This is it! It is week 12 and the final grand prix of the 2018 winter season. There is no doubt that 12 weeks makes for a long season but if as a competitor you are having a good season the time can go a little faster.
My opinion of the course design this season is that this has been a very good season of course design at the highest level. Every grand prix in the international ring, the derby field or the dressage arena – the quality of the courses has been exceptional. We have had course designers that reflect the global map: Canada, USA, Mexico, South America and Europe have been well represented.
Tonight we will bear witness to the course design genius of Guilherme Jorge (BRA). The class will be the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*. There will be 40 entries and all will start. The course will consist of 14 numbered obstacles and 17 efforts. On the course we will see a triple bar, 2 liverpools, a wall (where has this wall been hiding all winter?) 2 short pole verticals, 1 double and 1 triple combination. We will also have the open water. There will be no plank jumps. The TA will be set at 82 seconds and will not be changed. The weather is perfect and the crowd on hand is the biggest of the year.
The starting field is the smallest of the year with 40 entries and it will consist of some of the best this circuit has seen but some of the big names are being rested for some upcoming events. Make no mistake this is still a great starting group of horses and riders. I would like to mention the live entertainment that we have had over the season and in particular the singing of the national anthem. There has been as usual a great support of local talent and we heard great examples of local artists. This has been a job well done. The anthem has been sung and now it is time for the walk of the CSI 5* $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix.
#1 triple bar 1.50/1.80m or 5/5.9ft and at the start it ended the evening for 1 rider and another had a refusal.
#2 vertical 1.55m or 5.1ft comes from #1 in a straight line with a distance of 28.3m or 93ft and came crashing down 2 times.
#3 liverpool oxer 1.50/1.65m or 5/5.4ft comes from #2 on the bending right rein with a distance of 31m or 101.6ft. There were 3 splash downs at this point.
#4 vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft comes on the left turn away from the in-gate and met with mother earth 2 times.
#5a oxer 1.50/1.70m or 5/5.6ft comes from #4 in a straight line with a distance of 27m or 88.6ft. We had only 2 failed attempts at this jump.
#5b vertical 1.57m or 5.2ft comes from #5a on a distance of 11.10m or 36.6ft and was 1 of only 2 fences never faulted on the course tonight.
#5c oxer comes from #5b on a distance of 8.10m or 26.6ft and was the other fence not faulted on the course.
#6 short pole vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft comes from #5c on the left rein and no given distance. The top pole played in the sand box on 4 occasions.
#7 the wall 1.60m or 5.3ft comes on the full turn right and I think being a brand new jump for this ring we had 1 crash landing and 1 refusal resulting in a fall and therefore an elimination.
#8 the open water 4m or 13ft comes from #7 on the right bend and a distance of 35m or 114.9ft. There were 8 toes in the tub. The water was in no way spooky but there were several inaccurate rides resulting in faults.
#9 oxer 1.50/1.75m or 5/5.7ft comes from the water on the right bend and with a distance of 32m or 104.9ft we saw 7 failures to execute.
#10 vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft comes from #9 in a straight line with a distance of 18.30m or 60ft and the top pole fell from the yellow cups 3 times.
#11 oxer 1.53/1.70m or 5.1/5.6ft comes from #10 on the left rein and towards the in-gate was lowered in height on 4 occasions.
#12 oxer 1..50/1.70m or 5/5.6ft comes on the left rein away from the in-gate was faulted 5 times.
#13a closed Liverpool vertical 1.57m or 5.2ft comes from #12 on the right bend with a distance of 33m or 108.3ft and got wet 8 times and we also saw I refusal.
#13b vertical 1.57m or 5.2ft comes from #13a with a distance of 7.9m or 25.9ft and felt shame only 1 time.
#14 oxer 1.53/1.80m or 5.2/5.9ft comes from #13b in a straight line with a distance of 23.5m or 77ft and as the last fence in the first round it also ended the evening for 10 riders and was the most faulted fence on the course.
The final tally of the final course in the 2018 winter season will look like this: there were 6 clean rounds, 1 ride with 1 time fault ,12 rounds of 4 faults and 7 rounds of 8 faults. When there are 2 times more 4 faulters than clean rounds it is an indicator of a good course and when half the class is within 4 faults of the jump off it is also a good sign. There were 2 eliminations due to a fall and elimination with 2 refusals. We also had 1 VW.
I seem to repeat myself this year with the observation that this was a very good grand prix. We have had an exceptional year of quality course design. The course tonight was unique in the fact I can never remember a major grand prix where the triple combination played absolutely no role in the outcome of the first round. The complete line of #4 to the end of #5c resulted in a total of 16 faults. This was not the outcome that Guilherme anticipated but was also the reason that the course worked out the way it did. Sometimes you get lucky as a course designer and as a rider (Enrique Gonzalez with the 3 in the 4 stride line to be in the jump off). Getting lucky begins with experience and good work and is a reward for consistent effort.
My usual rewards for the end of season begin with the gold medal for course design. My interest usually focuses on the early 2* and 3* and this year my gold medal will be shared by Oscar Soberon (MEX) and Anderson Lima (BRA). They were rookies in the international ring and in the dressage arena and the derby field. Early in the season the rules are less aggressive with the star rating. The number of entries and these restrictions make good results in the course design very difficult. These 2 newcomers met the challenge and with the results I hope to see them next year. The future of everything in our sport is in the next generation of officials, course designers and riders. We need to recognize the ring crews in all the rings and the in-gate generals for their solid work week after week and for their unlimited patience.
Thanks also go out to the officials who toil in different rings every week for their knowledge of the rules and their protection of the horses who are the true athletes. Very special thanks to Heather Caristo Williams for making Saturday night a lot of fun and great competition. It gave me great pleasure to finally win one on the last Saturday night. Mend well and soon and be back on the circuit when you are ready. The final thank you must go out to Barre Dukes and Phelps Sports. Barre, you took over from Kenny Kraus with no idea how pathetic I was with the computer but you have got me through another year. I think that I drove Kenny into early retirement. My best wishes go out to Kenny. Thank you Mason!
My final thanks go to my daughter Erynn and her team at Looking Back Farm for the best season ever. Ilan Ferder you are the best. At the age of 71 I am no longer running as much anymore but I look forward to walking the grand prix’s next season. Until next year I am Dave Ballard.