It was a class, and a course, befitting a champion. Befitting the legacy of Hickstead. The inaugural $100,000 Hickstead FEI World CupTM Grand Prix tested each horse and rider every step of the way, and in the end, it was veteran Canadian Olympian Jill Henselwood (Oxford Mills, ON) with her young horse George, who rode away victorious.
The biggest Grand Prix class of the Royal Horse Show was renamed during last year's event, in honour of Hickstead, Eric Lamaze's Olympic champion mount from the 2008 games, who passed away unexpectedly last year. Tonight, Henselwood bested a star-studded field of 22 starters, including World, Olympic, Pan-Am and National champions to come out on top.
"This was a VERY good course tonight," said Henselwood, of the test designed by 1976 Olympic silver medalist Michel Vaillancourt. "It was very difficult. You did a trick and then turned and did another trick and then turned and on it went. There was no reprieve at any obstacle, yet no one obstacle was immense. Michel truly did a world class job."
Of those 22 starters, just six were able to advance to the jump-off over a shorter course with larger obstacles. Belgium's Olivier Philippaerts set the tone for the jump-off, taking all the inside turns and jumping at angles one would think nearly impossible. Henselwood had the luxury of riding last in the ring, so she watched and planned exactly how and where she could try to leave out strides in order to shave off the seconds.
Reigning Pan-American individual gold medalist, Christine McCrea (Windsor, CT), was not able to leave the strides out that Henselwood was, and had to settle for the runner-up spot. Ireland's Richie Moloney opted for the outside turns in the jump-off, but applied the pressure and produced a blazing time. But tonight it was the last to go who got it done.
"Hickstead would have loved this class tonight," said Henselwood at the end of the night. "He would have eaten this course up for fun. And then he would have kicked our butts in the jump-off!" she ended, with a twinkle in her eye.
Earlier today, Ireland's Dermott Lennon took the $15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge with Hallmark Elite; followed by the Dominion Regalia Royal Invitational Dressage Cup, won by Canadian Olympian Ashley Holzer and Pop Art.
$100,000 Hickstead FEI World CupTM Grand Prix
Rider / Hometown / Horse / Faults : Time
1. Jill Henselwood / Oxford Mills, ON / George / 0 : 35.82
2. Christine McCrea / Windsor, CT / Romantovich Take One / 0 : 36.28
3. Richie Moloney / Ireland / Slieveanorra / 0 : 36.42
4. Olivier Philippaerts / Belgium / Vadetta VH Mettenhof / 0 : 36.61
5. Yann Candele / Caledon, ON / Game Ready / 4 : 34.62
$15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge
Rider / Hometown / Horse / Time
1. Dermott Lennon / Ireland / Hallmark Elite / 50.96
2. Reed Kessler / Lexington, KY / Onisha / 51.25
3. Shane Sweetnam / Ireland / Cyklon 1083 / 55.92
4. Olivier Philippaerts / Belgium / Chicago VH Moleneind / 56.06
5. Laura Kraut / Middleburg, VA / Belmont / 56.06 (equal fourth)
Source: Press release from The Royal Horse Show/Michelle Dunn
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