Against a backdrop of clear, blue skies and a record-breaking number of spectators, the United States’ Jonathan McCrea piloted Special Lux (Lux x Coille Mor Hill) to the top of the podium in the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Bromont at CSI3*-W Bromont International. The picturesque Bromont Olympic Equestrian Park played host to its 41st edition of the competition and to the launch of this season’s Longines FEI World Cup North American League. A starting order of 19 horse-and-rider pairs contested Brazilian course designer Guilherme Jorge’s track, his final design, before flying to his home country for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 1.60 metre course, with 13 obstacles and 16 jumping attempts, featuring long, galloping lines, wide oxers, and large, sweeping turns that utilized the expansive, outdoor arena, prompted riders to remark that it was certainly “big enough” during the course walk. In particular, a demanding, vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination, off a tight, right-hand turn, near the final portion of the track would go on to force multiple rounds to record at least four faults.
“It’s always a big pleasure to be back in Bromont,” Jorge said. “As you may know, it was my first show in North America back in 1998. For 18 years I have been coming regularly here. It’s always nice to see the improvements on the venue: the new footing this year, the quality is always getting better, and it’s always nice coming here to see the sign from the ’76 Olympic Games. It’s always nice to be in a venue like this.”
“The number of riders was not that big, but we had really good quality and I was able to build a course to the standards of a World Cup Qualifier, and it was a good jump off for the crowd,” he added. “There’s always a good crowd here in Bromont so I think it’s a very good start for the North American League.”
Veteran rider Peter Leone (USA), riding 10 year old gelding Wayfarer (Languster x Angel), was the first to enter the ring and nearly delivered a fault-free round save for a rail at the A element of the triple combination. But a clear round came soon after, when USA’s Alison Robitaille and 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding Ace (Berlin x Irco Polo) crossed the timers without a single fault as the third pair in the order.
Six additional clear first rounds throughout the class ensured a competitive jump off of seven: Andrew Kocher (USA) and 15-year-old gelding Uppie de Lis (Andiamo x Landsieger I), Keean White (CAN) and 11-year-old gelding For Freedom Z (For Pleasure x Baloubet du Rouet), Jonathan McCrea (USA) and Special Lux, Ljubov Kochetova (RUS) and 10-year-old stallion Balou du Reventon (Cornet Obolensky x Continue), Todd Minikus (USA) and 11-year-old mare Babalou (Balou du Rouet x Silvio I), and Leslie Howard (USA) and 10-year-old gelding Gentille van Spieveld (Heartbreaker x Capital) followed Robitaille with their own clear efforts, respectively.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Longines because without a partner like that, [this competition and League are] impossible,” said Roger Deslauriers, manager of the Bromont Equestrian Park and Bromont International. “It’s not always easy, but we want to do good for the sport. Three weeks ago, we tried to finish the footing in the main ring and we really worked hard to make it happen because we really like to make the effort for the riders, to give the best conditions. We’ve been working hard to make it happen.”
The seven riders returned for the final, deciding round. The short track of seven obstacles with eight jumping efforts utilized a tight rollback turn from a vertical to another vertical, set at an awkward angle. The top of the jump-off order—Robitaille, Kocher, and White, couldn’t cross the timers without dropping rails. And as McCrea entered the ring, he knew he had to keep the jumps standing, but with a competitive time that would put the pressure on Minikus, who rode late in the order.
“With Special Lux, if you make a jump off, going slow is not an option,” McCrea said. “I knew with Todd and Leslie coming behind me, I had to put the hammer down. Right before I went in, my wife [Christin McCrea], who rides with me and against me, said to me as I came down the hill [into the ring], ‘There’s no clears.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I could go for a clear [but if] I take one off, a slow four is not going to go well.’ She said, ‘You know, the horse you’re on is fast. Try and put the pressure on Todd. He has a lot of experience with that horse, and he’s won a lot.’ So going for a slow, clear round wasn’t an option.
“Knowing my horse as well as I know him, you go to win. I’m lucky to have a horse as careful and fast as him.”
And true to form, McCrea masterfully navigated the rollback turn slightly wider than the former competitors in order to set himself up for an angled slice over the vertical to make a direct, eight strides to the following oxer.
“On those kind of roll backs with him, I like to go a little wider to go back in a little closer to jump it,” McCrea said. “He’s very careful on the vertical.”
Kochetova followed McCrea’s fast, double clear, and although she managed to keep the rails standing, her time of 51.26 seconds was far behind McCrea’s 42.24 seconds. “[Balou du Reventon] is my best horse right now, and he’s getting enough experience and getting better,” Kochetova said. “I hope we can qualify for the World Cup Final. We’ll try.”
