North Salem, NY - Abigail McArdle is making the most of her first trip to the American Gold Cup with her veteran partner Cosma 20, taking home two blue ribbons in two days. Winning Wednesday's $8,000 Douglas Elliman FEI Open Jumper class was just the start for the pair, who raced to victory in the $35,000 Don Little Memorial Welcome Stake. McArdle and Cosma 20 beat out Ireland's Conor Swail and Martha Louise by just 1/10th of a second.
Ireland's Alan Wade built an inviting track on the Grand Prix Field at Old Salem Farm, which yielded 19 clear rounds out of the 70 entries. Great Britain's Amanda Derbyshire set the pace to beat with Goldbreaker, owned by Derbyshire and David Goochman. They were only the third pair to tackle the course, but they dashed through the finish line in a clear 67.96 seconds to take over the top spot.
Seven rounds later, McArdle and Cosma 20, owned by David McArdle, came in ready to add a second win to their 2015 American Gold Cup trip. Picking up a fast gallop to the first oxer, Abigail McArdle and Cosma 20 never let off the gas, leaving every rail intact and breaking the beam at 67.01 seconds. "I went early, but it kind of stayed the same throughout the class, the winning track. No one really did anything drastically different," explained McArdle after leading the victory lap. "My main plan was to really start out with that huge gallop because I knew that was where I was going to have to win; it was in that first line. Then everywhere else I was just tidy and neat."
Swail attempted to catch McArdle with his first mount, Cita, owned by Ariel and Susan Grange, but he fell just shy of their time with a clear round in 68.53 seconds, for an eventual fourth place ribbon behind Derbyshire. Later in the class, Swail was able to slide into the second place position with Martha Louise, also owned by Ariel and Susan Grange. The pair stayed right on the pace that McArdle set with Cosma 20, but they were unable to edge them out of the lead when they stopped the clock at 67.18 seconds, just a tenth of a second too slow.
"Martha was great, but she's been off for a little bit since March this year," commented Swail. "This is only her third show back. She's a great winner for me, and when she's not around it makes my life a little trickier. It's nice for her to be back and be competitive. I thought she had a very nice round today."
Swail added, "I probably lost it just to the second to last fence. I felt I probably put one too many steps there, but I was very happy with her. It's her first time going in a competitive mood since she got back, so I was very pleased with how she delivered today."
"Conor had me very worried when he was going, but I thought everywhere Cosma was really quite on it," admitted McArdle. "Especially with the way it rides out here, I really have to gallop to get the numbers, so it's hard for any other horse to even get near as fast as her."
Competing against world-class athletes has become the norm for 21-year-old McArdle, who made the decision to become a professional at the beginning of the year. "It's definitely a huge difference in terms of the competition," she expressed. "As a junior, it was much more relaxed; I could kind of go around and have some clean rounds and get good ribbons. When you move up into the professional divisions, showing in these 1.45m speeds, they're so competitive. It's really pushed me to try my absolute best. I couldn't just go for a nice clean and get it. To win the class, you really have to go for it."
As a junior, McArdle trained with Katie and Henri Prudent at Plain Bay Stables, so when their son Adam decided to start a sales business it provided McArdle with the perfect opportunity to make the switch from amateur to professional.
"Even as a junior I had big goals. I really wanted to become a professional," smiled McArdle. "Adam wanted some help with riding, and for me, it's just a great opportunity to ride good horses. It was something I couldn't turn down. It's difficult learning the ropes, and it's a lot of pressure and training, but I really enjoy it."
Although McArdle has ridden at the Old Salem Facility in the past, this is her first year competing in the American Gold Cup, and she is happy to be here. "It's a great venue with great class opportunities. I'm looking forward to showing in the Grand Prix this week with my other horse."
The $35,000 Don Little Memorial Welcome Stake was sponsored by the family and friends of Donald V. Little. An accomplished show jumper, fox hunter and polo player, Little died in 2012 after a fall in the Masters Classic at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. As those who knew him said, he died doing what he loved, successfully competing in show jumping well into his 70s. The Donald V. Little Memorial continues to support and promote his dedication to and passion for the sport.