March 12th, 2017–There was more than another grand prix win at stake for Todd Minikus in this afternoon’s $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Ocala.
If he wanted to go to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final March 29-April 2—and he most certainly did—the veteran horseman needed the points that would come only with victory in the last qualifier for that indoor world championship.
Two words easily sum up the essence of the former bull rider: true grit. Or if you prefer to use three words, how about “Get it done?” Those defining elements of Todd’s character came shining through as the drama continued to the very last thrilling instant of competition at the Live Oak International Show, set among thousands of bucolic acres in the heart of Florida’s horse country.
Todd had known for weeks that he would have to pull off a big save to get to Omaha. After last month’s penultimate qualifier, he stood 19th in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League’s East Coast sub-league. Since only the top seven U.S. riders in the East can make it to Omaha, that meant it was now or nothing in Ocala.
And to start off with, he nearly didn’t make the cut there. After his 8-penalty round on Babalou in Friday’s qualifier, he left Ocala and was driving back to his base in Wellington, Fla., about 3 ½ hours away for another commitment, while the class continued. Periodically, he would get texts updating his status. Only the top 40 would be allowed to compete today, and he was 37th, but the final text told him he was in.
Then he got lucky in the jump order. Todd was last to go in the first round of 38 starters, where nearly half—an amazing 18—were clear over a course laid out on the turf by Bob Ellis, who designed the routes for the 2012 London Olympics.
Last to go in the jump-off as well, of course, Todd and his chestnut mare were chasing a time of 49.39 seconds for an artful clear trip by Andre Thieme of Germany on Conthendrix, a striking grey Holsteiner. This was a case in which Todd knew he had to go just fast enough, but not so fast he made a mistake. His calibrated effort was exactly right as he soared over the final massive Longines oxer and clicked through the timers in 47.77 seconds. Omaha, here he comes!
Qualifying is really special to Todd, because he’s a transplanted Midwesterner, having grown up in Iowa about two hours from Omaha.
After dismounting from his victory gallop, still wearing his winner’s sash, Todd seemed a bit dazed while recognition dawned about the impact of what had just happened. We discussed his thoughts, and his strategy for the class. Click on the right-pointing arrow to find out his comments.
You can bet Todd will book a return trip to Live Oak, where organizers Chester Weber and his sister, Juliet Reid, spent this evening with their team eating sushi and going over how to make the show even better next year. Not surprisingly, they have no bigger fan than Todd.
“The two times I have been here I have won, so I’m all about Live Oak,” he said.
“It is a great event and turned out to be very exciting today.”
Todd wasn’t the only one on whom fortune smiled in Ocala. Although he finished second, Andre took consolation in a $10,000 bonus for being the leading rider.
And U.S.-based German Christian Heineking also left the competition happy. He is practically a favorite son at Omaha, having done well there regularly in the annual show presented at the CenturyLink Center. A moderate 4-fault round on NKH Caruso earned him ninth place, cementing his position and making him fourth in the league. That put a big smile on his face.
Christian had said in the past he wasn’t counting on being part of the most important equestrian competition ever held at the arena, but I’ll let him tell you about it. Click on the right-pointing arrow to find out what he had to say.
The competition also meant the realization of an elusive dream for Charlie Jacobs, who rode in the 2016 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Sweden, but had begun wondering if he would make it to Omaha. He was 11th in the standings after the previous qualifier, held at his family’s Deeridge Farm in Wellington
The jump-off was going well for him until he had a rail down halfway through with Cassinja S. His was the slowest of the 4-fault rounds, but 13th place slotted him into sixth in the standings with 37 points, just one ahead of Todd.
His relief was palpable. You can get a sense of it by clicking on the right-pointing arrow and watching his video.
There were also several riders close to booking an Omaha trip who suffered a setback that will leave them at home. A time penalty in the first round kept Hardin Towell from the jump-off, scuttling his chances. A rail in the initial test ended the Omaha quest of Callan Solem, who was the best American finisher in last year’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final, winding up in seventh place.
The league leader is Kent Farrington, but he has said he won’t go if he doesn’t think his horse is ready. Laura Kraut is second, followed by Audrey Coulter. While Christian is fourth in terms of points, as I mentioned previously, he qualified under a special circumstance for a foreign rider, so he didn’t technically count among the East Coast U.S. top seven. McLain Ward is fifth and Lauren Tisbo is the final qualifier, behind Charlie and Todd. However, if Kent drops out, others can fill in down to 15th place, with Georgina Bloomberg first on that list.
For the standings in the Eastern Sub-League, click on this link
Riders have to give notice this week about whether they are going to Omaha, so transport for the horses can be arranged.
But I’ve already arranged my transport, so I have just one more thing to say: See you in Omaha.