“Tailor” goes out in style at the Fair Hill CCI***

David O'Connor announced, several days prior to the start of the 2002 Fair Hill International CCI*** that it would be Custom Made's last three day event. The 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, owned by Xandarius, LLC (Joseph Zada) has been one of the most successful event horses ever to look through a bridle. He won the Rolex-Kentucky CCI***, in 1995; placed 3rd at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI****, in 1996, and went on ...David O'Connor announced, several days prior to the start of the 2002 Fair Hill International CCI*** that it would be Custom Made's last three day event. The 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, owned by Xandarius, LLC (Joseph Zada) has been one of the most successful event horses ever to look through a bridle. He won the Rolex-Kentucky CCI***, in 1995; placed 3rd at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI****, in 1996, and went on ...

Story originally posted by: Cora C. Cushny

David O’Connor announced, several days prior to the start of the 2002 Fair Hill International CCI*** that it would be Custom Made’s last three day event. The 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, owned by Xandarius, LLC (Joseph Zada) has been one of the most successful event horses ever to look through a bridle. He won the Rolex-Kentucky CCI***, in 1995; placed 3rd at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI****, in 1996, and went on to finish 5th in the Individual Competition at the Atlanta Olympic Games that year. In 1997, Custom Made, known as "Tailor", became only the second American horse ever to win the Badminton CCI****. Custom Made’s career topper became his Individual Gold Medal, won at the Sydney Olympic Games, with David, in 2000.

Why run a 17-year-old horse, with a fabulous CCI**** record like Tailor’s at Fair Hill’s CCI***, you may ask… Isn’t it gilding the lily? O’Connor had gotten "Tailor" to the peak of fitness this year for a possible run at the WEG, should he be needed to replace his other superstar, the 16-year-old Giltedge. (Giltedge was, in fact, a member of the Gold Medal Team at Jerez, Spain, in September.) He had traveled to England and Spain, he was dead fit. Why not give him a final run?

Consequently, Fair Hill 2002 was all about Custom Made. He led the dressage phase, from 65 starters, until Darren Chiacchia and his black Trakehner stallion Windfall turned in a beautifully precise and forward test towards the end of Friday’s competition, to lead by .21 of a fault. O’Connor also placed 3rd in dressage with Jodi Platto’s Texas Pride, while Corinne Ashton was 4th with her own Dobbin.

Thursday and Friday had been drippy and drizzly. Friday night the heavens opened dousing Fair Hill’s vaunted old turf with between 3/4 and 1 1/2 inches of rain, and the going became what race pundits would call "holding." Custom Made was the 14th horse to enter the start box. As he progressed around the course the paean rose to a crescendo. One could tell where Custom Made was from the sounds of applause from the crowd, all of whom knew that America’s grand old man of eventing was making his last run over a cross country course.

O’Connor said, "As we started, I leaned down and patted him and said, ‘One more time old man’. He went down and tried to run through the first fence. I said, ‘Well, life is normal.’

"[All the way around] the crowd went crazy. That was a great feeling," he finished with a smile.

Custom Made crossed the finish line with no jumping faults and 7.6 time faults for a score of 44.61, good enough for first place after cross-country. Young phenom, 21-year-old Will Faudree, a working pupil of Phillip Dutton’s, who is originally from West Texas, stood second with a double clear on the cross-country, riding Antigua. Their score of 46.80 was 2.19 faults adrift of the leader.

Heidi White, who also works for and with Dutton, placed 3rd with Northern Spy. That pair turned in the only other double clear of the competition for a score of 48.41. Dutton, himself, riding his wife Evie’s Dusky Moon for Australia, was 4th on 49.60. Darren Chiacchia and Windfall, the dressage leaders, dropped to 5th, having picked up 14.8 time faults.

A rail separated the top four going into show jumping. Sally Ike’s course was a technical one and the time was tight. The only double-clear round of the day belonged to Canada’s Hawley Bennet and Livingstone, who finished 14th. Dutton and Dusky Moon jumped one of only three clear show jumping rounds, though he did pick up two time faults. That performance was good enough to move him in to second. Faudree had two rails with Antigua to drop to 4th. White and Northern Spy had one rail down to hold on to third. With each round, the pressure rose for Custom Made and O’Connor-he could afford one rail to stay ahead of Dutton, but not two.

The largest crowd ever to view show jumping at Fair Hill was hushed as the horse they had all come to see entered the arena for the final time. Custom Made had one rail and two seconds in hand. It seemed endlessly slow as the old horse negotiated fence after fence. The crowd groaned as one, when a rail hit the ground. Now he had to go clean the rest of the way. Custom Made’s pass over the last line went in slow motion. Clear …, clear …, clear!! No time faults! The crowd erupted! Custom Made and David O’Connor had climbed their last mountain together. The impossible dream had come true. One of the greatest eventing horses of all time – the Kentucky winner, the Badminton winner, the reigning Olympic Individual Champion – had won his final event!

"If he is listening, he usually jumps clean," O’Connor stated afterwards. "I did the inside turn to three. You almost feel like it is a little bit out of your control. You don’t know how the day is going to go. It’s a fairy tale!"

Now that the full measure of the weekend has come to bear, O’Connor is reflective about his time with Tailor. ‘With a horse like Custom Made, you become a part of his career, rather than his being a part of your career," he said.

Thanks, Custom Made. David says that you don’t owe anyone anything. That may well be; but we owe you thanks for having made our lives richer with you fabulous performances. Long may your record stand! Long may each of us, who have followed your career and enjoyed your success, remember your greatness!