Tampa, FL - April 4, 2009 - It was a difficult course testing the horses' power and endurance that set the stage for tonight's $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational, where no horse and rider combinations were able to complete a faultless first round. A seven horse jump-off took place between the four-faulters in which Chris Kappler and VDL Oranta captured the gold medal and led the night's victory gallop.
This is Kappler's third time winning this prestigious class, which has only been done by two other riders, Rodney Jenkins and Katie Prudent. In 1995 Kappler rode Seven Wonder and produced the only clear round to earn the win, and in 2003 he rode his Olympic mount Royal Kaliber during the victory gallop.
Tonight's demanding course was designed by 2008 Olympic course designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL. Stephens tested the caliber of every rider with his difficult course, which featured 14 numbered obstacles including an aqueduct jump, a triple bar jump, a skinny fence, a triple combination, and a double combination. The two combinations proved to be the most difficult obstacles. The triple combination was a scopey oxer to oxer to vertical, where 22 of tonight's 34 riders found faults at the second oxer. The double combination was a vertical to an oxer and both fences included liverpools, which was also problematic for many riders.
"Steve Stephens is an excellent builder; he always builds an Olympic caliber track and it just proved to be a difficult course," explained Kappler. "The oxer-oxer was scopey, he had a tricky combination for the last line coming home, and it was a long course."
The course was much more difficult than many expected as the class continued without any riders completing a clear first round effort, resulting in a jump-off between the riders finishing with four faults. Jenna Thompson, of Calgary, Alberta (CAN), and Zeke were one of the first horse and rider combinations to complete the course with just a four-fault effort after taking down the rail in the middle of the triple combination. Charlie Jayne and Urbanus, owned by Alex Jayne of Elgin, IL, followed soon after only to make the same mistake and create a tie for the top position.
Todd Minikus, of Wellington, FL, and Pavarotti stepped into the ring next and had the crowd on the edge of their seat as they came to the final line of the course having left all the jumps standing. An unfortunate error in the double combination lead to a rail coming down at the oxer, but with no riders clear yet the pair still moved into the tie for the lead.
Cara Raether and Ublesco, owned by Trelawny Farm, earned four faults during today's class after they also knocked down the rail at in the middle of the triple combination. Mary Shirley went the farthest in the course without fault riding Rocky Mountain Warmblood's RMW New Day. The pair made it all the way to the final fence, the Budweiser oxer, before they brought down a rail. They stopped the timers in 95.71 seconds, just over the time allowed to add one time fault for a total of five faults, which would not be enough to advance to the jump-off.
Kappler and VDL Oranta, owned by M & K Oranta, LLC, gathered four faults during their first round when they lowered the height of the oxer coming out of the liverpool double combination. James Billington, riding Deeridge Farm's Midnight Lady, also made the same mistake and garnered four faults.
Last year's winners and crowd favorite McLain Ward and Sapphire, owned by McLain Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock of Brewster, NY, were the third to last in the order. Everyone held their breath as they wound their way around the field, sure that they would produce the first clear round, but it could not be done. Ward and Sapphire pulled the rail at fence 11, a wide oxer, and added themselves to the group of seven four-falters that advanced to the jump-off.
For the jump-off, the course was adjusted so that the triple combination only included the first two oxers, and the double combination only included the final oxer. There were also many options to gallop and make inside turns so that riders would use every advantage that they could to get ahead.
Thompson and Zeke were the first to compete over the short-course. The pair made a tight-inside turn coming to the double oxer combination and Zeke refused. The refusal earned four faults and added six faults to the clock, totaling ten faults and earning them the seventh place finish. Jayne and Urbanus were next to step on to the field but they had the rail down at the second part of the combination again. The duo tripped the timers in 52.10 seconds, a fraction over the time allowed, adding one time fault to their four-fault score to take home the fourth place ribbon.
Minikus and Pavarotti were not ready to give up on Stephen's course and knew a clear effort was possible, so that was exactly what they did. The pair jumped each fence beautifully and left every rail in its cup. They stopped the clock in 46.55 seconds earning the second place prize, the silver medal.
"My plan was just to try and be clear," noted Minikus. "I have lost so many grand prix classes in my career by going too fast. I knew we had to jump clear first, and then the others had a crack at it."
Raether and Ublesco tried to mimic Minikus and Pavoratii and beat their time, but Rather and Ublesco's sharp turn to fence eight, a tall vertical, cost them four faults and moved them into the third place position after tripping the timers in 46.42 seconds, just ahead of Minikus' time.
"Ublesco isn't the quickest horse but it worked out for me because there were a lot of left turns in the jump off and he's better at those," smiled Raether. "I'm just happy to have had the opportunity to jump-off; there's a pretty long list of horses that have won this class so to be in the top three is a big deal."
Kappler and VDL Oranta were ready to win as they took to the jump-off course next during the American Invitational. Kappler knew he would have to be clear to beat Minikus, and Ward and Sapphire were behind him in the order to put on the pressure. The pair was successful though and left all the fences standing, creating the second clear jump-off round of the night. Kappler made sharp, precise turns and VDL Oranta's large stride carried the pair through the finish line in 43.95 seconds, taking over the lead and garnering the gold medal.
Billington tried to challenge Kappler's lead with Midnight Lady but the pair earned eight faults after pulling down rails at the liverpool fence and fence 15, the American Invitational vertical, taking home the sixth place prize.
Ward and Sapphire were the last to compete over the night's jump-off course. The pair made the tightest inside turn of the night to the double oxer combination but it cost them when they lowered the height of both obstacles to accumulate eight faults. They stopped the clock in 43.20 seconds, beating Kappler's time by the smallest of margins, but their mistake at the double combination landed them in the fifth place position.
"I did not get to see Todd go, but he's always fast, everyone in that class is fast," explained Kappler. "I felt it was a good jump-off for me because there were a few more left turns and Oranta goes faster to the left."
Kappler continued, "She has lots of jump, she's a big, strong horse and I really enjoy riding her. This is my first really big win with her but she's always been a solid horse. She's strong, she's not easy to ride, but whatever fence it is she always take it on and she is a good, tough mare."
Kappler summed up the night by noting the importance of the American Invitational. "This is one of my favorite competitions," he said. "I'd like to thank Gene Mische for continuing to run this fabulous event, it's really one of the best events in America. If you look at the list of horses and riders that have won this class it's a pretty special group."
Kappler was already a part of that list, but now he will join an even more elite group of riders who have been able to earn the title three times and have gone on to be icons of the show jumping sport.
For more information please visit http://www.stadiumjumping.com
Photo Credit: Chris Kappler earns his third $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational win with VDL Oranta. Photo ŠKenneth Kraus /PhelpsSports.com. Photograph may be used only in relation to this PMG press release.
---------------------- It's easy! Just copy code below and paste into your webpage --------------------
<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/chris-kappler-budweiser-america-oranta-04-09.html">Chris Kappler Captures Third $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational Victory with VDL Oranta</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com