Aiken, South Carolina–Liz Halliday-Sharp finished her weekend at the inaugural $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing Invitational with a wire-to-wire victory with her long-time partner, Fernhill By Night. The 16-year-old ISH gelding, owned by Deborah Sharp, competed the event on a dressage score of 28.7. Twelve of the 18 riders who rode today had double-clear rounds, and the competitors rode in reverse order of standings, so the spectators were treated to a nail-biting finish.
“I’m so proud of him,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He felt incredible. Really with me. He just knows his job. He just fought for me the whole way. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
Crowds packed into Bruce’s Field at the Aiken Horse Park to watch the class and cheer on their favorite riders, many of whom put on quite a show with their speedy rounds. “We were flying! I was literally so focused, I nearly blew past my line [to the keyhole jump]. I was like, what am I doing?! Oh well, we’ll just angle it! He was class to just come in there and angle it for me. It’s good for him, a little training,” she added with a laugh. “I loved how he just operated off the turns. He can be a bit slow in his mind sometimes, but he was fully on it in every way.”
“What a brilliant event,” she said of the new event. “I really hope they keep doing it. We need more of these in our sport, especially for the old boys like Blackie, so he can come out and be a winner and not have to run really long distances anymore. It’s been really fun, and it’s so great to have such a big crowd.
As the last rider of the day, Halliday-Sharp had the advantage of watching the other riders and looking for places where she could shave off time on course. “I knew the time was being fairly easy, but I also know Blackie so I thought I’d better keep my foot on the pedal the whole way, because once you get him in that switched on mode, he’s pretty awesome, but you can’t really let him switch off. I have to say that the horse was class. I mean, every fence was just spot on. He felt like the pro that he is. He deserves this as much as I do and my team does. He’s been a long time partner for me and it took a long time to get him in a happy place. I think 16 is his magic year! So, not a bad way to kick off the season.”
Doug Payne and Vandiver (owned by Doug, his wife Jessica and Debi Crowley) were the runners-up with a 30.8. Rounding out the top three was British legend William Fox-Pitt who catch-rode Hannah Salazar’s stallion Sandro’s Star, completing with a 31.3.