As the 2014 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament drew to a close on the final Sunday, Irish rider Kevin Babington celebrated one of the most special days in what has been a long and highly decorated career.
First, during the pre-game ceremonies, his great mount Carling King, who recently passed away, was honored with a wonderful video production on the big video screen ringside. Put together by Jeff Papows and his staff, there wasn't a dry eye in the house as the career of the legendary Carling King played out on the video board for all to see. Once the video was complete, it was announced that going forward, the Leading Rider trophy at Silver Oak will always be known as the Carling King Leading Jumper award.
But the day for Babington was only getting started. By the time the competition was done, Babington and Shorapur had raced to an electrifying win in what can only be described as a tremendous jump-off in the main event, the $75,000 Agero Grand Prix.
And still, his special day continued. At the very end of the prize giving ceremony, it was announced that Kevin Babington had won the Carling King Trophy as Silver Oak's Leading Jumper Rider for 2014. It doesn't get much better than that.
"This last three weeks have been amazing," said the personable Babington. "We won three Grand Prix's including this one. It's just been incredible and the Carling King trophy means so much to me. It brought tears to my eyes. I always knew how great of a horse he was, but just to see a flashback of what he actually was and what he had done, was incredible."
Today's wonderful festivities were clouded somewhat when the news came down from the warm-up ring that America's winningest rider, Wellington's Margie Engle, competing at Silver Oak for the first time, had suffered a broken collar bone in a fall. Jumping the final jump before heading to the ring, Engle's mount tripped on landing. The horse went one way and Engle the other with the resulting injury. This is a particularly tough blow for Engle, who had just been named to the United States World Equestrian Games with her mount, Royce. This marks the second "championship" heartbreak for Engle, who, just two years, had won the Selection Trials for the London Olympics and suffered a broken ankle before she had a chance to make the trip. At press time Engle was undergoing surgery in Boston.
For today's Grand Prix, Olaf Petersen, Jr. came up with a wonderful course that saw 11 of the 27 entries go clean. This created the perfect number for the large crowd on hand and set the stage for what would be a real run and gun jump-off. The course included 13 numbered obstacles with 16 jumping efforts and included a triple combination of vertical, vertical, oxer, two strides to one, and a double combination to wrap up the course at #13ab. That was oxer to vertical. The triple combination provided the usual headaches, but faults in general were spread thru the course, including the tall Silver Oak vertical on a bending line that caught eight of those horse and rider combinations that ended up with faults.
But where Petersen really shined today was in the building of the jump-off track. He designed it with two long runs that really got the crowd on their feet and included a number of tight rollback turns, including one from #6 to the remains of the triple combination at #9bc. But the best part of the jump-off was the long run to #10, the big triple bar by the in-gate, and the final 10 to 13 stride run to the final oxer at #16. The winner Kevin Babington and Paul O'Shea twice, did the ten and made it pay off.
The jump-off looked like it might be over right from the start as defending champion Paul O'Shea returned first with Calista and laid down a heck of an opening run. Really flying on the long runs, O'Shea did the ten strides coming home and finished in a speedy 40.838 seconds.
Jonathan Corrigan and California 62 rolled the rail at #13a before tripping the timers in 44.094 seconds. He would wind up in ninth place at the end of the day. Hillary Simpsons couldn't duplicate her first round clear either aboard Arkansas as she pulled the first fence down the second time around. She finished with the eventual seventh place time of 42.008 seconds with four faults.
Paul O'Shea then appeared to put a lock on a Silver Oak title for the second year in a row when he went clean again, this time with his top mount, Primo de Revel. Again doing the ten strides coming home, O'Shea beat his own time by 5/10ths of a second and moved to the top of the charts in 40.329 seconds. As it turned out, he would be 1.7 seconds too slow and would finish in third place by the time the class was over. Cody Auer and Catika Van De Helle pulled down #9b in their chase for today's top prize, finishing the course with four faults in 42.631 seconds. She would take home today's eighth place honors.
Everyone was excited to see Jeffery Welles return next with Prem Dollar Boy. Welles had just finished near the top of the charts in the first class of the day in a real horse race with Kevin McCarthy and can ride a jump-off course as good as any rider in the business. Today though, his mount didn't have the same plan in mind as Jeffery did and stopped suddenly after the rollback to fence #15. Welles parted company and finished in tenth place. That set the stage for our final four riders.
Kevin Babington, as the next to go with Shorapur however, put the class out of reach. Making all the handy rollbacks and gambling on the ten strides coming home, Babington broke the beams in a winning time of 38.627 seconds, almost two seconds faster than O'Shea.
"I had a chance to see Paul go," said Babington, "and I planned on doing six down the first line and I thought to myself, to win this, I need to go five down the that line, so I changed my plan as I was cantering up to the first jump, and then I made the good run for the last fence."
Lucy Deslauriers, competing in just her second big-time grand prix (and her second against her father), had a fabulous second ride aboard Hester. A bit of greenness might have cost her a bit of time on a couple of the rollbacks, but she flew home in an impressive 40.601 seconds which would wind up in fourth place.
Father, Mario Deslauriers couldn't have been prouder. "Today was just her second time in a Grand Prix and she was very impressive," he smiled. The first round, she did the entire plan and in the jump-off, I thought she was beautiful. A little inexperience had her make a turn a little wider and that cost her one or two seconds, but I'm really happy for her," he said.
Mario had the next chance on his big, imposing chestnut, Scout de la Cense. And he made a real run for the title. Coming home just a little bit short of Babington's time in 39.865 seconds, the duo would take home second place honors.
Remember we talked about that run to the final fence? Mario described his run this way, "The last fence, I kind of chickened out a little bit. It's a horse I've been bringing along all summer and doing the Grand Prix's with. It's the first time he would have gone double clear so I wanted to set him up a little bit and add in a stride. It was very close on the time. I don't know how close, but it was close enough," he said. "I wanted to go a little bit straighter than the other guys because he is a little inexperienced. He is only eight years old."
That left it all up to Paul O'Shea and his final mount, but a run for the money on this one was never in the plans. Riding River Dance Semilly, O'Shea cruised home in a comparatively leisurely pace of 42,815 seconds. Fast enough for 6th, but not nearly fast enough to win.
"He is hopefully going to jump in the Grand Prix in the Hamptons," O'Shea said. "He is still quite green. He's only a nine year-old. He has done a lot of good things and I was just getting him ready for the Hampton Classic. It could have helped to have Primo going last, but it was Kevin's day. He was obviously a lot faster than me, but my four horses jumped great today."
Of the course, O'Shea said, "It was a great class. The course was brilliant, but then again, Olaf always builds a great course" he said. Deslauriers agreed with that assessment, saying, "The course was very nice, I think he (Olaf) set a good track. I think for the horses and for the crowd, he hit it perfectly."
And Babington agreed with both. "I thought today's course was good and plenty challenging," he said. "Both courses, even this morning's course was brilliant. I think he would have been very pleased with the number he got in the jump off."
He then paid tribute to Shorapur saying, "I've always said that she is the next one (Carling King). Before she came along, I was kind of half thinking about just being a trainer and starting a feed business," he admitted. "But, she came along and really put the skip back in my step and I think she is really, really special."
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group.
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