By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
Kevin Babington went from blue water to a blue ribbon Sunday at the 39th Annual Hampton Classic, recovering from a wet and wild morning to claim victory in the $250,000 Grand Prix, the Bridgehampton horse show’s signature event.
Babington, an Irishman, rode his nine year-old Hanoverian mare Shorapur to the fastest fault-free jump-off with a time of 39.16 seconds to claim his first-ever Classic Grand Prix victory over three other riders. His triumph came just hours after falling from a different horse and landing in the water jump in the 7/8-Year-Old Jumper Championships.
Brianne Goutal, 25, the lone American rider in the jump-off, also rode fault-free but finished in 40.34 seconds to finish second.
An estimated 15,000 fans packed the grandstands, VIP Tent and luxury chalets Sunday to watch 32 riders compete for the Classic’s grand prize. In the end, four riders, including Babington, Goutal, Richie Moloney and Ramiro Quintana, an Argentinian with roots in Sagaponack, qualified for the jump-off by finishing clean on designer Guilherme Jorge’s course, which proved to be considerably challenging over the course of the afternoon.
Babington said Sunday was the first grand prix for Shorapur with fences set at 1.6 meters (5.25 feet), and that he decided to enter her instead of another horse only after an impressive ride in a $10,000 class in the same ring on Friday.
“I thought she felt a little too brave,” Babington said about Shorapur’s performance on Friday, in which she knocked down two rails. “So I though, okay, you’re ready to step up to the plate now. She won a grand prix recently in Silver Oak and coming off a grand prix I thought she would be confident. I underestimated how confident she would be. She felt fantastic today.”
Moloney, another Irishman who is now based on Long Island, rode first in the jump-off and led his gelding Freestyle De Muze through the course with one rail down and four faults. Quintana, who began his U.S. riding career nearly 20 years ago at Sag Pond Farm in Sagaponack, rode second aboard his Dutch warmblood mare Whitney, but finished with two rails down and eight faults. Babington and Goutal, aboard her stallion Nice De Prissey, both rode clean with the win going to Babington based on time.
Babington’s share of the purse was $82,500, while Goutal earned $50,000, Maloney $37,500 and Quintana $25,000. Michael Hughes, Todd Minikus, Devin Ryan, Karen Polle, Cara Raether, Charles Jacobs, Callan Solem and Liubov Kochetova rounded out the top 12 to earn a portion of the winnings as well.
Moloney’s third-placed finish was more than enough to put him on top in the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Challenge for the second consecutive year, earning 300 points from the week’s 10 open jumper classes. Fellow Irishman Darragh Kenny held on to the runner-up spot with 283 points, even though he left on Saturday night for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France. Quintana finished third with 195 points and Shane Sweetnam of Ireland finished fourth with 177.5.
“It was a week that seemed every single day what we were hearing was Ireland, Ireland, Ireland,” said Marty Bauman, the classic’s longtime press chief.
In the previous 38 years only twice has a rider representing a country other than the United States won the Classic Grand Prix, with Tim Grubb of Great Britain winning in 1996 and Darragh Kerins of Ireland in 2004. Goutal was hoping for another American win on Sunday, but was just over a second short of Babington’s finishing time.
“I wanted to play it safe, and I played it a little bit too safe,” Goutal said afterwards when asked about her approach to the jump-off. “For me this is one of our best shows in the summer, if not the best, and it’s always an honor and a privilege to be on that field.”
Babington, who rides out of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, became the Classic Grand Prix’s third foreign-born champion aboard an unproven young mare and just hours after drying himself after his early morning spill on Grand Prix Sunday.
“That’s the sport of show jumping,” Babington said late Sunday. “It’s a very humbling sport. You can be on top of the world one minute and be in the water the next.”