Mexico’s Jaime Azcarraga smiled broadly and patted the neck of his horse Anton as he accepted winner’s honors in center ring at the Guadalajara Country Club on Thursday, January 26th, 2017.
Azcarraga is one of Mexico’s most famous riders: he is a four-time Olympian and the 2015 winner of the HITS Thermal AIG $1 Million Grand Prix. But on Thursday when he won the $35,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Qualifier CSI4*-W in Guadalajara, Mexico, he was simply a horseman thrilled with the successful comeback of his longtime partner.
Underneath a bright winter sun in front of an enthusiastic crowd, it was clear that the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League has found a fitting Mexican stop in bustling Guadalajara.
With one long side of the arena flanked by a multi-level VIP tent and the main arena within full view of the warmup rings, the atmosphere was intimate and easily accessible for all.
“This is a beautiful city,” Azcarraga said. “It’s growing, and it’s a nice place to show. The sport here is getting huge; young riders are coming up and I think people are really interested about show jumping. Every year, it’s getting better.”
Plenty of those young riders are currently in Guadalajara to compete in the FEI Children’s International Classics, which is running alongside CSI4*-W competition this weekend. The Guadalajara Country Club lies within a posh, multi-sports complex that includes clay tennis courts and a sweeping golf club, both of which can be seen from the equestrian facilities, which operate year-round.
An entry list of 37 filled the order to take on course designer Olaf Petersen’s 1.50m track. With plenty of space to cover over a galloping first round, the final fence on course, an oxer that rode towards the far corner of the arena, came down multiple times when horses tired.
But other than that, there were no real trouble spots on course, and six riders found a clear path over Round 1 to qualify for the jumpoff. Four other pairs would have joined them if not for a single time fault on course that prevented their return.
Azcarraga is no stranger to a heated jumpoff, but he especially relished this one, as the class marked a return to the big level for both himself, and his horse. Both he and Anton, a 13-year-old AES gelding spent much of 2016 recovering from respective leg injuries. In January 2016 Azcarraga fractured his ankle in three places, and the fall prior to that, Anton put himself out of commission with an overreach injury.
Azcarraga, who is based in Mexico but often competes on the West Coast of the United States in California, carefully brought both himself and his horse back to full work. In October, they jumped their first CSI competition in a year, at San Miguel de Allende, where they won the CSI2* Grand Prix.
“It was almost four months just working and working and starting in small shows,” Azcarraga shared about the path back to the CSI4* level. “You have to start from scratch and get them back in shape.”
With this win, Azcarraga is looking forward to Saturday’s $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping CSI4*-W, which he sees as another valuable chance to prepare for a competitive 2017.
Brazil’s Rodrigo Lambre rode a quick round aboard Chaccima to place 2nd in the Qualifier, and Mexican rider Jose Alberto Martinez Vazquez placed 3rd with No Limint. The three top pairs were the only ones to finish their day on a double-clear score; in 4th place was Juan Manuel Luzardo and Stan of Uruguay. As the 2016 winner of Mexico’s Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™, Luzardo and Stan are hoping to defend their title and they looked in strong form, with just one rail down in today’s jumpoff.
The Qualifier was a preview to Saturday’s feature class, in which 40 riders can qualify to take place. With a competition roster that is 100% made up of Latin and South American roster, this stop on the Longines FEI North American League’s calendar set to be a display of talent by those riders on their home turf.
The $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping CSI4*-W Guadalajara takes place on Saturday, January 28th, 2017 at 1:30pm local time. The class will be broadcast live via FEITV.org.