Del Mar, CA - One of the true tests of today's $25,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix was how to design a reasonable track for eighty-two entries that included Olympians, grand prix veterans as well as younger, less experienced horses and riders. International course designer Oscar Soberón of Mexico passed that test beautifully by narrowing the field to a jump-off of seventeen.
The young yet experienced designer aptly predicted fifteen or more clean. Before the class he explained, "It has to be tough enough but still fair. You are only allowed to build to 1.40m but you have grand prix horses and you have young riders and young horses. There are questions everywhere. From fence number one to the last one everything has been designed to be a test."
Richard Spooner and Cristallo win the $25,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix
In a class of this size, it's notable that the combinations at 4ab (oxer-vertical) and 11abc (triple bar-vertical-oxer) were the biggest fault culprits, with one element or more coming down approximately fifty times in the eighty-two attempts. The verticals at fence 8 and 12 also caused quite a few rails to drop.
Some of the most popular duos returned for the jump-off, including Hap Hansen on Archie Bunker (Linda Smith, owner), Susie Hutchison aboard SIG Zuleika, John Pearce on Forest View Farm's Johnny B Good, Rich Fellers aboard the Chapman's Flexible and Richard Spooner on his long time partner Cristallo (Show Jumping Syndications Int'l, owner). They were joined by a group of solid riders as well as up and coming champions, resulting in exuberant cheers from the crowd.
As the jump-off progressed, the top spot shifted. Michelle Parker and Cross Creek Farms' Socrates de Midos held the lead until the last two snapped it away. Spooner not only lived up to his nickname, the "Master of Faster", he managed to do so after a major slip to the second to last jump.
Pleased with his equine partner, Spooner admitted, "I got a bit lucky because Cristallo slipped and fell down just in front of the last oxer. But he has enough experience that he just stopped, picked himself back up, did two strides, jumped the oxer and carried on. Normal horses don't do that."
Even so, he stopped the clock over a second faster than Parker, with only one left to show. In galloped Fellers and Flexible. Making a choice to take one more stride early in the jump-off, the pair came in fast but not fast enough and settled for second.
Rich Fellers and Flexible
Although Spooner has competed at the international level, today's class was still challenging. "It wasn't the height of the jumps in the jump-off, it's that you had to go Mach 1 to try and beat the time. And then of course Rich and Flexible were going directly after me," Spooner said. "It was really an entertaining class. Even though I was competing, I was having a good time."
Along with superb show jumping, the afternoon included musical interludes by a top DJ before and after the class, as well as during the break.
Richard Spooner (aboard Chivas Z) with Melissa Brandes of Blenheim EquiSports and Brandon Seger of Markel Insurance
$25,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix
Place - Number - Horse - Rider - Owner - Faults/Time
1. 963- Cristallo - Richard Spooner - Show Jumping Syndications Int'l - 0/0/35.689
2. 826 - Flexible - Rich Fellers - Harry & Molly Chapman - 0/0/36.316
3. 389 - Socrates De Midos - Michelle Parker - Cross Creek Farms Inc - 0/0/36.894
4. 395 - Paloma - Keri Potter - Melanie Brooks - 0/0/37.617
5. 997 - Chivas Z - Richard Spooner - Show Jumping Syndications Int'l - 0/0/37.757
6. 681 - Johnny B Good - John Pearce - Forest View Farm - 0/0/37.945
7. 285 - Ohara Saint Clair - Lauren Kay - Lauren Kay - 0/0/38.948
8. 995 - Let's Dance - Chris Pratt - Oscany Inc - 0/0/39.665
9. 334 - Coral Reed Aajee - Ann Knight Karrasch - Coral Reef Ranch - 0/0/39.706
10. 381 - Tembla - Eric Navet - Signe Otsby - 0/0/40.198
11. 584 - Archie Bunker - Hap Hansen - Linda Smith - 0/0/41.373
12. 317 - SIG Zuleika - Susan Hutchison - SIG International - 0/4/37.452
Photos by Captured Moment Photography