September 2, 2017—On Labor Day weekend, there’s just one destination for horse show fans who want to see the big names, whether they’re celebrities of the equine or human variety.
Forget the traffic and the crazy prices for everything from food to housing on the very social East End of Long Island. The Hampton Classic is a must if you’ve never been there, and for those who have, it’s a can’t miss every year.
Oh, the partying that goes on in the VIP tent and chalet area. I only wish I had the champagne concession, because it flows as fast as the horses jump.
U.S.-based Irish rider Shane Sweetnam thinks the show has a “European feel, it’s a very high standard, a lot of foreign riders, a lot of Irish. The jumping is big and the feel is very similar to places like La Baule (France) and Falsterbo (Sweden). There’s not too many places like this in America anymore.”
Shane is a Hampton Classic regular, and there’s more than the competition that draws him to the show. “Obviously, the area is beautiful and the restaurants are good. I’ve probably put on 10 pounds this week already,” he chuckled.
“I’ve always had a good bit of success here. One of the first big classes for me to win here was the speed derby. That created opportunities for more horses. The Hampton Classic has a lot to do with why I’m here,” he said.
And who knows? There may be more horses in it for him after the way he won the $50,000 Longines Cup today aboard Main Road. The field of 46 tackled a tough route laid out by Irish designer Alan Wade, the man who did the brilliant floorplans for the Longines FEI World Cup™ finals in Omaha last April.
This afternoon, 10 entries rolled up double-digit faults and two more were eliminated for refusals, while seven retired when it was obvious their efforts weren’t going anywhere. And this wasn’t even the grand prix—that’s on Sunday.
“I think that’s the sternest Saturday I’ve seen in a while here. The time was just snug enough to make people have to move. I think that’s the standard it has to be, especially for the Hampton Classic,” said Shane.
Andrew Ramsay, first to go in the six-horse jump-off, conceded, “It was possibly more than I was expecting coming out there. It was a strong 1.50 (meter height) and asked the right questions.”
He rode his jump-off according to plan on California, who was out of action for weeks due to an abcess. His mark of 35.32 seconds was reasonable, but beatable.
Main Road, a 9-year-old Swedish gelding, has been Shane’s mount for two years.
“This is his third year here, and he’s learned a lot here,” said Shane, who made that obvious with a slick round. He had been kicking himself for a mistake he made in a class on Friday, when he “got carried away watching everybody else instead of doing what I know he’s good at.”
This time, he said, “I stuck to my plan and trusted how fast he was.” A key seemed to be his quick rollback turn from the first fence to the second, as he went on to stop the clock at 34.04 seconds.
McLain admitted he was slower at the beginning of the course. He’s only had his stallion, Cartouche, for a week since buying him from Colombian Jorge Barrera.
On Friday, the light-footed Argentine-bred ran by the first fence, and McLain had to be careful it didn’t happen again.
“This is the first jump-off I’ve ever done on the horse, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was thrilled with him,” McLain said.
“He was a little bit all over the place, but he’s an incredible jumper. I knew it was going to be difficult to beat Shane today. I knew when I lost the turn, one to two, it would be difficult to make up.”
He almost did it, but was off by 0.72 seconds to finish as runner-up.
Another prize in play is the $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge for the show’s leading rider. This is the fifth year that competition has been held, and it’s always been won by an Irish rider. Richie Moloney is in the lead with 259 points, McLain is second with 209, Catherine Nicole Tyree has 185 and Shane 155. Winning the grand prix on Sunday is worth 100 points, so McLain and Catherine are in with a shot. Before I got the numbers, I thought Shane might have a chance, but even if he wins and fellow Irishman Richie does nothing, he can’t make up four points.
Shane is just back from the European Show Jumping Championships in Sweden, where he was the pathfinder with Chaqui Z, producing two clear rounds to put the underdog Irish onto the top of the podium.
It’s obvious there will be more major international goals ahead for Shane. Find out about that in this video.
McLain is another rider who does well at the Hampton Classic. He’s been bringing out new horse after new horse here, as he’s obviously in retrenching mode. Rothchild, his longtime stalwart, is about to be 17 and will soon be retired. Since that quirky chestnut has jumped his last in competition, it’s time for McLain to bring in the new recruits (he seems partial to grays) and build up his string.
Watch this video to hear what he had to say about his new prospects.
As I said, the $300,000 grand prix, the show’s finale, is Sunday. The VIP tent will be shoulder to well-tanned shoulder with the fashionable and those who think they are. Shane is going to be aboard Indra va de Oude Heihoef and McLain’s mount is HH Callas, so those who aren’t totally focused on the champagne and luxury nibbles can look forward to a rematch as the 32-horse field goes to the post.
Oh, and watch out for 2004 Hampton Classic Grand Prix winner Darragh Kerins. Yes, another Irishman. I have it from a good source that he looks like a real threat aboard the Selle Francais Silteplait de Circee, especially since he’s in the enviable position of having been drawn last in the order of go.
I’ll be sending another postcard tomorrow evening, so be sure to look for it. In the meantime, you can see more photos from the Classic at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman.