August 30, 2019 -- Youth ruled the day as the Hampton Classic ended its weeklong run this afternoon, with 23-year-old Karen Polle winning the $250,000 grand prix and Lucy Deslauriers, 16, taking the $25,000 junior/amateur-owner jumping derby.
Karen, a senior at Yale University, couldn't stop saying, "I can't believe it," as she rode out on With Wings to receive the blue ribbon that had eluded such big names as McLain Ward--a six-time winner--Todd Minikus (Karen's former trainer) and last year's titleist, Kevin Babington.
It was the most important class Karen has won, and since she declared to ride for Japan last year (her mother is Japanese and she was born in Japan) it certainly will put her on the map when there's consideration of how to assemble that country's team for the Olympics. The Rio Games next year would be nice, but the really important one is 2020, since that Olympics is in Tokyo.
McLain had the catbird seat in the first round, going last by virtue of having won Friday's $50,000 qualifier on HH Azur. But the lovely mare toppled poles at the middle of the triple combination and the first element of the double of liverpools, a challenge that came before the final fence, when horses were getting tired.
The line-up for the four-horse jump-off was interesting, since Todd (who is 30 years older than Karen) was the only "big name" taking part in the tie-breaker. As tough as the first-round course was, the jump-off was tougher.
Canada's Chris Sorenson, the first back in the ring, drew heartfelt groans from the crowd when he toppled a pole at the last fence with Bobby, a stunning black gelding. He had a time of 46.23 seconds, which I felt sure Todd could beat. And he did. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Megan Nusz logged 8 faults with Dynamo, the winner of the first Trump Invitational with Kent Farrington, who wasn't competing in the Hamptons this year.
Todd went next but dislodged a rail at the second element of the double, which was converted from the triple combination. Todd said he was careful with his pace but legged his mare a little too much at the oxer and that earned him the 4 faults. His time of 43.89 seconds was by far the best in the tiebreaker, but it was Karen's clean round that did the trick and put him second.
You might think it's easy just having to put in a fault-free performance without worrying about speeding, but it's not.
"When you have to go clear to win, it actually adds a lot of pressure," Karen explained.
"It's usually a nice position to be in, but this time, it was a lot of pressure. It's sort of yours to lose at that point, so I was definitely nervous."
Her time of 47.96 seconds didn't matter, and she could have afforded a time fault or two, but she left all the poles in place, earning $82,500 in the process.
With Wings, an 11-year-old by Larino, has been special to Karen since she first sat on him.
Listen to what she had to say about her beloved horse by clicking on the soundbyte below.
Guilherme Jorge, who has designed the course on the big grass grand prix field for six years, produced a demanding route for his final effort in the Hamptons. Irish designer Alan Wade takes over in 2015.
I asked Guilherme, who has been signed to handle the courses for the Rio Olympics, about his layout, and how he felt about the results. Click on the arrow to play the video.
Karen trains with Mario Deslauriers, who had quite a day himself, as his daughter, Lucy Deslauriers, won the $25,000 Campbell Stables Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumping Derby on his former mount, Hester.
Asked what Mario has taught her since she started working with him in May 2014 Karen replied, "Mario really helped me get my connection right.
"He really helped me make sure I had my horse coming from behind and in my hand, which you need when you're jumping big, tall careful tracks like this. He's very positive, and that's really important.This is a tough sport and there are a lot more downs than there are ups."
In her class, Lucy went last in a four-horse jump-off, with only one entry fault-free before she entered the ring.
Looking totally determined, she produced a precise trip in 39.66 seconds, ahead of Kaely Tomeu on Fidalgo Van Het Leliehof, whose clear round was slower, in 41.44 seconds. Not only did she win the class, she also took the junior jumper championship.
I watched the action while chatting with Lucy's mother, Lisa Tarnopol Deslauriers, the Classic's chairperson.
I had a sense of deja vu. Thirty years ago, I first met Lisa at the World Cup Finals in Berlin. You know how long ago that was because the city was still divided into East and West Berlin. Lisa was a college student who caused a sensation with a performance that put her 10th in the indoor show jumping championship.
As we talked over old times, I suggested Lucy enjoyed lucky genetics but Lisa insisted her daughter simply has more natural talent than she had. That's a matter of opinion (Mario felt Lisa was shortchanging herself when I told him about the conversation) but Lucy did remind me of her mother in their style of riding.
We got the two of them together with Mario for a conversation about the big win. Listen in by clicking on the arrow.
I should mention, before I go any further, that Shane Sweetnam won the coveted $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Award. He was sixth today, but had clinched the honor (and the watch that went with it) a few days ago. It was just like Christmas at the press conference, as each of the top three riders in the grand prix, which was presented by Longines, also received watches. That's unusual, since generally only the winner gets a snazzy timepiece.
Before the Grand Prix, I slipped into the VIP tent for a look at the tables. Most of those who buy a table ringside have a theme and decorate them elaborately, some using a professional designer for that task. It's fun to see what they come up with. Take a look at this video and you'll probably agree.
What we don't show you is the scrum of photographers who gather to descend on the "celebs" that come to the show. Regulars whose names you know include former New York City mayors Michael Bloomberg (whose daughter, Georgina, always rides in the grand prix) and Rudy Guiliani. There are also always people from TV, including Katie Couric and Matt Lauer this year. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was on hand earlier in the week to watch his daughter, Sasha, compete in the junior hunters.
So with the Hampton Classic (and most of summer) behind us, I'll be heading to the HITS show in Saugerties, N.Y., next Sunday for their $1 million CP jumper class and some high-profile hunter action as well. Be sure to come back and read about it all.