Tampa, FL - April 7, 2009 - It was a difficult course testing the horses' power and endurance that set the stage for Saturday night'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 was 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.
"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."
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.
Kappler and VDL Oranta were ready to win as they took to the jump-off course. 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.
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.
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Jumper Highlights: Tuesday through Friday
In the Covered Arena Tuesday's top prize was awarded to Mario Deslauriers after his wire-to-wire victory aboard Tigger in the 1.40m class.
Deslauriers and Tigger were the first to enter the ring for the 1.40m class and the pair were able to successfully complete a fault-free first round. They then moved on to the short course where they were also fault-free in a very quick 33.745 seconds. That time would hold up through eight more jump-off rounds to be the fastest of the day and win the class.
"Tigger has been in good form the last two weeks here," noted Deslauriers. "The plan is always to try to go as fast as we can leaving the jumps up. He jumped great today; there were a few difficult turns out there and he did them very well. I was very pleased with him; first one in and first place, so that was great."
"I knew I put the pressure on, the pace was good and when I hit everything with Tigger he's usually pretty quick," smiled Deslauriers. "I knew he was going to be a little demanding; the other rider would have to go to catch my time, so I was happy with it."
Next to compete in the Covered Arena on Tuesday was the 1.45m class where Yvonne Bryan and Palm Sunday emerged victorious after being only one of two riders to advance to the jump-off. "I wanted to have a nice solid round," explained Bryan. " During the jump-off I just wanted go slow and give the horse confidence because he's pretty young; he hasn't done a lot of this size jumping. So that was the plan, just nice and steady and slow and even to give him confidence."
Eight riders were able to complete a clear first round effort and advance to the short course on Wednesday during the $35,000 Grand Prix of Florida, but it was Rebecca Johanson Hofmann and Corona, owned by Blue Hill Farm LLC, that lead the victory gallop after their stunning clear jump-off ride.
"I feel really happy," smiled Hofmann. "I was really hesitant about staying today and doing the class. I kind of made a last minute decision to stay and I'm really happy, my horse jumped great. This is only my second grand prix win."
Hofmann knew that to win the class she would have to be clear and beat Margie Engle's time, and that is just what she did. Hofmann and Corona took the inside turn and left all the fences standing, to race through the finish line in 42.02 seconds and take over the lead.
"A lot of the riders were doing five strides from the first fence to the second fence, but I held her back for the six," noted Hofmann. "Doing the six that allowed my turn back to fence four to be just little bit nicer and I still had her on her hind-end so I didn't have to worry too much about her hitting it in front. After that there were a few places you could gallop and I wanted to gallop where I could gallop and make my turn-backs smooth. There was an option where you could do a real forward seven or a regular eight to the last fence and I chose to do the eight to be a little bit careful there but it really paid off in the end."
"Corona is a superstar; I've come a long way with her from when I first got her. that I know her 100% and she knows me 100%," Hofmann said. "When I make mistakes she covers up my mistakes and when she makes mistakes, which isn't very often, I try to help her out. I just think her and I make a really good team, and I think what she lacks in scope, she makes up in heart."
Thursday riders had the opportunity to compete in the Covered Arena at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, located on the Florida State Fairgrounds, in the 1.40m class. McLain Ward garnered the top prize with Gentlemen after his speedy jump-off round.
Ward entered the ring next with his second mount, Gentlemen, and he knew what he had to do to win. The pair was quick and clean, and managed to leave all the fences standing despite a few rubs, and they raced through the finish line in 27.849 seconds to take over the lead.
"This was Gentlemen's last class of the circuit, so I was happy that he went so well today," smiled Ward. " There were a couple of hard right turns, but this horse has experience and he felt very confident after the first round, so I thought I would take a try and it worked out in our favor. We had a little bit of a lucky rub at the last fence in the jump-off but you need a little luck in this sport." Gentlemen will now return home to rest after a long winter circuit.
The top competitor on Friday was Marque Cincotta and Chappie in the Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Low class where they took home the blue ribbon.
Cincotta and Chappie were one of only two entries to complete the first round of the Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Low class fault-free and advance to the jump-off. The day's first round course included a liverpool, a double combination, and a triple combination. The faults were widely distributed throughout the course but the most difficult fence was the first vertical of the triple combination.
Jordan Coyne and Calisto were the first horse and rider combination to leave all the fences standing after their first round. The pair advanced to the jump-off and completed another clear round, stopping the clock in 36.654 seconds and moving to the top of the scoreboard.
Coyne's lead was short lived as Cincotta and Chappie stepped into the ring next, also completing a clear first round and moving on to the short course. Cincotta and Chappie made tight turns and galloped around the course while still managing to leave all the rails in their cups. The duo raced through the finish line in 30.456 seconds, six seconds ahead of Coyne to win the class.
"My plan was to stay forward through the whole course," explained Cincotta. "Michel Vaillancourt likes to build scopey, so everything has to be a little bit out of stride. I had a good horse that does all of that well, forward, scopey, wide, so it was definitely his course."
