U.S. Olympian Reed Kessler and Mika and Candice King with Combina, riding 40th and 50th in the order, also produced clear rounds to complete the second round dance card.
For the jump-off, Stephens reduced the track to nine fences in a large extended S pattern that again encompassed most of the big grass field.
Leading the way back for the dash for cash, Beezie Madden and Cortes C went clean the second time around, galloping home in 44.01 seconds. While that score and time would nail down today’s fourth place finish, Beezie’s time would be over four seconds slower than the winning pace from Christine McCrea who came next in the order.
McCrea put the pedal to the metal and Romantovich Take One willingly answered the call as they easily flew around the short track, eventually clocking in at 40.83 seconds. “He’s really fast,” McCrea said in an understatement. “He’s always been really fast.”
With three to go, McCrea still had to hold her breath a bit, but she knew she had produced a really aggressive round. “Reed’s always pretty quick and Peter Leone’s horse has really been in an upward swing, but I knew he would be competitive. I went as fast as I could go and I did the best that I could do.”
Charlie Jayne and Chill RZ couldn't put together back to back clear rounds on this day. With a single rail along the jump-off trail, Jayne came home with four faults, breaking the beams in 45.02 seconds.
Leone and Lincourt Gino went double clear as well, but Leone just couldn’t match McCrea’s pace, crossing the finish line just over a second slower in 41.87 seconds. And before he could catch his breath, Reed Kessler had bumped him down another notch in the order.
Kessler, finally back on home turf after a summer she’ll never forget, rode Mika into the ring as the first of just two left in the order. While Kessler was hoping to get six strides from fences one to two, she ended up doing nine strides and as she would explain later, it cost her the class. Mika tripped the timers in 41.11 seconds, 7/10ths of a second faster than Leone but 2/10ths off of McCrea’s top time.
“Everyone was getting the eight around the turns so easily, I thought that I could kind of hang out and be coming back left for the six and I ended up doing nine,” she admitted. “And then, Chris is so fast and Romantovich is so fast and I don’t know, maybe she beat me into the double. But I’d say definitely 1 to 2 put me one stride behind her.”
On her brand new partner, Candice King and Combina would be the last to go on our Friday afternoon. How new is this combination? So new that today was the first time King and Combina competed together in any major event. While it looks like a promising partnership will develop quickly, today’s jump-off didn’t work out quite the way King wanted it to. Two rails down along the way relegated the duo to sixth place on the afternoon as they finished with 8 faults in 49.70 seconds.
After her round of honor, today’s winner, McCrea, spoke about Steve Stephen’s qualifier course. “The course was tricky because I think the terrain here adds a lot of spice. You know, if you don’t ride on a terrain like this very often, you can really struggle with the hill, either working for you or against you,” she detailed. And then, putting into words why fence #7 was such a problem on the day, McCrea explained, “I think it was abnormal for a regular Grand Prix horse to canter up the hill, and then around the back and then down the hill, and then you come to the skinny (#7) and they were just flying down the hill out of balance. So, the course designer did a very good job and it was up to us to try to keep the jumps up,” she said. “The triple combination was tricky too. With the liverpool at B, and A to B was a very short distance. And, you were coming down the hill towards the in-gate and you had to turn back to the triple and a lot of inexperienced horses got caught out at either B or C there.”
For McCrea and her mount, it hasn’t been the year she expected, but, “It is what it is,” she said. “That’s horses and I’ve learned that you just take them when they’re feeling good and do the best you can with it. Although I will say, after the trials and after the first couple observation events, he started to feel better to me and the middle of the summer onward he has really been peaking. We’ve had the most unlucky streak of four faults in every Grand Prix. The last seven or eight Grand Prix’s I’ve had the last jump down or a totally unlucky rub and had it done, so I was quite happy with this result today,” she laughed.
Both of today’s top finishers were excited about the return of the American Gold Cup and happy to be in North Salem during the fall.
I am thrilled to be back here,” McCrea said. “I grew up riding here. I always came to Old Salem and I haven’t been here in so long. And honestly, when I came back here, I didn’t know where I was. This place is gorgeous. They’ve done a fabulous job. The footing’s great. I think this show is going to bring a lot of people back in the springtime too. I am planning now to come back here in May. Normally I would go to Kentucky, but I really want to support my local shows. So, I’m really impressed with this facility.”
Christine McCrea and her dad during the victory gallop
Kessler, who became the youngest Olympic show jumper this summer, was asked if she was happy things were quieting down a bit. “Oh yes. I’m thrilled to be home. It’s been the biggest year of my life. I’ve never had a year like this. Everything’s happened so fast, week to week, the biggest shows, everything’s difficult. It’s just amazing to be back somewhere I’ve been before and really comfortable and back in America,” she smiled. “I loved it and we had an amazing year, and now I can be home and be with my family. I grew up in Armonk, in Bedford, twenty-five minutes down the road, but I haven’t shown here in a few years because I started doing FEI classes and they didn’t have FEI classes in the spring before, so I always went to Kentucky. But I’m thrilled to be back. They’ve done a beautiful job.”
On Sunday, McCrea will try and become a two-time winner of the American Gold Cup, having led the victory gallop in Cleveland in 2006 on Vegas. “Well, I’m qualified,” she laughed. “And I’m going to be kind to my horse tomorrow and hopefully he’ll come out fresh and feeling good. Winning in Cleveland was cool. That was very cool.”
Reed Kessler and Chrissy McCrea visit the VIP tent
In other show jumping action at Old Salem Farm, Michael Morrissey won the Adequan 5-Year-Old Jumper Qualifier aboard Jazzy Belle owned by Imperial Show Stables. Mattias Tromp came in with the second time riding Condor owned by Bayaert Farm and Marshall Field VI rode to third place on Twist de Quidam owned by Mary Chapot.
In the 6-Year-Old Jumper Qualifier class, also sponsored by Adequan, Candice King and Prestige owned by Welwyn Farm brought home the blue. “I just tried to go in first and lead the way and put some pressure on,” King said. “The mare felt great out on the footing so I just really tried to ride the mare and the track and I got lucky and it came all together for me. I’m thrilled.”
Georgina Bloomberg and South Street owned by Gotham Enterprizes rode away with the red in the 6-Year-Old Jumper Qualifier class and King was once again in the ribbons with a yellow aboard Nina VDL owned by Esperanza Inc.
Margie Engle and Handyman owned by Betsy Green & Gladewinds Farm and Peter Lutz and Kenyon owned by Orchard Farm came out on top in the Adequan 7-and 8-Year-old Jumper Qualifiers, respectively.
American Gold Cup action continues Saturday with the $35,000 Double H Farm Jumper Classic and the famed $200,000 American Gold Cup CSI4* on Sunday afternoon.
Show manager Michael Morrissey couldn’t be happier with the event. “It’s been going great,” he said. “The turnout: it’s an all-star cast. We wanted everybody to come here and have a good experience and go away thinking this was the climax of the season for them.”
Until tomorrow, stay safe.
Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One
Paulo Santana and Taloubet
Kirsten Coe and Baronez
Tracy Fenny and MTM Timon
Hillary Simpson and Nopus De Gue Joubert
Kent Farrington and Voyeur
Callie Schott and Wrigley
Adrienne Sternlicht and Oreade Des Dames
Tim Gredley and Unex Omelli
Jeffery Welles and Merlin
Quentin Judge and HH Carotino
Cara Raether and Valdiatto
Charlie Jacobs and Leap of Joy
Shane Sweetnam and Siri
PHOTOS BY: Kenneth Kraus and Parker/Russell - The Book LLC