Rain plagued the Kentucky Horse Park throughout the day at the Kentucky Spring Classic, but it did not stop the country's top competitors as they entered the Rolex Stadium for the $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix. As the second U.S. Show Jumping Team Observation Event during the show, today's grand prix event featured a challenging scope test, which only three Olympic hopefuls were able to master. Mario Deslauriers piloted Urico to the fastest clear jump-off to claim the victory, while 17-year-old Reed Kessler placed second aboard Mika with the other fault free round. Beezie Madden also advanced to the short course with both Simon and Cortes 'C', but placed third and fourth, respectively, after earning four faults with each.
The first round of Richard Jeffery's demanding track included to wide oxers in the first line, followed by an even larger triple bar. There was also an open water to an airy vertical-vertical double combination. Riders then headed away from home through an oxer-oxer-vertical triple combination and finished over a long line with two liverpools. Eight of today's 16 entries managed to complete the course with just four faults to their name, attesting to the level of the competitors in the ring. Four horses left every rail in the cups and advanced to the short course.
"When we walked the course I thought it was WEG again over here," smiled eventual winner Deslauriers. "It was a big course today, I thought the lines were complicated, and it depended on how your horse rode. If you had a horse that was riding well today, the course rode nicely. It was certainly challenging in a couple of places, there were a lot of difficult lines."
Madden and Cortes 'C', owned by Abigail Wexner of New Albany, OH, were the first pair to show over the shortened course. They added four faults to their score sheet after making a sharp turn to a tall, skinny vertical. After crossing the finish line in 35.76 seconds, they eventually earned the fourth place award. Madden and her second mount, Simon, the victor from Friday's $50,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic, improved on the time with a 35.10 second finish, but a rail down in the double combination left them in the third place position.
New Lexington, KY, resident 17-year-old phenom Reed Kessler took her turn over the jump-off track with Mika, and with nerves of steel, Kessler once again showed the way and jumped to the top of the leader board with a clear round. They dashed through the finish line in 35.40 seconds, which would be good enough for second place.
Mario Deslauriers knew he need a quick round with Urico, owned by Jane Clark of New York, NY, and he also needed to be clear to take the victory. The seasoned pair proved to be up to the challenge though, and they broke the beam at 35.15 seconds, just edging Kessler out of the lead to earn the Sunday victory.
"I think Urico is a horse with a lot of character and a lot of motor," said Deslauriers after his win. "He hadn't jumped since the last trial in Wellington. It has been a while, so he was a little rusty Friday. Today, we even jumped this morning to get him to pay more attention to me. Mind and body and attention were much better. He is a horse that can take a lot of jumping-go three or four times a week no problem. Today we were better prepared and I think it showed."
Deslauriers is currently ranked sixth on the Long List for the U.S. Show Jumping Team, but today's win will certainly improve his chances of making the Team for the 2012 London Olympics. Two Observation Events still remain though, at the Devon Horse Show and at Spruce Meadows, and other Olympic hopefuls such as Kessler and Madden will be right on his tail.
"I think both my horses couldn't have jumped any better," noted Kessler, who is currently at the top of the Long List with Cylana, and Mika sits in fifth. "Mika was fantastic. Before the Trials he was greener, but those courses really raised his sights. He has never gone better than he did today. Cylana jumped great too. She was second in the order and we were trying to decide whether to do five or six strides after the water and ended up with a rail down at the double combination. We did the six and watching how Beezie did it, well the five would have been better. She jumped great though, so now we are focused on Calgary."
In regards to which might be a better fit for London, Kessler commented, "It is hard to say. I think they are both Olympic caliber horses. Cylana is so unemotional and was really great during the Trials. After the trials, Mika has changed his attitude and become more seasoned. Really it comes down to whichever one is going better as it gets closer."
Madden is currently ranked 21st on the Long List with Simon, the winner from Friday, 12th with Cortes 'C', and 4th with Coral Reef Via Volo, who has not begun the Observation Events yet. "I thought both horses were great today," she said. "I thought the course was difficult, and I think it was a good testament to the candidates we have here. A lot of four-faulters and good scores basically. Both of my horses were great. Cortes has Olympic scope, he has made a mistake here and there, but today he came through. He has gained a lot of experience through the Trials. Simon was a world-class horse before the trials, and we are just getting together and learning one another's moves."
Madden continued, "I would really have to say the same as Reed, it really comes down to whichever one is going better a little later on. With Via Volo, I have a real dependable partnership there, we have had a few years together, she is very proven, she always has a good score. Cortes, he is coming into season, and with his scope and temperament I have a lot of confidence in him. Simon is probably the best on paper, but with him, it is more experience together that I need, so we need to see how it goes from here."
Some of the four-faulters at the top of the Long List from today's event included Kent Farrington with RCG Farm's Uceko, Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One, and Laura Kraut riding Cherry Knoll Farm's Cedric. All of these combinations will be looking ahead to compete during the Spruce Meadows or Devon Horse Show Observation Events, as the Selection Committee tries to narrow down the candidates for the 2012 London Olympics.
Next week, the competition will continue at the Kentucky Horse Park during the Kentucky Spring Classic, scheduled for May 16-20, 2012. Some of the highlights will induce Thursday night's $32,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic, Saturday's $75,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix sponsored by Audi of Lexington and Sunday's $20,000 Bluegrass Classic. The $32,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic will be held in the Rolex Stadium, and will offer riders the opportunity to earn valuable points towards the $50,000 Leading Rider Bonus, and will feature $6,000 in bonus money for the SSG Riding Gloves 'Go Clean for the Green' promotion.
For more information about the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
RESULTS: $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix
1 URICO/MARIO DESLAURIERS/USA 0-84.58/0-35.15
2 MIKA/REED KESSLER/ USA 0-86.36/o-35.40
3 SIMON/BEEZIE MADDEN/USA 0-89.17/4-35.10
4 CORTES 'C'/BEEZIE MADDEN/USA 0-85.86/4-35.76
5 ROMANTOVICH TAKE ONE/CHRISTINE MCCREA/USA 4-83.45
6 CHILL R Z / CHARLIE JAYNE/USA 4-83.73
7 UCEKO/ KENT FARRINGTON/ USA 4-85.26
8 CEDRIC/LAURA KRAUT/USA 4-85.90
9 VORNADO VAN DEN/JESSICA SPRINGSTEEN/USA 4-86.59
10 CELLA/MARIO DESLAURIERS/USA 4-86.64
11 CYLANA/REED KESSLER/USA 4-87.54
11 NICE DE PRISSEY/BRIANNE GOUTAL/USA 4-87.54
Source: Press release from Phelbs Media Group, Inc. International
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