Devon seems ageless, a comforting 123-year-old fixture you can count on to pretty much stay the same in an era of change. That applies to everything from buildings painted the same unique shade of blue, to the intriguing little country fair shops (are you perhaps looking for a sterling silver pickle fork?), the Ladies’ Day hat contest and a vast variety of competition ranging from side-saddle to a major grand prix.
Something else that practically has become a constant is the winner of that show jumping competition: For a record 11th time last night, McLain Ward topped the $250,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon, and the crowd that was 10-deep on the rail took him to their hearts once again.
The cheers greeting his arrival in the Dixon Oval with HH Azur rose by a good number of decibels as he completed his fault-free performance in the first round, and was practically deafening after he zipped around the jump-off route in a time of 38.12 seconds. His fans, from those drinking champagne in the box seats to the burger and fries gang on the coveted ringside benches, rightly were convinced his mark couldn’t be bettered, even with two entries yet to come in the nine-horse tiebreaker.
Despite the fact that he lives in Westchester County, New York, McLain is quick to say, “This place for me is home. I love the people. I love the atmosphere. The home field advantage gives you a boost. It energizes me. I love to be at our best here. This crowd is incredible, and obviously, I have a long-standing history here.”
Ireland’s Paul O’Shea, the 2014 Devon winner, set a pace of 39.41 seconds with Imerald Van’T Voorhof, though even if he had left out a stride to the last fence, he acknowledged he couldn’t have edged McLain and his fiery 2017 FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final winner.
“I guess there’s no shame in being beaten by Mclain,” he pointed out with a little smile, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t be trying the next time.”
Ali Wolff, third in 40.14 seconds with Casall, her partner of seven years, couldn’t stop smiling.
“That’s probably the best I could have done in this company. I’m just delighted to be in this company,” she said.
The course, laid out by 2016 Olympic course designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil, drew praise from the riders, most of whom put in fairly uneventful trips. An exception was Beezie Madden, who had a refusal with Breitling LS part-way through. After going back over the fence, she withdrew, saving her mount for another day.
It was the third victory in a row at Devon for McLain, adding to his string that began in 1999. The class is named after Sapphire, the mare on whom he won in 2007 and 2009. McLain’s roots at the show and links with its people go back even further. The 43-year-old rider recalled running into a parking lot attendant with whom he has a history.
“I said it seems like yesterday I was 17 and you were fixing my flat tire … time passes quickly,” he told the man. “I’ve got to keep winning this grand prix so I don’t feel old,” he chuckled.
HH Azur, known as Annie, freshened following a long rest after sustaining an injury at Aachen last year. Clinta, his 2018 Devon winner, is recovering from a meniscus problem and likely won’t be seen in competition for awhile.
Listen to what McLain, who also won the style award, had to say about his horses last night by clicking on the video below.
It’s been a soggy few days at Devon, with classes having a delayed start on Tuesday and Wednesday because of the rain. But the footing has held up well and yesterday’s other big competition, the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, was able to run before a late afternoon shower.
The class had a surprising finish, as the leaders fell apart in the “handy” round and Kristen Bumpus on Diadora moved up from sixth after the first round to the winner’s circle.
The initial round over a course designed by Paul Jewell went to last year’s derby winner, Hunt Tosh on Flamingo-K, with Tori Colvin second aboard El Primero. The handy round, where tight turns and higher fences offer extra points, is “our strong suit,” said Kristen. It moved her up to third, earning 200 points to add to her first round total of 172. Then she just had to wait and see what happened with the leaders. Tori, who went next to last and was just four points from Hunt in the first round, had to deal with a big spook from her mount that would drop her to tenth in the final standings on a score of 302.
Hunt, looking to seal his deal in the final round, had a stutter approach at the trot fence and wound up fifth on a total of 356.
Seeing Hunt’s mishap, “I almost passed out,” said Kristen, who was instantly elevated to first place. The victory was especially huge for the Massachusetts rider, because at age 48, she was making her long-awaited riding debut at the show. Now with Arrowhead Farm in Concord, she gained mileage by working for a number of trainers, including David Oliynyk, as well as Rodney Bross and Elizabeth Solter of Rox Dene fame.
Although Diadora was HITS high performance hunter circuit champion in Ocala, and had placed second in two hunter derbies there, Kristen’s goal is the August international derby at the Kentucky Horse Park, and she decided to come to Devon because it was “Kentuckyesque” in its ambience.
Meet Kristen Bumpus by clicking on the video below.
Second place with a score of 362.5 was Jimmy Torano on California 19, a former grand prix show jumper for Rodrigo Pessoa, a horse that was a “little bit over its head” in that division.
“Why don’t we try to make him a hunter,” suggested Jimmy, noting he showed just one week in Florida in the high performance hunters, where he won to qualify himself for Devon.
Jimmy was feeling the pain of a Wednesday night fall in a jumper class. His hand hit a rail and he broke his little finger of his right hand. He was sore, but he still was able to put in a beautiful trip on a horse who is “very, very careful.”
Tori didn’t go home empty-handed. She won the Grand Hunter Championship for the first time with Private Practice. Her mentor, Scott Stewart, took the Leading Hunter Rider honors for the 15time.
Tori, who also was Leading Lady Rider, noted Scott “gave me so many horses to show. I probably wouldn’t be here without him, so he’s definitely a big influence.”