California's Richard Spooner and Show Jumping Syndications International's 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding Cristallo (Caretino x Cicero) galloped to victory in Saturday night's $100,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 3* Grand Prix at the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. The pair was the fastest by over two seconds over Katie Dinan (USA) and Grant Road Partner's Nougat Du Vallet, who finished second, and Great Britain's Ben Maher on Tripple-X III, who finished third.
Sixty-six horse and rider combinations contested tonight's first round course, set by Olaf Petersen, Jr. of Germany. Seven advanced to the jump-off, which saw four clear rounds. Brianne Goutal (USA) and Remarkable Farms LP's Onira set the pace, first to go in the jump-off with a clear round in 41.41 seconds, which eventually finished in fourth place. Ben Maher (GBR) and Tripple-X III followedand upped the ante with their clear round in 39.50 seconds, which took third place. Dinan and Nougat Du Vallet completed another clear round, improving on the time in 38.93 seconds to finish second.
The lead changed hands for the final time as Richard Spooner and Cristallo entered the ring. The pair blazed through the track in 36.77 seconds to earn the top prize. Commenting on his winning round, Spooner explained, "I saw Katie and Ben go first and they were super fast. I knew I had to go as fast as I possibly could, so that's what I did. I felt like I was a little bit slow to the second jump, so I took a big chance to the combination and it paid off. That's probably where I made up the extra time because I came in at a ridiculous angle to the combination. I had to slow down to the last jump though, because it was a little steady."
Jeffery Welles (USA) and Aries, owned by Noel Love Gross finished the short course with a rail at the last fence in 37.80 seconds to place fifth. Alexandra Thornton (GBR) and Dunwalke LLC's Caballero 84 finished with four faults in 41.75 seconds to place sixth. Catherine Pasmore (USA) and Pasmore Stables' Vandavid were last to go in the jump-off and had two rails in 38.51 seconds to place seventh.
Spooner and Cristallo have had a successful partnership in recent years, although the rider admits it was not so easy at the start. Cristallo was difficult to turn, and it was not until Spooner's wife, Kaylen, began riding the gelding under saddle that his rideability really improved. The pair has been a force to be reckoned with ever since and has won classes all over the world.
"My wife Kaylen has done a phenomenal job. I stopped riding him on the flat and really doing anything with him two and a half years ago," Spooner said. "My wife does everything, so I just get on him and show, which is quite strange for me because in general I do all of the work on my other horses. She has him where he's turning left and turning right. Now I can go fast with him. He has a very difficult mouth and she has done an amazing job in getting him to relax and do his job. It's like night and day, a different horse."
Second place finisher Katie Dinan was happy with her horse in the pairing's first night class at a 1.60m height. Dinan described her partnership with Nougat Du Vallet, stating, "I'm lucky because Nougat is perfect. He makes me look like I know what I'm doing. I think he's given me a lot of confidence."
"My horses are all really going well," she smiled. "I was so excited to win that grand prix a few weeks ago. Sometimes you have days where everything is aligned and everything works out. The next step is trying to be consistent. This was our first class under the lights together and this was our first real 1.60m class. I was a little nervous, but he schooled great. I just went in the ring and tried to do what we've been doing together. He was so good, and I'm really lucky to have him.
Finishing in third place, Ben Maher was also pleased with his mount Tripple-X III, who was showing in his first big class since arriving in Wellington this week. "I was happy with him," Maher said. "I assessed the jump-off and knew that Richard was clear and there was no chance I was going to beat him. I tried to go as fast as I could, but I didn't want to go too quick because I have the Nations Cup next week. I couldn't have beat Richard anyway, that's for sure. This is the first class for him and there's a long way to go until the end. I'm happy to be third behind these two fast riders."
The riders praised Petersen's course tonight, Spooner especially complimentary. "Frankly, I have to say that I loved the course. Before I ever got on, when I walk a course like that, I get a smile on my face," he stated. "I get a quicker step; I get this euphoric glow because I think we need to be challenged. I want to see difficult courses. When I saw the course, I was just excited because I knew it was going to be a challenge. I also know that Cristallo jumps better when it's bigger and more difficult, in general."
Maher also commended Petersen on a job well done. "I thought it was great. I'm lucky because I believe in my horse; he's an amazing horse. We've jumped a lot of big things. Zurich just four weeks ago was one of the biggest courses I've jumped for a long time. I have to say, I thought it was going to be slightly smaller tonight as a three star grand prix. That's not a three star grand prix in Europe," he stated. "I was slightly concerned when I walked. I played it a bit casual with the horse in not doing much and just arriving and going straight in, but that suited my horse. You needed scope, you needed good rideability, and it's always nice when you're clear in the grand prix. You don't have to run the legs off your horse and finish seventh or eighth. It's nice to jump a double clear and get paid well for it."
"It's difficult because you've got amazing riders and horses," Maher continued. "When you look down the list with that caliber of horses with 70 in the class, it's a difficult job for a course builder to keep producing challenges for such good horse and rider combinations every week."
Cristallo also reacts in a good way to the exciting environment, showing under the bright lights in front of a big crowd of more than 4,000 spectators tonight. "It kind of picks him up in a way. He's 14, so the richer the environment, the more legitimate the environment, then I think the more legitimate his performance," Spooner noted.
For full results, please visit www.showgroundslive.com.
Top Five $100,000 Fidelity Investments CSI 3* Grand Prix
1. CRISTALLO: 1998 Holsteiner gelding by Caretino x Cicero RICHARD SPOONER (USA), Show Jumping Syndications International: 0/0/36.77
2. NOUGAT DU VALLET: 2001 Selle Francais gelding by Scherif D'elle KATHERINE DINAN (USA), Grant Road Partners: 0/0/38.93
3. TRIPPLE-X III: 2002 AES stallion by Namelus R x Cantango BEN MAHER (GBR), Ben Maher: 0/0/39.50
4. ONIRA: 1996 KWPN gelding by Nimmerdor x Ramiro BRIANNE GOUTAL (USA), Remarkable Farms LP: 0/0/41.41
5. ARIES: 2001 Oldenburg gelding by Argentinas x Grannus JEFFERY WELLES (USA), Noel Love Gross: 0/4/37.80
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