Tight Turn Assures Hampton Classic Grand Prix Title

HH Gigi’s Girl, whom McLain Ward has ridden for a little more than a year, has shown with recent results that she has “turned the corner” — as is evident above in the Hampton Classic’s Grand Prix that they won Sunday. Durell Godfrey

Michel Vaillancourt, who designed Sunday’s Grand Prix course, one that he thought was “tough, but not super tough,” predicted during the walkthrough that the 34 horse and rider combinations would have trouble at the next to last fence, owing to the fact that after having pushed their mounts through an in-and-out preceding it they’d have little time to collect themselves for the penultimate one.

And that turned out to be true, for 14 competitors had rails down at that 12th fence, an oxer in front of the row of spectator chalets. But it was the triple — two verticals leading into an oxer — fronting the V.I.P. tent that proved to be the chief bugaboo, with 23 rails down there, 11 of them at the oxer leading out of it.

Only five riders of the 34 — Mario Deslauriers, McLain Ward, Lindsay Douglass, Lucy Davis, and Shane Sweetnam — scaled the 5-foot-2-inch fences cleanly, advancing them to a timed jump-off. Georgina Bloomberg, on Chameur 137, came close, with a rail down at the final jump, the Longines fence, as the crowd sighed. 

A crowd favorite, Bloomberg was applauded on entering the ring, and was applauded even more loudly after leaning over and giving her 10-year-old Westfalen bay gelding some reassuring pats lest he take it too hard.

Ward, 42, who has been at the top of the show-jumping world since the age of 14, emerged as the winner in the eight-obstacle timed jump-off, earning him his seventh Grand Prix title — worth $99,000 this year — more than twice the number of wins, the show’s publicist, Marty Bauman said, than any other rider in Classic Grand Prix history. He has long since left the show’s three-time winners, Rodney Jenkins and Margie Goldstein-Engle, in the dust. 

And he did it in classic Ward style, taking a risk that his four competitors were to eschew, as he and HH Gigi’s Girl, a 10-year-old gray mare he’s had for a little more than a year, made a hard right-hand turn slanting toward the Jaguar fence, the jump-off’s next-to-last one, thus cutting precious time off the clock.

Ward and Gigi’s Girl were the second to go, behind Deslauriers and Bardolina 2, who had gone clean, but with 

Douglass, Davis, and Sweetnam, who had won numerous big classes heading into the Grand Prix, coming after them, and knowing Gigi’s Girl was brave, proved persuasive.

Douglass and Butterfly Tibri Z had two rails down. Davis and Caracho 14 and Sweetnam and Main Road went clean, with the latter pair finishing second, about two seconds behind Ward and Gigi’s Girl. Davis and Caracho 14 were third, about three and a half seconds behind the winners.

At a press conference afterward, Ward said that while Gigi’s Girl, who had come to him from South America, had been greener than he’d thought, she had shown with her recent results that she’d turned the corner.

Vaillancourt, when asked if he was somewhat surprised by the trouble his triple had caused, said he’d tried to make it both aesthetically pleasing and reasonably challenging, which was why, rather than have two spreads (oxers) and a vertical, he’d gone with two verticals and one oxer.

It was a particularly good week for Sweetnam, who will represent Ireland in the F.E.I. World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C., later this month, inasmuch as he copped the Grand Prix runner-up’s $60,000 prize and the Longines $30,000 rider-of-the-week award, not to mention winning the $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix qualifier, netting him $24,750, Friday (about $10,000 of which went to the Group for the East End), and the $70,000 Longines Cup Saturday, whose first-place prize was $23,000.

Four of the riders who will represent the United States in the World Equestrian Games — Ward, Devin Ryan, Adrienne Sternlicht, and Beezie Madden (an alternate) — were at the Classic this past week. Ward, Ryan, and Madden were in the Grand Prix.

Daniel Bluman, last year’s Grand Prix winner, will represent Israel in the Games. He rode Bacara D’Archonfosse, an 11-year-old Belgian warmblood mare, in Sunday’s main event, though they didn’t clear the water jump and, as was the case with so many others, knocked down a rail at the next-to-last fence.

In other featured events this past week, Leslie Burr-Howard, on Donna Speciale, won the $40,000 Sovaro Speed Stake; Bloomberg, on Paola 233, won the $30,000 Boar’s Head Open Jumper Challenge; Taylor St. Jacques, 19, rode Qantor Des Etisses to victory in the $25,000 DAWTS Show Jumping Derby for junior and amateur riders, and Sloan Hopson, on Costa Rica Vh Waterschoot Z, won the $15,000 Carolex junior/amateur-owner jumper classic. 

Samantha Wight, on Edison, won the $12,500 amateur-owner jumper classic; Gracie Allen, on Rivage de Lormay, won the $12,500 junior jumper classic; Mimi Gochman won the $10,000 equitation championship; Molly Ashe-Cawley, on Cassandra, won the $10,000 Palm Beach Masters open jumper class, and Erynn Ballard, on Maestro Vica V/D Ark, swept through three $10,000 classes to top the 7-and-under young horse jumper division.

Of the local barns, Swan Creek reported that Clint One, ridden by Lucy Beeton, a Pierson High School sophomore, won the 15-to-17-year-old children’s hunter classic, that Caroline Jungck, also of Sag Harbor, won the large children’s pony classic aboard Phoebe Topping’s pony, Rumple Minze, and that Chinou, ridden by Emma Siskind, was the local junior hunter champion. Clint One, ridden by Beeton, was that division’s reserve champion.

McLain Ward, seen with his 3-year-old daughter, Lily, has won the Hampton Classic’s Grand Prix seven times. Jack Graves