The 2012 Alltech National Horse Show, 129th Edition, greeted the Open Jumper riders with an inviting $50,000 Triumph Project Welcome Stake, sponsored by The Davis McCullough Foundation, for their first day of competition. Speed was the name of the game and Belgium's Nicola Philippaerts was right on point with his new mount Cortez. The pair blazed around the track in a clear time of 61.370, which would prove unbeatable for the win. McLain Ward was close on his heels aboard Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve, while a fault-free round while Palm Sunday helped Aaron Vale round out the top three.
Richard Jeffery of Bournemouth, England, presented riders with a technical speed track that 35 entries tackled. It opened with a bending line from the in gate and also included an oxer-vertical and a vertical-oxer double combination. The first combination, a wide oxer by the gate, and a slick turn to one of the final fences, proved to be the most challenging areas. Ten riders managed to cross the finish line with all the rails in their cups.
Jessica Springsteen was the first on course aboard Vindicat W and managed to set the bar high enough to push the rest of the class with a clear round. She had a slower time of 69.980, which held up for ninth place. Lauren Hough and Oh La La were the first to best Springsteen, breaking the beam five seconds faster in 64.580, but even that time would prove slow and land in the sixth place position.
The next clear round came from Nicola Philippaerts, representing Belgium with his new mount Cortez, owned by his father, Ludo Philippaerts. They shaved the turns and left out strides, still clearing each obstacle easily, and they wound their way through the course. The clock stopped at 61.370, shattering Hough short-lived lead and setting an uncatchable standard.
Olympian McLain Ward went in for the win with Louisburg Farm's Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve, but the pair came up just shy of the lead with a time of 61.640, earning the second place honors. "My plan was to try to go fast," he commented. "Pjotter has been a great campaigner for me for many years. He is a very careful and fast horse. I haven't shown in a few weeks, so maybe I was a little rusty, and I added in a few places where maybe I shouldn't have. I thought the course was big enough for the first day, and these jumps from the World Equestrian Games were quite spooky. It was just right, difficult enough and challenging, but not unfair."
Aaron Vale followed directly after Ward, but even his speedy effort would not prove to be good enough with Palm Sunday, owned by Amen Corner Farm. The pair was very quick, but not quite quick enough, tripping the timers in 62.29 seconds for the third place award. The fourth place ribbon went to Christine McCrea's entry Zerly, who went just prior to Ward in a faultless 63.77 seconds. The remainder of the class all gave it a go to catch Philippaerts, but only four others were clear, all with a slower effort.
"My horse was just amazing today," expressed 19-year-old Philippaerts. "He jumped great and I was fast enough to win. I think we were smooth everywhere, and I didn't really lose any time. You have to try to ride smooth, and I tried to turn everywhere short, and I got my first distance. Everything worked."
This is only Philippaerts fourth show with Cortez, but he thinks this could be his best mount. "I haven't had him very long yet, but now that I am trying to compete with him, he's looking like a good horse. I will see how far he gets here, and then ride him in the World Cup."
Philippaerts concluded, "I think this show is amazing, it is really nice show. The ring is fantastic and the public is really nice. It is always really nice to win the first class, of course. I hope to get good results through the rest of the week."
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group, Inc.
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