Champions were crowned and victories savored at the close of the 2013 Galway Downs International Three-Day Event. The blue ribbon in the top international division, the CCI3*, went to Buck Davidson and Petite Flower, who finished on a score of 59.2. Jolie Wentworth and GoodKnight finished second (59.7), and Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and HHS Cooley (61.6) finished third.
“Nothing really happened like I expected this weekend,” said Davidson, shaking his head and enjoying the victory, his second career CCI3* victory. “But I do know that Petite Flower is world class. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it’s my job to bring it out in her.”
Equine Insurance of California, Land Rover, Professional’s Choice, the California Horse Trader and the PRO Tour were the Presenting Sponsors of the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event.
Davidson brought three horses from his home base in Rieglesville, Pa., to Temecula, Calif., but Petite Flower was a last-minute addition, after she’d not finished the Fair Hill CCI3* in Maryland three weeks ago. And then the three horses’ performances in the three phases sometimes made Davidson feel as if he was riding on a rollercoaster.
He started out the weekend in first place, but on a different horse, The Apprentice who was first in the ring for dressage, and no other horse could top his score of 48.9. Petite Flower was the lowest-placed of his three, standing seventh with 55.2. His third horse, Absolute Liberty, stood second with 50.2.
Saturday’s cross-country course turned those standings upside down, with Absolute Liberty being retired on course, and The Apprentice adding 14 time penalties to his score. But Petite Flower’s stunning double-clear round vaulted her in to the lead.
The bay mare lowered one rail in show jumping, but she still held her lead by a .5 over Wentworth.
Petite Flower, 11, won the Cooper Trophy as the winner and the new Livingstone Award at the highest-scoring Thoroughbred in the CCI3*. Rise Against, owned and ridden by Bunnie Sexton, won The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Award as the top-scoring Jockey Club-registered Thoroughbred. Rise Against finished in fifth place.
GoodKnight and Wentworth jumped perfectly over the show jumping course, following a brilliant cross-country round. “He’s typically a really good show jumper, so I was hopeful,” said Wentworth of GoodKnight, 11. “As long as I don’t make a mistake and panic, he can do it. Luck was on our side today.”
GoodKnight and Wentworth, 32, finished second in the CCI3* in 2011 and fourth in 2012. “He always runs well here, and Galway Downs has been a part of my life since I was a young rider, so there are a lot of incentives for us to come here every year,” said Wentworth, of Crockett, Calif.
Halliday-Sharp grew up just 20 minutes away from Galway Downs, and this year she decided to return to Galway Downs from her home in West Sussex, England, where she’s lived for 14 years. Her quick cross-country round on Saturday and her faultless show jumping round on Sunday propelled her to third place.
“It was kind of a leap of faith to come here, and I’m glad I did,” said Halliday-Sharp, 34. “I’ve seen people I haven’t seen in 20 years, who came here because they saw in the local paper that I was competing. It’s been amazing to be back here. It was the right event to come to.”
In the CCI2* Matt Brown, of Petaluma, Calif., dominated the top of the leader board, riding BCF Bellicoso (47.3) to first place and Super Socks BCF (52.9) to third place. Maya Black, of Whidbey Island, Wash., and Doesn’t Play Fair, the leaders for the first two days, knocked down one show jump to split Brown’s pair (50.2). This was BCF Bellicoso’s second CCI win in 2013, having won the CCI1* at Rebecca Farm in Montana in July. He also won the award as the top-placing 7-year-old.
“I’m not sure what finishing first and third means to me. I’m not used to doing so well, I guess,” said Brown, 37. “I’ve always had young or difficult horses to work with, so my focus in the last 10 years has been on trying to develop those horses. I love the process of bringing horses along, so it’s a different experience to have such top-quality horses as these, with good backgrounds.”
Brown’s world has changed in the last year, with the support of the Blossom Creek Foundation, whose sponsorship has allowed him to find several top-class horses on whom he can advance his international career.
“My focus is on me and those horses right now,” he continued. “And I guess what this weekend means is that it’s time to sit down and figure out the next step, because we have some really serious horses who have proved themselves now. If we’re going to make a go of it, we have to figure out what our next step is.”
