Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas course designer Oscar Soberon packed an unusual amount of challenges into a creative course, compounding the challenges in the South Point Arena’s small, walled confines. “That’s my kind of Grand Prix,” asserted USEF chef d’equipe Robert Ridland of the resulting competition. “You really had to jump for your money!”
Here’s four course elements that brought heartbreak to many of the night’s 30 contenders.
1. Put a plant under it.
In the goofy comedy Monty Python & The Holy Grail, the Knights of Ni demand “shrubbery” of King Arthur for a forest passage. Soaring over shrubbery was the final rite of passage to the jump-off in Vegas. Unlike the hunter arena, using plants as actual jump material, rather than décor on the side, is unusual in an indoor World Cup track. The placement of fan-like shrubs and ferns under an otherwise airy and huge final oxer marked the end of the quest for many.
Heartbreakingly, it was the only rail for West Coast faves, Karl Cook, Jenni McAllister and Eric Navet. The first two exhibited genuine and fan-endearing good sportsmanship on hearing rails fall amid a hushed crowd hoping for the night’s first clear. Eric surely would have, too, except his awkward take-off with Catypso resulted in a hard landing, followed by a fall shortly after crossing the finish line. His student and close friend Karl Cook raced on foot across the arena to help Eric exit the far end and recover. All were relieved to learn later that the French Olympian was okay.
2. Something Completely Different.
The course was immediately distinct for its lack of the Longines triple combination that has reliably impressed horses, riders and audiences. Instead, there were three double combinations, two set on a bending line and one with a Liverpool pan on the out-bound element heading toward the in-gate. Lots to look at and all of them emerging from corners with only a few strides to size up the effort required. The two bending line combos caught a third of the class.
3. Look innocent.
Seven pairs took a rail at the relatively innocuous looking Las Vegas planks and poles. Set along the wall right in front of the boisterous crowd, it came three strides after an oxer that hadn’t been used previously, possibly distracting or delaying focus on the next fence.
4. Test the Gas & Breaks.
The familiar gas pedal/brakes test began dramatically with a triple bar jumping toward the crowd, then it was six strides to a tender vertical heading home. The triple caught only one pair, the vertical: eight. Many pros made the rate-back look easy, but others struggled mightily with over-strong horses and, in doing so, illustrated how hard our sport really is.
Riding 21st Alison Robataille and Serise Du Bidou were the first to clear the track. Richard Spooner and Chatinus, then Karrie Rufer and Georgie D’Auvray EC did the same a few rounds later to move onto a three-horse jump-off. Richard and his new star won, Alison and her nimble, fast mare were second and Karrie, an over-the-moon amateur, put a big notch on her belt in only their second World Cup event.