nevele Grande Grand Prix 1pm
July 22 $100,000 Avis Grand Prix 1pm
July 29 $100,000 Cosequin® Grand Prix 1pm
August 5 $100,000 Nevele Grande Grand Prix 1pm
September 2 $100,000 Rio Vista Grand Prix 1pm
July 22 Taste of the Hudson Valley For Exhibitors Only 2pm-4pm
July 29 Kids Day 11am-1pm