Polle Cops Grand Prix

“one of the toughest Hampton Classic Grand Prix courses”
Karen Polle and With Wings went “medium-fast” in the jump-off after their three opponents had rails down. Durell Godfrey

A soon-to-be Yale senior, Karen Polle of New York City, outdueled a former mentor, Todd Minikus, and two others, Canada’s Chris Sorensen and Meagan Nusz of Texas, in the Hampton Classic Grand Prix’s jump-off Sunday to win the $250,000 class, which was presented by Longines.

Polle, a Japanese-American who’s sponsored by Japan and expects to ride for that country in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where she was born, said during a press conference afterward that Guilherme Jorge’s course was “oh my gosh, very tricky and very tall.”

Jorge himself, who’s been picked from among thousands of other candidates to design the Olympic show jumping course in Rio, demurred when asked if it weren’t the toughest one he’d designed here in his six-year tenure.

Peter Leone, the veteran rider and WVVH-TV’s announcer at the Classic, said following a walk-around prior to the competition that it was “one of the toughest Hampton Classic Grand Prix courses” he’d seen, calling to mind “the epic days in the past.”

The “first question,” Leone said, would come early, at a triple combination (4 a, b, and c) whose fences were tall and whose spacing required precise striding. He proved to be right — it was pretty much a tie between that combo and the high final, wide-spaced oxer, number 14, when it came to the course’s most troublesome obstacles.

Jorge also included a water jump along with a double liverpool, traditional tests, “posing different questions,” that he said had been absent from shows recently.

Leone parted with the prediction that he’d be surprised if more than six in the 31-entry field went clear. And it held up — only the aforementioned four did.

The first to go, Charles Jacobs and Cassinja S, retired before the Jaguar fence, which was number 6 on the course. The second pairing out on the sunlit field, Meredith Darst and Quester De Virton, chalked up 13 faults, as did her successors, Emanuel Andrade and Clouwni, and so it went until Sorensen and Bobby went clean in the ninth spot, to loud applause from the V.I.P. tents and the packed bleachers.

A crowd favorite, Georgina Bloomberg, on Caleno 3, finished with 9 faults soon after. Victoria Colvin, a big winner during the week, who was riding Echo Von T Spieveld, had 25 faults, coming to grief at 3, the water jump, 8, 10, number-11 (a triple bar in front of the main V.I.P. tent), and at 14. The pair incurred a time fault as well.

Richie Moloney and Carrabiz Z were foiled at 14 after having cleared the 16 previous efforts. Ditto Peter Lutz and Robin De Ponthal and Shane Sweetnam (the Longines rider of the week, worth $30,000 to him) and Chaquiz.

McLain Ward, a six-time Grand Prix winner here, most recently in 2011 on Antares F, went last, on HH Azur, because they’d won Friday’s qualifier, but the 4b oxer and the first of the liverpool jumps near the course’s end proved fatal to their jump-off chances.

The jump-off comprised eight efforts, beginning with the A.S.P.C.A. fence, the first on the course, which unaccountably plagued four horses and riders, including the defending Grand Prix champion, Kevin Babington. Asked about that, Jorge said he didn’t really know the reason why. “The cups were even deeper there because it was the A.S.P.C.A. fence.” He knew, he added, that there would be trouble at 4a and b, which were also included in the jump-off.

Sorensen and Bobby, first to go in the jump-off, had a rail down at the end, at 14, Nusz and Dynamo finished with faults at 14b and 14. Minikus and Babalou 41, who zipped through the course in 43.89 seconds, toppled 4b’s top rail on the way.

That left Polle, who her father said later had been schooling her horse in the warm-up ring rather than watch while Minikus (her trainer two years ago at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida) rode.

It took Polle and With Wings, a 12-year-old bay gelding, about four seconds longer than Minikus and Babalou 41 to negotiate the pared-down jump-off course, but they did it without incident to cop the big prize.

“I can’t believe it,” the slim, bright-eyed 23-year-old said later, when asked by the show’s press officer, Marty Bauman, what she was feeling. “It’s the biggest win of my career.”

Minikus drew laughs when he said, “The one thing that she forgot, though, is that when you’re in the jump-off, you have to let the old guy win. So she wasn’t the best of students, obviously.”

It was Polle’s third time in the Grand Prix, her mother said, answering a question following the press conference. She finished eighth last year.