An enthusiastic crowd in Las Vegas cheered each rider who entered the arena at the South Point Hotel and Casino, but it was the American Peter Lutz and Robin de Ponthual that claimed the final winning praise by beating a field of 30 to claim the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League qualifier at CSI3* Las Vegas National.
Germany’s Olaf Petersen Jr. designed the course that offered multiple options in striding and track. “Actually, when the riders walked the course, some told me that it looked to be more on the easy side,” Petersen Jr. said. “But I like it that way. It figured out that we had faults here and there. I liked the way it rode and that it didn’t have any disasters. It was a pretty mixed group; some very good riders and some new to this level.”
The course walk may have given a false sense of confidence to competitors as rails fell for the seasoned veterans and the young upstarts. But a competitive group of eight emerged from the first round to make for an exciting jump off in a city that lives for risks.
"The new Longines North American League is bringing up the path to the World Cup Final in leaps and bounds,” said Robert Ridland, President of Blenheim EquiSports and the United States Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe. “That’s a really big deal. If you want to make a Final very exciting and suspenseful, you have to make the journey at the same level. I think Longines is hitting a home run here in North America.”
Australia’s Matt Williams and Valinski S (Nijinski x Julius) were the first to go double clear in Round 1 and thus, first to go in the jump off. He noted that his strategy going into the final round was to ride on the conservative side to give his mount a positive experience, but his plan changed once in the arena and the pair set a respectable time of 34.25 seconds with no faults.
“I sort of choked to the last fence there,” Williams said. “I could have had eight strides. I was really lucky. I guess that’s what happens in Vegas, you get lucky sometimes. But my horse jumps his heart out every time. What he doesn’t have in size, he makes up for in size.”
One round later, Audrey Coulter (USA) improved on Williams’ time aboard Domino (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Azur Depaulstra), although her time of 33.61 seconds did not hold against Lutz’s 33.21 seconds that came second to last in the order.
“Going so early, I was really aiming for a smooth, clear round to put a little bit of pressure on the people behind me,” said Coulter, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College. “I knew that in a few places I was a little safe and left the door open. Overall, I was really happy with my result.”
“Domino is a relatively new mount for me,” Coulter added. “We got him two months ago from Jos Verlooy. I train with Jos so it’s really nice having him in the stable and getting his feedback. I think it’s really helped me to get to know [Domino] even faster.”
The international jump-off field included top talents as Verlooy (BEL), Kent Farrington (USA), Eduardo Menezes (BRA), Simon Nizri (ISR), and Lucy Davis (USA), all of whom finished behind the three leading double clears. Current world number two Farrington managed the fastest time of 32.90 seconds with Gazelle (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Indoctro), but an unlucky rail kept him from the top of the podium.
Lutz’s first World Cup qualifier victory marks a new milestone for the rider who has recently transitioned from developing young horses and riders to concentrating his efforts to the top of the sport. “I spent many years teaching students and developing horses,” Lutz said. “I had nice horses along the way, but I didn’t really have the opportunity to hold onto a horse like Robin in the past and I’m very grateful that I can now. I spent a lot of years bringing along young horses and young riders, including Audrey, who I worked with for many years. I’m really proud of them; many have gone to be great riders. At this point, I’m concentrating more on riding, taking advantage of the opportunities that I have, and I’m really happy that I can do it.”
The talented, 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Elf d'Or x Calypso d'Herbiers) originally came from American rider McLain Ward’s stable about a year ago. Lutz explained that he and Ward rode together as teenagers and have since developed a working relationship.
“Robin and I have been building a relationship over the past year,” Lutz said. “He’s so talented, scopey, careful, and a winner. We jumped some great classes in the spring, then really this fall, starting at the American Gold Cup, things started to go well.”
The decision to try their hand at the World Cup qualifier in Las Vegas came from the pair’s strong, 4th place finish at the earlier East Coast league event in New York in September. “A few times this year, I was little bit conservative and tentative in the jump-off,” Lutz said. “Then I started to take a few more risks and to go a little bit faster. We did that a few times to get into the same rhythm and the same speed. Tonight, I felt like it was perfect combo of calm and fast for it all to come together.”
Lutz described his mount as quiet and gentle in the barn but excited as soon as he steps into the competition arena. “He’s even quiet in the schooling area,” Lutz said. “But when he walks into the ring, he really responds to the crowd. He really changes and comes alive. He’s two different horses in that respect. As soon as he steps into the ring, he really excels and is energized by the crowd. And there was such a great crowd here. It distracted him a little bit at first, but by the time he got into the jump-off, he was really focused.”
The Las Vegas National is the last of the 2015 season for Lutz and Robin. Together, they’ll fly home to New York where they can rest before starting back up in Florida in January. “I flew with the horses, which was so exciting,” Lutz said. “We flew to Los Angeles then drove here. It’s been a great journey, and this couldn’t be a better ending. It’s the first year that I’m consistently showing at the World Cup level, and I’m thrilled.”
1. Robin de Ponthual (Peter Lutz), USA, 0 faults/33.21 seconds (JO);
2. Domino (Audrey Coulter), USA, 0/33.61 (JO);
3. Valinski S (Matt Williams), AUS, 0/34.25 (JO);
4. Sunshine (Jos Verlooy), BEL, 0/34.30 (JO);
5. Gazelle (Kent Farrington), USA, 4/32.90 (JO);
6. Quintol (Eduardo Menezes), BRA, 4/34.67 (JO);
7. E Muze Yek (Simon Nizri), ISR, 4/35.39 (JO);
8. Barron (Lucy Davis), USA, 4/39.25 (JO).