Charlotte, NC - April 12, 2009 - After three rounds of competition this afternoon, Olympic gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil claimed the top prize in the $450,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte with Let's Fly. McLain Ward (USA) and Rothchild finished second, while Karen Cudmore (CAN) and Southern Pride were third. The grand prix was the highlight event of the 2009 Charlotte Jumper Classic, CSI 5* at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC.
There were 23 starters in the opening field, and they competed over the two rounds designed by Olympic course designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL. The top 10 were to return for the second round, including tied scores. In the first round, there were eight clear rounds, one rider with one time fault, and six four-faulters. All 15 would return for the second round.
First to return for the second round was Charlie Jayne on Athena, who had four faults in the first round. The little mare had trouble over the harder second round course and finished with eight faults for a total of 12 and 12th place. Marley Goodman and Athos had the same result, but their first round time was faster and they finished in 11th place.
Todd Minikus and Alaska were the first to negotiate the second round course without fault. They finished with four total faults for seventh place. Pablo Barrios (VEN) and LaGran had two refusals at the final combination and finished tied for 13th place. Henri Kovacs (HUN) and Sassicaia II had four faults in the first round and eight faults in the second round for 10th place.
The second clear trip came from 19-year-old Brianne Goutal on Ralvesther. The talented young rider finished a solid fourth place as the fastest four-faulter. Lauren Hough and Naomi 152, who had just one time fault in the first round, added eight more to their total in the second round for ninth place. North Carolinian Jeanne Hobbs and Night and Day 8, who were clear in the first round, also had eight faults and placed eighth. Cara Raether ran into trouble at jump 4 in the second round when Ublesco jumped hard and high over the oxer. Raether tumbled off, but both walked out of the ring unhurt. They finished tied for 13th place.
Next in was Pessoa and Let's Fly, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Double H Farm. They came in fault-free from the first round, and with ease they cleared the scopey second round course. They would wait for five more competitors to see if they would go in a jump-off.
Beezie Madden and Crème Brule had an unfortunate rail in the triple combination, which gave them four total faults and sixth place in the class.
Southern Pride, an 11-year-old Holsteiner stallion owned by Blair Cudmore and ridden by Karen Cudmore, made the day exciting when they notched a second clear round to guarantee a jump-off.
Debbie Stephens and Chapeau Z retired after a rail and a refusal, and their score put them tied for 13th place.
A third pair made their way to the jump-off after a second clear round. It was double gold medalist McLain Ward on the eight-year-old Rothchild, owned by Sagamore Farms, who would round out the jump-off field.
Last in the second round was Ljubov Kochetova of Russia on Aslan. They pulled a rail for four faults and finished in fifth place.
The jump-off was set, and the three riders would return to see who would take home the top prize in the richest grand prix in the United States. First in was Pessoa, who would have to set a quick precedent with Ward and Cudmore following. They did just that, crossing the finish line in 41.93 seconds, but it came at the expense of a rail at the final jump, a tall vertical.
"For me going first, I would have liked to put in a clear round to put on some pressure, but I thought that my horse jumped well throughout the jump-off," Pessoa commented. "Just the last fence he didn't really pick up on, but the time was really short. I was really pleased with my horse, regardless. It is always nice to win. McLain is a very experienced rider and very fast, but the horse is a little bit green, so I thought that I might have a chance of winning if he had one down. It all worked out good for me. I have been once third, once second, and now I finally won it, so I am happy."
After seeing Pessoa have a rail, Cudmore planned to go in and have a third clear round and not go too fast. That plan would be dashed, however, when she had a rail with Southern Pride at the last jump for four faults and added five more faults for exceeding the time allowed. They finished in 47.15 seconds with nine faults total.
"I had a very slow jump-off," Cudmore agreed. "My plan was just to go triple clean at that point. I just got too conservative trying to go clean and there was no catching up, so I just sort of stuck with what I was doing and ended up having the time faults with the tight time allowed."
Ward and Rothchild would be last in and they wanted to go for a clear round, but they would also have to be aware of avoiding time faults with a tight time allowed of 43 seconds. They did finish just within the time allowed in 42.75 seconds, but it was slower than Pessoa and they caught a rail coming out of the one stride combination at the second fence. They would finish in second place.
"It was a tough call for the jump-off because even though I only had to jump a clear round, it was hard to make the time allowed, which I think was good," Ward noted. "It wasn't a horrible thing. I turned up a little bit quiet on 2 a-b. For an eight-year-old horse to see that combination is quite surprising, and my horse tried to get really careful and really jumped way too high. Then I tried to make up the time, but Rodrigo is obviously a great rider with a more experienced horse, and there just wasn't room to make it up."
Despite not winning, Ward was "thrilled" about his horse's performance. "My horse is eight years old, and he jumped his first small grand prix last August. He has really progressed at an incredible pace and we kind of built him up through the Florida circuit. I was a little concerned with an eight-year-old at this level of jumping; I hoped that I was not over doing it. But I wanted to see how he would handle it, and I think that Steve Stephens did a great job today. It is very exciting for me as well as the owners - the Dolans and Sweeneys - because the horse has a great future I think."
