In a field crowded with Olympic and recent World Equestrian Games medalists, an 18-year-old Belgian riding his Children’s Jumper didn’t seem an obvious Grand Prix threat at the inaugural Longines Los Angeles Masters Grand Prix. But that’s just what Jos Verlooy and his 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood Domino did during the 5* competition’s finale. The newest in the Grand Slam Indoor series, the competition was held Sept. 25-28 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, in the heart of downtown.
Riding 14th out of 42, Verlooy was the first clear over Luc Musette and Olaf Petersen, Jr.’s formidable track. Eight clears were predicted and six emerged through the first round: Georgina Bloomberg, Lauren Hough, Swiss reigning Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, world number-five ranked Kevin Staut of France and Ireland’s Cameron Hanley.
Returning first to tackle a shortened, raised course that culminated with a long gallop to an imposing oxer, Verlooy logged another smooth, confident clear round in 38.11 seconds. Fresh from a win the previous week at another new big city event, the Central Park Horse Show, Bloomberg opted for clear over fast. Her 13-year-old Cassini 1 mare is not as quick as smaller competitors, so she followed Verlooy’s round with an efficient track that was almost four seconds slower. Hanley, Hough and Stout were out to win, but each had a rail, leaving Guerdat in the catbird seat of knowing the time needed to get the winner’s $175,000 share of the $475,000 prize. He was a tick too slow, at 38.98 seconds but seemed happy with the result because his mare, Albfuehren’s Paille, is a relatively new ride.
Verlooy was not quite the long shot he looked. His father, Axel Verlooy, is a rider and dealer, and Jos made the Belgian WEG team when veteran Jos Lansink had to bow out at the last minute. He and his 11-year-old Domino have “learned a lot from each other” since starting in the Children’s Jumpers four years ago. To go from that to a 5* victory “feels pretty good!” he said.
The 5* Longines Grand Prix closed out the well-attended four-day tournament. Three levels of jumping-only competition—national, 2* and 5*, drew a mix of exhibitors. 51 horses were flown in from Europe and another 150 traveled from Canada, Mexico and both coasts. All of the horses were stabled in the underground parking lot below the exhibition hall.
Advocates have long said that domestic showjumping should be run European style for it to have a chance of approaching mainstream attention. The Los Angeles Masters, the latest in the Grand Slam Indoor series, was exactly that. Art, equestrian and couture apparel, gourmet food, live music and roaming stilt-walkers were among the offerings in the Prestige Village that surrounded the warm-up ring, adjacent to the main ring. Fans were encouraged to lounge, dine and shop and/or watch the likes of Beezie Madden, Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and world number-one ranked Scott Brash ready their mounts. Photo ops and autograph signings were plentiful.
Slick staging and fast-paced presentation made for entertaining evenings, although European-style 9:30 p.m. main events were tough for some.During Sunday afternoon’s jump-off, each rider was quickly whisked out of the saddle and into an interview displayed to the crowd on the Jumbotron. They answered questions about their ride before they’d even caught their breath. With Jessica Springsteen, Jennifer Gates and Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Couco on the exhibitors list, there were plenty of celebrities in the house: Bruce Springsteen, Bill Gates, Angelica Huston, James Caan, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf among them.
Intense competition dominated the main ring most of the time. World Equestrian Games team and individual silver medalist Patrice Delaveau of France took top honors in Saturday afternoon’s 1.5m Fox Sports Trophy class, and world number-three ranked Kent Farrington was the winner in that night’s 1.55m Battle of the Nations.
Silliness had a memorable place, too. Saturday afternoon’s Pro Am Charity added jumping performance and style points to determine its winners. The standings were topped by the dynamic duo of Batman-themed Laura Kraut and Hannah Selleck riding for Just World International. Dressed as California surfers and representing the Compton Junior Posse, 2008 Olympian Will Simpson and student Hannah von Heidegger came in second with a routine that included Simpson surfing an oxer. Finishing third were “Master Of Faster,” Richard Spooner and Jennifer Gates, in racecar driver get-ups on behalf of Mustard Seed Ranch. Olympian and three-time World Cup champion Rodrigo Pessoa didn’t win, but his blue wig and cupcake brassiere, which he adjusted mid-jump, had an already boisterous crowd extra delighted.
Masters Grand Slam Indoors organizers, EEM World, have established the series in Paris and Hong Kong and have contracted to bring it back to Los Angeles for at least the next five years. Asked what prompted him and other Europeans to cross the Atlantic, Steve Guerdat explained, “It’s a great destination and knowing what kind of show these organizers put on, it was something we didn’t think twice about.”