October 23, 2016—It was an “E-Ticket” night for the full-house crowd at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Del Mar as Enrique Gonzalez, Eric Navet and Eduardo Menezes were the only three of 28 to go clear, then finished in that order.
In addition to sharing their friendship and neighborhood, the three riders were also among the first to solve Frank’s biggest riddle. This came on an awkwardly strided line that began with at triple-bar set at just over 1.55 meters. From there it was what most riders thought was a four-stride to a tight 9 AB vertical to oxer one-stride.
Riding 15th in the order, Eduardo and his mare Catalina were the first to make it a five-stride. “That’s the way I walked it: I’m an adder,” said the rider, who is fresh from representing Brazil in the Rio Olympic Games. “But when everyone was riding it in four strides, I asked myself, ‘Am I crazy or not?’” He asked Enrique, who happens to be his business partner in their sales enterprise, and got confirmation that no, he wasn’t crazy. After six of the riders in front of him had at least one rail in the one-stride doing the four, Eduardo angled his track a bit and reined in his big mare for the five, left the combination’s rails up and became the first clear of the night, much to the crowd’s delight.
Eric Navet was the next to do it, and by Enrique’s turn, he was feeling comfortable with a change from the four-stride he’d planned during the course walk, and it worked out for him, too. To hear Enrique’s explain his change of course plan, click on the video below.
And so it was the three “Es” moving onto the jump-off. Frank explained that he typically doesn’t raise the fence heights for a jump-off when there are just three or four contenders. “The riders are going faster trying to win and I want them to be able to touch the posts a little bit.” Toward that end, he replaced precarious flat cups with deeper cups to hold the plank atop the 1.6-meter vertical that ended both the regular course and the jump-off.
Returning first for the jump-off, Eduardo “decided I might as well give it all I have: worst case, I’d be third.” This was only Catalina’s third grand prix but she has a lot of rideability and it seemed a worthwhile gamble until two rails hit the ground. Eduardo has ridden Catalina for two years. “At home, she feels like a 1.45-meter horse, but in her first grand prix, in Monaco, she had just four faults at the last fence and she really felt like a five-star horse—one of those horses who is better at the shows. There’s a lot of horses that feel like champions at home, but they’re worse in the show ring.”
Eric and Catypso came next, riding an efficient and clear track to finish in 43.15 seconds. “I’m very proud of my horse,” said the gracious Frenchman, detailing the gelding’s top five finishes at the $1 Million class and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping class last year at HITS Thermal. Purchased originally for Eric’s client Karl Cook, Catypso turned out to be a better fit for Eric and patience with some initial struggles are now paying off.
“Warming up as the last to go, it was not easy to think of beating Eric and Eduardo,” Enrique said. “But my horse has a big step and Eduardo had two rails.” The pair skimmed more than two seconds off of Eric’s time and had luck on their side when the plank at the final fence bounced, bobbled and boogied, then settled back into its cups. The riders joked later that Enrique had offered the course designer his winner’s Longines watch to make that key adjustment to the plank cups.
Based in Southern California for several years now, the rider from Mexico described the win as the biggest yet for the 9-year-old Chacna, by Chacco-Blue, the same sire, by the way, as Eduardo’s Catalina, also 9 years old. The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Omaha in March 2017 is a big goal for Enrique and, along with significant points toward the Final, a victory in this league “is like a shot heard round the world.”
The trio praised Frank’s course, especially the number of options it presented. The German designer is regarded as one of the best throughout Western Europe but has not built many tracks in the United States. “We are happy to welcome Frank here,” Eric emphasized. “Our goal is to raise the level of competition in the West and the best way to do that is to have the best course designers come here.”
It looked as though Eric would be joined in the jump-off by his student Karl Cook. Leading the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western League Western sub league coming into Del Mar, Karl and Tembla were clean and smooth until the second-to-last fence but wound up fifth as the second fastest of the four faulters. Fourth-placed finisher Nayel Nassar had similar bad luck at the opposite end of the course, knocking the first fence with Lordan.
Audrey Coulter and Capital Colnardo had even worse luck. After winning the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Sacramento qualifier two weeks before and winning Thursday’s qualifying class in Del Mar, they looked on pace for a repeat victory until the evil plank vertical caught them at the very last.
Thursday night’s qualifier hosted a robust field of 46 contenders, narrowed down to 28 for Saturday’s showdown. Audrey and Capital Colnardo won that one with coach Harrie Smolders following on their heels in second on Apollonia.
Although hot dry weather triggered wildfire worries throughout San Diego leading up to the big class, Saturday delivered pleasant temperatures that matched Del Mar’s “where the turf meets the surf” trademark. Warmed up by the Charity Woof Cup, in which horse and rider team up with an agility dog and its handler in a relay race, the crowd was thrilled with the show-jumping action. They and the riders seemed to appreciate a new warm-up arena, situated between the public Fairgrounds entrance and the grandstand. Several riders made a point of stopping to chat with fans and inviting them to pat their horse, enhancing the connection between athletes and fans that the Del Mar International Horse Show is well-known for.