All eyes looked to Minikus to better McCrea’s time. In April, the United States Equestrian Federation had named Minikus and Babalou to the short list for the Rio Olympics. But after narrowly missing the US Team, Minikus has shifted his sights toward the Longines FEI World Cup Final. Chasing McCrea’s time, Minikus made a tighter rollback turn that then forced the rail. He did have the time at 41.29 seconds, but the four faults kept him off the podium with a 4th-place finish.
The final rider in the jump off, Howard had seen both clear rounds and made the conscious decision to rider for the runner-up position with a clear round at 49.58 seconds.
“I saw both Ljubov and Jonathan go, and I knew if I tried to catch Jon, there’d be a good chance I would have a rail because my horse is not as naturally fast as his,” said the two-time Olympic medalist. “I got to see Ljubov go, and I thought I could shave off a little time off hers. They’re both similar horses [mine and Ljubov’s]: big, scopey, slow moving horses. And I thought maybe a little neater turn here and there, I could shave off her time. So it was really advantageous to be able to see both of them go, and it worked out well for me.”
McCrea’s mount is no stranger to winning the bigger classes. Originally purchased from Billy Twomey, McCrea’s friend from his original home country of Ireland, about three years ago, the Irish Sport Horse gelding was already competing at the Nations Cup level for Ireland with Twomey’s colleague, Anthony Condon.
“Anthony did a great job with the horse,” McCrea said. “I got lucky when I heard about him—I tried him, liked him, and he’s been great. The first year I had him, he won a bunch after just getting thrown in at the deep end. [In 2013], we placed in the World Cup Qualifiers in Washington and in Kentucky.
“We had a successful Wellington and did his first Nations Cup for America in Mexico, where he was clear and four [faults] on the team and 3rd in the Grand Prix. Then at Spruce Meadows he was 2nd in the $400,000 Grand Prix the first week. He’s not a stranger to winning and jumping these classes.”
But in the middle of the 2014 season, Special Lux incurred a stifle injury that required surgery and an entire year off from competition. The majority of that time, McCrea and his team of veterinarians and grooms carefully rehabilitated the talented horse. When Special Lux returned to the competition ring, he won two back-to-back Grand Prix classes at HITS Saugerties and CSI3* Tryon to mark the occasion.
“I am not the most stylish rider in the world, and he jumps a little unorthodox but he thrives off a gallop,” McCrea said. “I wasn’t brought up in the United States with the equitation and I tend to ride what I feel. It’s a real partnership, but we tend to get it done.
“I was surprised when I walked the course that it was big. The course builder did not go soft today. I felt relaxed and my horse was jumping good. He felt good in the jump off, and we stayed relaxed.”
McCrea will next head to Saugerties, New York, with other horses in his string before a stint in Europe, gearing up for the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ CSIO5* at the start of September. But with the win today, plans for Special Lux will most likely adjust to maximize World Cup points.
“It’s everybody’s goal [to qualify], but I try to go one day at a time,” he said. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up and hope my horse is sound and healthy. Obviously with 20 points in the bag, it’s something I have to take a look at and pay attention to and especially on home soil—to have the World Cup Final in North America is the ultimate advantage. I’ve never been in position to win the first Qualifier [of the year] so now I have to give it more attention and obviously I’d love to go.”
McCrea’s fellow competitors also voiced their collective hopes to qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Final to take place in Omaha, Nebraska from March 27 to April 2, 2017. All efforts from the North American League will qualify the top seven US athletes from the East Coast sub league, the top three US riders from the West Coast sub league, and the two best-placed athletes from Canada and Mexico, alongside the qualified riders from the 13 other leagues from around the world.
“I would like to go back to the World Cup Final this year,” said Leslie Howard. “It would be my 22nd or 23rd World Cup Final. I haven’t been there in two years. I have a nice, great, young string of young horses coming along that should be about ready to do some serious stuff by the time the World Cup comes around.”
The top-placing Canadian rider from today’s class, Keean White, also has his sights set on riding in the championship event.
“[My horse] jumped the first round very well, he tried very hard,” White said. “He’s a horse that I’ve been working with for a few years. At the beginning, maybe he was a bit too careful so we’ve had to work through a few things. But in the last few months, he’s jumped very solid, and we’re hoping to guide him toward the World Cup Final.”
Thirteen events remain in the second year of the Longines FEI World Cup North American League, and much is sure to change as the season progresses. But the riders earning points from the start currently hold the advantage. All roads will lead to Omaha, and only time will tell if today’s top competitors will have the opportunity to jump for the title.
Source: Press release from FEI by Esther Hahn // Picture © Tom von kap-Herr
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