By Raun Norquist
The 34th Hampton Classic Horse Show concluded Sunday August 30th with a two-time Olympic team gold medal horse named Sapphire, owned by Mclain Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock and ridden by McLain Ward, winning the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup Qualifier, for a record fourth time.
The Classic has had it’s share of foul weather with several hurricanes and a tornado or two. This year hurricane Danny threatened to continue the tradition but was down-graded to a tropical storm, making an appearance on Saturday with plenty of rain, although not enough to stop the competition, and by Sunday for the Grand Prix, the skies cleared.
The FTI Grand Prix had a field of thirty-three contestants. Thirteen rode the course, dropping rails, refusing jumps, acquiring faults, before Judy Garofalo Torres, on Oliver, a nineteen-year-old from Higher Ground Farms, Dover Plains, N.Y. made the first clean run.
Torres said, “My horse did so well. I did think there would be a few more clears. I was getting pretty excited at the end.” It seemed Torres’ fault-free round was to go unchallenged until the final rider, McLain Ward, on his fourteen-year-old Belgian warmblood mare, Sapphire, aced the course too. The stage was set for a jump-off. There was a short break while the Conrad Homfeld-design course was shortened and reconfigured for the challenging round.
Torres won the tiebreaker and rode first. She made no faults, all rails in place, all jumps made, but the performance was cautious with a time of 56.88 seconds. Ward came out strong, flying over every jump, flawlessly, posting a winning time of 50.81. Third place was taken by Ireland’s Darragh Kenny on Oblelix, of Trade Winds Farm. Kenny was fastest of the nine four-fault rounds.
“The course was quite difficult. Over the last few years the standard of this horse show has gone up again. Shannette (Barth Cohen, Exec. Dir.) has taken the show to another level. On course, the water line was spooky and caused a lot of trouble and the last line was a little mushy which might be why a lot of rails went down, but the footing held up great,” Ward said.
The jump-off set-up time was not long and Ward, being the final rider, was left little time for horse and rider to regroup forces. Ward said of his horse Sapphire, “She was running out of gas at the end of the jump-off and so was I, but she knows the game and was able to get it done. Either she keeps getting better or I have stopped getting in the way. Hopefully she stays healthy.”
In 2009 alone, this is Sapphire’s seventh win and it is the 118th career win for her rider Ward. “This year we picked the FTI events, they have been very good to us,” with a nod to the win of the FTI $400,000 Grand Prix in Wellington last March.
Ward has a lot to celebrate. He not only won the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix on Sunday, he won Friday’s $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier, making him the third rider ever, following Joe Fargis in 2005 and Hillary Dobbs in 2008, to sweep the Hampton Classic’s top two events. If that is not enough he took the $30,000 Fendi Cup on another horse, Goldika, on Saturday, giving him three Grand Prix wins in three days.
Although Torres did not take the ribbon, she did take it in stride. “I have had him for ten years,” said Torres referring to her 19-year-old. “I wanted this class to be the class of the year, the main event for him. Coming in second to McLain is very, very exciting. I’ll take it.”
The week of competitions, ranging from the youngest riders in the Leadline and Short Stirrup classes, hunter/jumper classes from children with ponies all of the way through amateurs, circuit professionals and Olympic veterans is over. The tents are coming down, all of the horses and the crowds have left. We have had another year of hosting this great equestrian tradition, attracting the best in the field from far and wide.
Veteran rider, Debbie Stephens, from Florida, a twenty year + participant in the Hampton Classic, said, “The Classic is the Masters, Wimbelton, and the Breeder’s Cup, all in one. We work all year, making the circuit, so as to be primed for this biggest, most important, most prestigious equestrian event of the year.”