The 2016 Rio Olympic Games may have come to a close last week, but the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) saw its own version of Olympic athleticism on Friday as 2000 Sydney Olympic U.S. showjumping team member, Margie Engle (USA), bested the field of 24 international horses and riders to win the $40,000 Great Lakes Stake Classic CSI3*. Despite feeling under the weather, Engle's competitive nature did not falter. She persevered and piloted Abunola, owned by Elm Rock Partners LLC, to claim the blue ribbon in her first time competing at Flintfields Horse Park.
"I am very fortunate," said Engle. "My clients have been very patient. I haven't really ridden in the last few weeks because I have been really sick. I just wanted to make sure that I got the job done today. Abunola has been super. I am really happy with her. She has a lot of blood, which is nice. Especially, right now, after being sick, she is very Thoroughbred-y to ride. She has a nice motor. She is light-boned and very quick at the jumps. She wants to be careful and is just super - she is brave and very game!"
Course designer Leopoldo Palacios built a large first round track of 12 obstacles with a tight time allowed of 78 seconds. Fourteen exhibitors were able to produce clear rounds with no faults, thus securing their chance to return for the tiebreaker.
Palacios' jump-off course proved to be a bit more challenging, however, as only five exhibitors were able to leave all of the rails intact and jump double clear rounds.
Engle was the first clear pathfinder of the jump-off, leading the way with the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare in 40.880 seconds.
"The first round, the time was tight," said Engle. "The course was a nice welcome class for Sunday. I thought he built a very nice track with the group he had here. The time allowed was snug, but it was a very fair course. I am sure that Sunday will be quite a bit bigger.
"When you have a lot in the jump-off, people get going so fast," continued Engle. "I thought it was a difficult enough course to go clean. There were a lot of galloping lines. I took enough chances everywhere that I wanted to be cautious to the last jump and set her up for Sunday and not flatten her out too much. I got lucky that it was good enough to hold on. She is a naturally quick mare across the ground, and she accelerates very quickly."
One round later, it was Nick Novak (USA) and his own Dirkie Z who finished with the second double clear round. He tripped the timers just one second behind Engle in 41.130 seconds.
"Dirkie is an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding," said Novak. "I got him about a year and a half ago. I went over to Europe with Kent Farrington and found him. He actually helped me pick out my other horse, Climbus, too. He's a little bit of a hot ride, which I like, but as soon as he's done he's as cool as a cucumber. He's calm, relaxed and just a chill horse. He's got a great personality.
"I thought the first course was nice," continued Novak. "Everybody knew after the first couple of horses that the time was tight so you had to make all of the inside turns, basically, to make the time allowed. In the jump-off, he raised some of the jumps. My plan was just to be speedy and go as quick as I could. I just sort of went for it today for the money and for the FEI points."
Abigail McArdle (USA) followed Novak with the first of two mounts qualified for the jump-off. She rode Plain Bay Sales' Contessina Della Caccia to a faultless effort in 43.460 seconds. She re-entered the ring six rounds later aboard Plain Bay Sales' Adamo and finished double clear once again in 42.020 seconds to beat her first time, however still placing behind Novak in the standings.
Lisa Goldman (USA) was last to go with her own Hindsight. After collecting faults with her first two mounts in the jump-off, Goldman crossed the finish line with no faults in 41.810 seconds to place third. Novak took second place honors, while McArdle finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively, and Engle led the lap of honor.
Engle and Abunola formed their partnership almost a year ago and have already added notable wins to their name including the $50,000 HITS Welcome Stake CSI5* at the National Sunshine Series in Thermal, California, in 2015 and the $35,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup CSI3* during Week Ten of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The pair most recently finished second in the $35,000 1.50m Suncast® Classic CSI4* at Tryon in July before traveling to compete at GLEF.
"I cannot tell where Abunola is in my string yet, I have only had her for a short time, but I am really happy with her," said Engle. "Luckily she and Indigo have a lot of blood, and the weather here has been beautiful. It is the best place to be. I don't know if I could ride somewhere too hot, but the weather here is perfect for August. It is my first time here for the horse show, and we really hope to come back.
"The footing is great; the horses really seem to love the footing here," continued Engle. "The staff are doing everything they can to keep all of the exhibitors happy. They have been very accommodating. They are offering nice ranking classes, which makes it a good show to come to. It is a beautiful area. I cannot say enough good things about the people running the show."
As for Novak, he will continue to prepare his two mounts for Sunday's CSI3* grand prix at GLEF and is grateful for the opportunity to return to Traverse City to compete this year and earn valuable ranking points.
"I feel pretty good about Sunday," said Novak. "I have both of my horses in the grand prix. I'm hoping the track will be a little bit bigger. That's usually Leopoldo's style. He sort of makes it easy and then for the grand prix, he bumps it up a notch. I'm excited for that next step on Sunday to sort of challenge the horses and myself a little more.
"I was here the last two weeks of the July circuit and I started showing here again last weekend in the FEI classes," continued Novak. "I was here last year as well. I've loved it here every year. The footing is great, the staff is great, everything is really relaxed and there's so much to do around town and around the lake so it's sort of a work vacation. It's just a great place to be."
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group, Inc. // Picture © Taylor Renner/Phelps Media Group,Inc.
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