“Take a risk, Porter!” Those words were uttered from the sidelines by Abby Archer as Mandy Porter and Abby’s horse, Milano, set their half-circle galloping track to the last obstacle in the jump-off of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Sacramento on Saturday, Oct. 7. Going first in the jump-off with three pairs behind them, including the “Master of Faster” Richard Spooner, Porter’s plan was to be clear and fast. They broke the beam at 39.16 seconds and it turned out they only needed to be clear as three challengers⎯Jenni Martin-McAllister and Legis Touch The Sun, Sayre Happy and Dolinn and Richard and Chatinus⎯ each downed a rail.
The 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood’s track to the looming last fence, the Longines oxer, was certainly efficient and fast, but not too risky, Mandy reported. “I was actually trying to be calm. Milano is already fast, so I just wanted to give him the time to do the job that he can do. I didn’t want to rush him.”
Winning the $100,000 event is a continuation of an already outstanding year for Mandy and Milano. They won the HITS Million class in March and have won or been top contenders in several big grands prix since. But Saturday’s victory “was a little bit of a surprise,” Mandy relayed. “We haven’t done much indoors with him and I thought he might be nervous with the crowd, but in fact, I think he thrived on that. He was so on form tonight: it was like he said, ‘Don’t mess this up for me.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll try.’”
Riding 11 in a field of 29 over Brazilian course designer Marina Azevedo’s appropriately challenging track, Mandy was the first to register a clear round. Jenni Martin-McAllister was thrilled to be the next aboard her 2017 World Cup Finals partner Legis Touch The Sun. At the Finals last April in Omaha, the normally “cool as a cucumber” horse was frazzled by the electric environment. The sold-out crowd at the Murieta Equestrian Center’s covered arena was no less boisterous, yet the Finals experience paid off in the form of Touch The Sun being relatively amped up, yet still manageable.
Speed is a bigger issue for the big horse. In round one, Jenni cut through an inside path before the last line to ensure they stayed within a 76-second time allowed. That seemed generous compared to Thursday night’s qualifier in which eight riders had clear jumping rounds but a single time fault, Jenni and Touch The Sun among them. Knowing Mandy’s jump-off time would be tough to beat, they gave it a shot by trimming the path to a mid-course combination. Their time was still not quick enough to catch Mandy and the attempt cost them a rail.
Jenni has had the 11-year-old gelding since he was 5 and is proud of his progress, especially considering he was sidelined by an injury for several months of the World Cup season last year. They are fully in the hunt again for a Longines FEI World Cupô Finals berth, this time for Paris next spring. Toward that end, Del Mar, Calgray and Las Vegas are their next tour stops.
Watch the video below to hear Jenni talk about Legis Touch The Sun.
This is only the fifth show Richard Spooner has ridden the 10-year-old Hanoverian Chatinus in and they’ve just been together for a few months. “He was spectacular and I couldn’t be happier,” Richard remarked. No terrific time is assured of standing if Richard is last to ride in the jump-off as he was Saturday. Given the newness of his partnership, his plan was to ride a relatively conservative pace and track. But when Chatinus spooked at the start-line timers, Richard’s response generated “too much gas at the beginning. I felt like I was cantering down a mountain the whole time. But he still tried to get it done for me.”
Richard said he had not intended to target the Finals going into the Sacramento competition, but was now thinking “why not?” after his new, young and green horse’s great performance.
Sayre Happy and Dolinn were the fourth pair to go clear in the first round, but a mishap in the jump-off led to Sayre inadvertently crossing her own track. That resulted in four faults and a briefly wandering route that was nearly five seconds slower than the night’s winners.
Although none of the 26 pairs before him had run afoul of the time limit, Columbian rider John Perez and Utopia set a swift pace from the outset and wound up the fastest of six four-fault contenders to finish fifth. Canada’s Keean White and Corette followed in sixth, followed by American Jamie Barge and Luebbo in seventh. This popular duo had the crowd on the edge of its seat until a heartbreaking rail at the very last fence, an oxer going away from the in-gate.
It was the very first jump that flummoxed Alison (Firestone) Robitaille and Serise du Bidou, who came all the way from Virginia to vie for a World Cup win. They looked like prime candidates to do so when they won Thursday night’s qualifier but instead had to settle for eighth. American Mavis Spencer and Chacco and Canadians Laura Jane Tidball and Concetto Son also had four faults to round out the top 10.
The top three riders praised Azevedo’s course. As is the hallmark of the indoor jumping season, fences came up fast and the track asked the utmost of adjustability and control. A triple combination along one wall and set off a bending line generated many rails. The course’s final line of a two-stride combination to the Longines oxer three strides away and heading into the in-gate earned the moniker “heartbreak alley.”
“It’s always difficult jumping down that line,” explained Richard, one of many familiar fan favorites in this venue. “The corner is kind of dark, and the audience is down low along the rail and the combination was boxed in there pretty snug. It was a good test for everybody. You weren’t done if you were clear up until that last line.”
Sacramento’s finish put Mandy into the fourth rung on the World Cup standings out West, while Sayre earned 13 more points to sit in the league’s second spot (to Canadian Jenn Serek). Jamie maintained her third place overall standing and Jenni vaulted into the rankings in fifth. In two weeks, contenders will duke it out in Del Mar, California, for more points and on Oct. 28, the venue is Calgary, Canada.
Presented by Lashers Elk Grove Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram. the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping is the marquee event of the Sacramento International Horse Show. Now in its 10 year, the competition drew a good fan base from the get-go and has built steadily on that with Saturday night a sell-out, standing-room-only affair. In the last two years, several riders from out-of-area leagues have come west to contend a big money circuit that included the Longines Masters Grand Slam, a Five Star competition in Southern California. This year that tournament moved to New York, removing an especially lucrative piece of the West Coast circuit. It was terrific to get a glimpse of Chile’s Sam Perot, Americans Beezie Madden and Georgina Bloomberg and others who don’t get out West too often, but a small part of my heart sometimes twitched with the wish to see more of our locally-based riders in the spotlight. By locally-based, I mean American, Canadian and Mexican riders, and those representing other countries but based out West. It’s biased reporting, I know, but hey, I’m a California girl!
So, what a treat it was to see Saturday’s winners podium filled with West Coast regulars in Mandy, Jenni and Richard. All three are much-admired by their contemporaries and are fan favorites and veterans of the Sacramento International Horse Show and the rest of the West Coast circuit.