Hunter Highlights: Wednesday through Saturday
The Green Working Hunters competed in the Main Hunter Ring first thing Wednesday morning and were awarded their division championship after two days of competition. For the second week in a row, Kate Conover rode Like Wize to the Green Working Hunter division championship. Ambition, ridden by Robin Fairclough took home the reserve championship tricolor.
Ambition is five years old and is owned by junior rider Bailey Hughes who purchased the young horse from Emil Spadone at the beginning of the Ocala circuit. Ambition showed in the First Year Green Hunters with Fairclough and the Large Junior Hunters with Hughes at Ocala and did very well.
"He is just lazy, very uncomplicated and a pleasure to have around," Fairclough stated. "He was absolutely perfect today; he got a little tired in the second class, but he requires no preparation. We basically hand walk him in the morning and that is it, so he is great."
Ambition's owner, Bailey Hughes is from Clark Summit, PA, and trains with Robin Fairclough. "I just love everything about him," Hughes said after her horse's win. "He was the first horse I tried at Emil's and I just fell in love with him right away, he is perfect. He has a great personality and he is super friendly; he loves everyone and everything."
The Ariat National Adult Medal was the first equitation class to compete in the Main Hunter Ring Thursday morning with the victory going to Charlene Graham and her brand new horse, Only You.
The entries in Thursday's Ariat National Adult Medal showed over fences and then the riders who received the top four scores from the first round got the opportunity to advance to the test round. After the first over fences round, the top four were Michael Desiderio with a score of 85.000, Charlene Graham with a score of 78.000, Marissa Marchena with a score of 74.000, and Courtney Rodrigue with a score of 72.000.
After all four riders had tested the class was pinned with Charlene Graham taking the blue ribbon and first place honors aboard her horse Only You. Marissa Marchena and her horse Winchester G placed second. Michael Desiderio placed third riding Mirkwood, owned by Markena Cummings, and fourth place honors went to Courtney Rodrigue showing Role Model.
Thursday's winner, Charlene Graham, is from Rochester, NY, and trains with Amanda Steege at Ashmeadow Farm, based out of Far Hills, NJ and Ocala, FL. This was only Graham's second time showing Only You since her boyfriend surprised her by purchasing the horse just last week.
"My boyfriend bought her for me last week and she was such a great surprise," Graham smiled. "This was my second Ariat class that I have ever done on her and she was great. The test was so much fun because there were a lot of twists and turns and she was just terrific."
Ellen Toon competed in the week three Amateur-Owner Hunter Over 35 division with her horses Attaché and Invincible Friday afternoon. Toon took home both the championship and reserve championship tricolors with her talented horses after the two days of competition.
"They were a little fresh yesterday," Toon explained. "They were in such a rhythm in Palm Beach week after week and I think that we got a little lackadaisical, but this is a new place. Today they were a little quieter and they were perfect, so I was very happy."
Toon praised both horses for their consistency. "Attache always has energy, but good energy," she said. "He knows his job and he is a really great horse to ride. Invincible is always so good and he just keeps getting better and better."
The younger Amateur-Owner Hunters 18-35 also competed Friday afternoon with Marianna Bishop Wade winning the championship tricolor with her horse Bishonen. Megan McGuire and Abel won the reserve championship.
Marianna Bishop Wade is from Charlottesville, VA and has owned eight year-old Bishonen for three years. Wade has showed Bishonen during the last two weeks of competition in Tampa and is very pleased with how the show has gone.
"He has been really good," Wade smiled. "It was a little windy one day last week and he was a little up, but he has been great. He is very slow, but he is so sweet and he has a lot of personality. He was so good in the mud today; he loves it, he doesn't care at all."
The first to compete in the Main Hunter Ring Saturday morning was the Small Junior Hunter 15 and Under division, which awarded its week three championship honors to Ferngully, owned by Don Stewart, Jr. and ridden by Taylor Ann Adams
Adams and Ferngully scored in the 80's Friday and scored a very high 88 and 90 in Saturday's classes over fences. Their score of 90 in the stake class was the highest score of all three weeks of competition in Tampa, which is a very impressive feat among the talented horses and riders that have been competing.
"Ferngully is one of the best Junior Hunters that we have had in a long time," said owner, Don Stewart, Jr. of Ocala, FL. "He is only six years old and he is just an amazing horse."
Following close behind Ferngully in this week's Small Junior Hunter 15 and Under division was Lariet, owned by Lauren Moyer and ridden by Ashley Foster. Lariet and Foster placed first and fifth over fences Friday, were second in Saturday's under saddle, and third and fifth over fences to garner the reserve championship tricolor for week three.
The Large Junior Hunters 15 and Under also competed for championship honors Saturday morning to conclude their three weeks of competition in Tampa. The division's week three champion was Garfield, ridden by Samantha Schaefer and the reserve champion was Titletown, ridden by Hasbrouck Donovan.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/tampa-equestrian-festival-wrap-tournament-champions-04-09.html">Tampa Equestrian Festival Week 3 Wrap-up, March 31-April 4, 2009, Tournament of Champions</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com