By John Bayles
Hillary Dobbs, of Sussex, New Jersey, became the youngest grand prix winner in Hampton Classic history last Sunday when she bested four other riders in a jump off to take home $60,000 in prize money and one giant bottle of champagne. During the awards ceremony the 20-year old was handed the huge bottle of bubbly and was asked, “Are you old enough to drink that?”
“I am today,” replied the Harvard junior.
It was clear from the beginning of the eight-day show’s culminating event, that the deciding factor would be a combination jump that proved difficult for a majority of the 34 competing riders. One such rider was three-time grand prix winner McClain Ward who brought home a gold medal from this year’s Olympics in Beijing. Ward, like a number of riders, was perfect heading into the combination, but could not completely clear the last jump. The same combination also saw Todd Minikus thrown from his mount, Ultimo Van Ter Moude, after starting the round fault–free. Five riders, including Dobbs, maneuvered through the combination successfully and finished the round with no faults. Three others managed all of the jumps but came in just behind the allotted course time of 96 seconds resulting in time faults and disqualifying them for the jump off. One of those was Christine McCrea aboard Vegas who came in a mere half -second off course time.
Dobbs was in the unique position of going last in the jump off, which saw a decreased number of jumps and a different course arrangement from the first round. Had she not posted the winning time of 41.13 seconds, another female rider would have become the youngest rider to ever win the event. Nineteen-year-old Brianne Goutal of New York City, a sophomore at Brown University, placed second aboard Onira and posted a time of 42.83 just minutes before Dobbs entered the ring.
“I heard everyone saying Brianne had gone really fast, so I knew I had to go for it,” said Dobbs.Â “I had to catch a right angle off [the Wolffer Estate] oxer. It was a risky turn at a risky angle, but with Brianne’s time, I had to take a chance.”
The risk paid off for Dobbs and her 11-year-old Sasha, a German warm blood mare, named Corlett. Dobbs zipped around the course, effortlessly guiding her mount and came in over a second faster than Goutal.
The two youngsters’ finishes said a lot for the future of the sport. They competed against a number of older, accomplished riders including Olympic medalist Jonathan Asselin of Canada. And it wasn’t just Goutal and Dobbs that raised the bar for young riders. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in the VIP tent watching his 25-year-old daughter Georgina make it all the way to the grand prix jump off. And another Harvard student, 19-year old Addison Phillips also competed in the show jumping event that serves as a qualifier for the FTI World Cup of horse jumping.
After the jump off, FTI Chairman Dennis Shaughnessy, said, “We are clearly looking at the new generation of riders.”
The entire week was a coming out party for Dobbs. Her finish in the grand prix helped her claim the inaugural VOX Rider Challenge sponsored by VOX Magazine. The challenge was a $30,000 overall competition. Dobbs also won the $20,000 Nicolock Time Challenge on opening day, placed first in the qualifying class for the grand prix on Friday and was awarded the overall National Jumper Open Championship earlier in the week.
But like any rider, Dobbs refused to take the credit for her historic finish and instead praised her mount.
“I owe this win completely to Corlett. She is a remarkable horse