By Gavin Menu
Toward the end of the Hampton Classic’s main event in Bridgehampton on Sunday — the $250,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix — nearly all the fairy tale finishes had faded.
There would be no all-Irish final, as it appeared might happen. Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who competed while being five months pregnant, finished third in the end. And McLain Ward, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time champion of the Classic Grand Prix, knocked a rail from the 13th and final jump to produce a collective gasp from what was a huge crowd at one of show jumping’s premier events.
When the dust all settled it was a familiar result, one that played out exactly as it did a year ago. With his usual mount out with a swollen ankle, Kent Farrington rode his backup, Zafira, through two clean rounds, including a blistering 38.51-second jump-off against four other riders to win the Classic Grand Prix for a second consecutive year.
Farrington, 32, of Wellington, Florida, had planned to defend his title with Voyeur, the horse he won with last year who jumped faultlessly to finish fifth in Friday’s qualifying event. But by Sunday morning, Voyeur had a swollen ankle, so it was the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood Zafira who went from the stable to the biggest grand prix start of her career.
“I thought that maybe my odds weren’t as good with her as with Voyeur, but I thought she could do it,” Farrington said afterwards. “This was a big step up for her, and she answered the question.”
Farrington became the fifth rider to win the Hampton Classic Grand Prix on consecutive years, joining Ward, Rodney Jenkins, Michael Matz and Margie Engle.
Richie Moloney, an Irishman who is based in Riverhead, finished as reserve champion on Slieveanorra with no faults and a time of 40 seconds flat. Bloomberg finished third on Juvina with a time of 44.03 seconds in the jump-off.
Moloney was going for his second grand prix victory in two days, having won the $40,000 Longines Cup on Saturday with Carrabis Z. He also rode Slieveanorra to second place in Friday’s $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier, and those three performances propelled him to the top of the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Challenge, with 229 points.
“I don’t have any special plans for the money, but I sure have a lot of bills to pay,” said Moloney, 31, after receiving the $30,000 check. “I’m really happy, though, because I had my best results in the show’s biggest classes. It’s the best result of my career.”
Brianne Goutal, who qualified for the jump-off after riding last in Sunday’s Grand Prix, earned 177 points to claim second in the rider challenge, and Ward earned 169 points to finish third.
Farrington earned 100 points with his victory in the grand prix and finished fourth with 158.5 points.
Third place in the grand prix on Sunday had special meaning for Bloomberg, 30, especially with the Classic having been her final show of the year, since she’s expecting to give birth sometime around Christmas. She has also traditionally not performed well in grand prix competition with her father in attendance, but there he was on Sunday watching from the Classic’s famed VIP tent.
“Hopefully I’ve broken that spell,” she said with a smile, adding that she was hoping for a quick return to the sport next year. “My plan right now is to jump right back in, get back in the gym in January and back in the saddle in February.”
Sixteen riders completed the demanding course designed by Guilherme Jorge of Brazil before Kevin Babington, another Irish rider who trains in Pennsylvania, broke through with the event’s first clean round. Five riders later, Beezie Madden was eliminated after knocking over a single rail and three riders after her it was Ward, whose horse, Rothchild, brushed the final jump to knock him from the jump-off as well.
Moloney was the next rider to qualify, prompting talk of an all-Irish showdown. It was a brief conversation, however, with Bloomberg, Farrington and Goutal all claiming spots in the jump-off with clean, no-fault rounds.
By winning the jump-off, Farrington claimed first-place winnings of $82,500. Moloney took $50,000 and Bloomberg won $37,500.
Babington, Goutal, Catherine Pasmore, Roberto Teran, Candice King, Johnathan Corrigan, Madden, Ward and Charlie Jayne rounded out the top 12 to earn portions of the $250,000 winnings.
Dennis J. Shaughnessy, chairman of FTI Consulting, congratulated the winning riders on Sunday and expressed his admiration for their performance over the demanding course. Only five of the 34 starters reached the jump-off, with another three missing the jump-off by incurring just one time fault.
“I have to say that this is the best one-week horse show in the world, bar none,” Shaughnessy said.
Farrington, now a two-time champion, agreed.
“I think this is the best event in the world,” he said. “Our top riders bring their best horses here, and the management is always trying to keep the show at the highest standard.”