Cudmore said, "I am pleased with my horse. I thought he was flawless in the second round. He was a little too fresh in the first round, but it was nice that he had the energy to carry on to a jump-off. I am very happy with him, and I really enjoyed this horse show and would love to come back."
Pessoa added, "Hopefully next year, even if there is a problem with dates, or it is before the World Cup again, people will show up and give prestige to the event because the event really deserves it. It is a magnificent show."
The first class of the day was the $35,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic. Sixteen entries filled the competitive class, and eight were clear in the first round to advance to the jump-off. First in were last year's winners Whitney Weeks and Subliem. They finished clear in 31.37 seconds. Immediately following was Whitney's older sister, Alexa Weeks, on Madison. They lowered the winning time to 29.95 seconds with no faults. Their time could not be matched, and the win went to Alexa Weeks.
Alexa Weeks has owned Madison, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare by Liberato, for seven years. They have been a successful pair since Weeks took over the ride from professional Kent Farrington. Weeks was happy to get the win today, but said she would have been just as happy if her sister had won.
"I caught Whitney's last three jumps, and she looked really fast. I honestly would have been just as happy if she had won. I probably would have been even happier," Weeks admitted. "She is the winner of the class, so to get to see that horse go on probably the fastest track that you could watch was a big advantage. She is a really good sport and always really helpful."
Another advantage was having her fiancé, Rodrigo Pessoa (winner of today's Grand Prix of Charlotte) helping her prepare for the class. "Normally Jimmy Torano helps me, but he couldn't be here, so Rodrigo helped me. That is not normally what we do, but he was really helpful," she explained. "I mean, he is probably the best help that I could have, so that was definitely another advantage. I had all of the odds in my favor."
Weeks won in Charlotte in 2005 and noted that the Charlotte Jumper Classic is one of the best show jumping events in North America. "Bob Johnson is doing so much for the sport by hosting this event, and I really hope that people will continue to support the show because he does this out of the goodness of his heart. He is a really charitable, generous, fantastic guy, and he is just so good to us to do something like this. It is really great."
This wraps another successful year of the Charlotte Jumper Classic, and spectators saw some of the best show jumping sport in the world today. For more information on the Charlotte Jumper Classic, please visit http://www.charlottejumperclassic.com
Final Results: $450,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte, CSI 5*
1. Let's Fly, Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA), Double H Farm: 0/0/4/41.93
2. Rothchild, McLain Ward (USA), Sagamore Farms: 0/0/4/42.75
3. Southern Pride, Karen Cudmore (CAN), Blair Cudmore: 0/0/9/47.15
4. Ralvesther, Brianne Goutal (USA), Cloverleaf Farm: 4/0/66.70
5. Aslan, Ljubov Kochetova (RUS), Ljubov Kochetova: 0/4/66.89
6. Crème Brule, Beezie Madden (USA), Abigail Wexner: 0/4/69.39
7. Alaska, Todd Minikus (USA), Callie Seaman: 4/0/71.02
8. Night and Day 8, Jeanne Hobbs (USA), Jeanne Hobbs: 0/8/71.33
9. Naomi 152, Lauren Hough (USA), Quail Run Partners: 1/8/72.74
10. Sassicaia 11, Henri Kovacs (HUN), Plain Bay Farm: 4/8/67.27
11. Athos, Marley Goodman (USA), Marley Goodman: 4/8/71.07
12. Athena, Charlie Jayne (USA), The London Group: 4/8/71.41
Final Results: $35,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic
1. Madison, Alexa Weeks, Alexa Weeks: 0/0/29.95
2. Subliem, Whitney Weeks, Whitney Weeks: 0/0/31.37
3. Ice d'Ancoeur, Reed Kessler, Reed Kessler: 0/0/31.60
4. U-2, Marley Goodman, Marley Goodman: 0/0/32.34
5. La Martinee, Paige Johnson, Salamander Farm: 0/4/29.23
6. Lady in Blue, Francis Tres Roig, J. Adalberto Roig Jr.: 0/4/30.35
7. Kelline Fonroy, Clementine Goutal, Cloverleaf Farm: 0/4/30.67
8. Zanetti, Jenna Thompson, Jenna Thompson: 0/8/31.68
Photo Credit: Madison and Alexa Weeks were victorious in the $35,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic, pictured with John Franzreb, Robert Drennan, and Charlotte Bobcats' Vice President of Government Relations Ed Lewis. Photo © 2009 Jennifer Wood/PMG. This photo may be used free of charge only in relation to this press release.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/rodrigo-pessoa-grand-prix-04-09.html">Rodrigo Pessoa and Let's Fly Are Steady Through Three Rounds for $450,000 Grand Prix</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com