The last line, as it were, of the Hampton Classic’s $250,000 Grand Prix was writ large insofar as about a third of the 35 horse-and-rider combinations were concerned.
Eleven of them, by one count, came to grief at the 17-effort course’s final hurdle, a skinny vertical four short strides off a wide oxer that followed a double liverpool (a double jump under which small water trenches lay).
Thus the riders, nearing the end of a course that WVVH-TV’s Peter Leone (who enjoyed a good week competition-wise) had called the toughest he’d seen at the Classic in five years, had to be both bold and cautious (though not too cautious) at almost the same time. And at the end they had to keep time in mind as well. Fourteen of the 35 entrants had time faults, which is to say they exceeded the 91 seconds the course’s Brazilian-born designer, Guilherme Jorge, had deemed sufficient.
Later, Leone, whose “Show Jumping Clinic: Success Strategies for Equestrian Athletes” was on sale at the A.S.P.C.A. tent throughout the week, said, “There were other factors in play too: It was such a long, tough course that the horses were tired by that point; two, they went into that wide oxer off a short left uphill turn and the time allowed was so tight that the riders had to make that short turn even shorter. You had to ride into that spread with a lot of power — you had to squeeze your horse — and then you were faced with four short strides to that delicate, skinny vertical that you had to jump extra carefully.”
The triple bar to a vertical to an oxer that spanned the length of the V.I.P. tent posed striding questions too, he said, as did the fifth fence, an oxer that “was relatively hidden behind the water jump. Normally, you can see jumps, but the riders approached this one off a relatively blind turn. Because of the time constraint they couldn’t go out to the left and get their horses’ eyes on it. They had only three strides at best, then — boom — there it is.”
Kent Farrington, a frequent “bridesmaid” at the Grand Prix but never a winner — he lost to his friend McLain Ward by two-tenths of a second in last year’s jumpoff — prevailed this time, aboard Amalaya Investments’ Voyeur.
Voyeur and he, the ninth to go, were the first in the field to go clean. Ward, who had won Friday’s qualifier on Antares F, his Olympic horse and the one he won the Grand Prix here on last year, was the first to go.
It used to be that the winner of Friday’s qualifier class would get to go last in Sunday’s Grand Prix, “but because the Grand Prix is also a World Cup Qualifier, it’s an open draw,” said Steve Stephens, the show’s manager and one of its course designers. “From our standpoint, it would have been great to see McLain go last, but, as it was, he picked number-one out of the hat.”
Ward, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the Classic Grand Prix’s three-time defending champion who bestrides the show jumping world as Tiger Woods once dominated golf, was undoubtedly kicking himself after Antares F tipped over the final fence’s top rail after having been perfect theretofore.
For a while, it looked as if this might be a jumpoff-less Grand Prix, but the Irish-born Shane Sweetnam and Spy Coast Farm’s Amaretto D’Arco, the 19th to go, went clean too, as did Molly Ashe-Cawley and Olivia Jack’s Carissimo, who were 32nd in the order.
Farrington and Voyeur looped speedily and cleanly around the pared-down eight-obstacle jumpoff course in 47.53 seconds, leaving the top rail of the FTI Consulting wall shivering (though not falling) in their wake. Neither Sweetnam, who had a rail down at the aforementioned wide oxer (the sixth obstacle in the jumpoff) nor Ashe-Cawley and Carissimo (who, after having lost a shoe, slipped and plowed through the sixth jump) could match the winners.