March 22, 2015 - San Juan Capistrano, CA - An idyllic spring afternoon played host to the $25,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix, the first showcase show jumping event of the season at Blenheim EquiSports. Twenty-five entries competed for the top prize in this first of twelve 2015 Markel Insurance Grand Prix Series qualifiers. The Series culminates with a Final event at the Las Vegas National.
The track was another inaugural feature of the event, as it was course designer Rob Gage's first time designing at Blenheim EquiSports. With 16 efforts in a time allowed of 96 seconds, the weaving track required stamina from both horse and rider.
Difficult elements included an airy double combination and a liverpool vertical, designed to challenge but not frighten the competitors. "I expect since this is the first grand prix in a series of four weeks that I've got a lot of young horses that are just trying, and a few experienced ones that are warming up," Gage explained. "I don't want to make this too hard; I don't want to scare anybody... I want them to have a challenge, but a good experience."
Eleven of the 25 entries returned for the jump-off, which was a series of sharp rollbacks and lengthy bending lines that required both precision and speed. Nine of the eleven turned in a smooth and clear round, navigating carefully through the track of seven efforts.
The top three finishers sizzled around the course with just tenths of a second between each of their respective times. Nayel Nassar aboard his own Acita earned the championship cooler with a time of 33.82, while Peter Petschenig on Saint Quentin (Iris & Peter Petschenig, owners) earned second in 34.03, and seasoned partners Josephina Nor-Lantzman and J Nor Stables LLC's Chello Z rounded out the top three with a clear round in 34.05.
Nassar explained where he made the winning time in the jump-off. "It was probably the last line; I watched Peter go before me and I think he did ten and I just did nine. Everywhere else I just stayed efficient and back to the rollback."
The winner was also quick to praise his mount. "Acita is an 8-year-old Holsteiner mare I bought last summer. She's come a long way in the past few months. She's really brave, careful and has a big step. For an eight-year-old to go that fast she didn't seem fazed by it at all."
Nayel Nassar and Acita, pictured with Markel Insurance's Brandon Seger
and Melissa Brandes and Robert Ridland of Blenheim EquiSports. © McCool Photos
Rob Gage also elaborated on his appreciation of the gorgeous San Juan Capistrano venue, particularly picturesque with plush new grass footing and an impressive crowd of spectators.
"They've got a great ring crew with great jumps and the field is beautiful," Gage said. "I tell everybody that I live halfway between Showpark and this facility, because those are two of the best showground facilities anywhere in the United States."
Course designer Rob Gage. Photo by Hannah Brown.
The Blenheim EquiSports Spring season continues in San Juan Capistrano with the Spring Classic I, featuring a USHJA National Hunter Derby and the $40,000 Spring Classic I Grand Prix, sponsored by Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.
$25,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix
Place - Number - Horse - Rider - Owner - Faults/Time
1. 220 - Acita - Nayel Nassar - Nayel Nassar - 0/0/33.822
2. 159 - Saint Quentin - Peter Petschenig - Iris & Peter Petschenig - 0/0/34.031
3. 217 - Chello Z - Josephina Nor-Lantzman - J Nor Stables LLC - 0/0/34.058
4. 205 - Uwwalon - Michelle Rodal - Morgan Hill Partners - 0/0/36.595
5. 285 - Caretol - Marc Grock - Moonlite Beach LLC - 0/0/37.170
6. 218 - Unlimited - Josephina Nor-Lantzman - J Nor Stables LLC - 0/0/37.620
7. 139 - Tamara - Susan Latiff - Susan Latiff - 0/0/38.575
8. 250 - Daylight - Theodore Boris - St. Emilion Sport Horses LLC - 0/0/38.585
9. 106 - Pizzazz - Rebecca Bruce - Rebecca Bruce - 0/0/38.780
10. 231 - Desdemona - Nathalie Manning - Idyllic Imports - 0/4/34.720
11. 272 - Mr. Big Stuff - Amanda Tallman - Amanda Tallman - 0/4/38.668
12. 266 - Chestina Z - Bjorn Ikast - Bjorn Ikast - 2/98.661