Caroline Martin, of Rieglesville, Pa., won the Mia Eriksson Award as the highest-placed junior rider in the CCI2*. She rode Center Stage to fifth place (55.7)
Black, 25, wasn’t disappointed to finish second on Doesn’t Play Fair, who also finished second in the 2012 Galway Downs CCI1*. “I made a mistake, and we had a rail down,” she said. “I just couldn’t be more pleased with him. I’m really excited for the future with him. I have stuff to work on, but that’s what the winter is for.”
In the CCI1*, Ruth Bley rode two horses to ribbons, placing first with Rodrigue du Granit (43.3) and sixth with on Silver Sage (48.3). She started the weekend in third place on the bay Selle Francais gelding, but she added no penalties in the two jumping phases to move up steadily to capture the blue.
Bley, 54, also won the trophy as the top-scoring amateur rider in the CCI1*. She owns and manages an electrical contracting company that installs the electricity for bridges, tunnels and sports facilities, including the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
She bought Rodrigue du Granit in February and made Galway
Downs her year-end goal. “He’s just been getting better and better, but I think that the key for me was that we got here three days early, and I could just concentrate on me and my riding. It was nice to get here and just settle in,” said Bley.
Gina Economu, of Sun Valley, Calif., rode Covert to second place (43.7) and won the award for the top-scoring 6-year-old in the division, moving up from fifth and finishing on their dressage score. He just edged Fleur De Lis and Tami Smith (44.4), who led through the first two phases but lowered the last fence in show jumping.
“I cannot believe how amazing my horse was this weekend,” said Economu. “The cross-country course was very fair, but it was tough in what it asked, and it encouraged them to jump well.”
Lulu Shamberg, of Santa Monica, Calif., won the award for the top-placed junior rider in the CCI1*. She rode Amarna to fourth place (45.6).
In the Training Three-Day divisions, Kristi Nunnink, of Auburn, Calif., won division A on Lord Lombardi (33.6), edging Lindsay Weaver on Sintra (34.1) and Joe McKinley on Lone Tree Farm’s Street Wise (36.8). McKinley also finished fourth on Romulus (38.0). Yozamp, of Temecula, Calif., won division B on Wishbone (32.2), edging Kelly Pugh on Sportsfield Condi (32.5) and Kelsey Homes on NZB The Chosen One (33.4).
Nunnink and Lord Lombardi took the lead in dressage and never looked back, even though they lowered one rail in show jumping. Lord Lombardi is a 5-year-old Holsteiner gelding, whom Nunnink bought at age 3 from October Hill Farm in Texas.
“He’s more show jumping and dressage-bred, so it’s not his nature to gallop and jump out of stride. I ran him in the Training Level Three-Day Event because I was hoping the steeplechase phase would help that,” said Nunnink.
Nunnink had hoped to move Lord Lombardi up to preliminary level this fall, but Lord Lombardi had to miss a few events because Nunnink was in Europe competing her advanced horse R-Star. She just returned from France on Wednesday, flying into Ontario Airport, an hour north of Galway Downs.
“It’s really been a big group effort to compete in France and then come right back here. Everybody else did all the work, and I just showed up,” she said. “I thought running him here would be the perfect compromise, that it would be a good stepping stone for him.”
Weaver, of Morgan Hill, Calif., had a similar goal with Sintra. “I thought it was a step up from training level, more so than in the past. I thought this course really simulated the upper-level transition to FEI,” she said.
Like Nunnink, Weaver, 30, lowered a rail in show jumping. “I had a brain bleed earlier this year, and I forgot the course for a moment. I wasn’t sure which fence to jump, and I almost turned the wrong way, but I remembered at the last moment and sort of pulled her back to it, and we had a rail because of it,” she said.
Yozamp added no further penalties to her fourth-placed dressage score. Galway Downs was the second Training Level Three-Day Event for her and Wishbone, but Yozamp fell off in the first one because she was weak from suffering food poisoning.
“I was a lot more confident this time. Last time, I didn’t know what to expect. This time I was more relaxed, and I knew what was coming up,” said Yozamp, 20. Wishbone is as 5-year-old Holsteiner gelding.
Yozamp added, “Doing the full cross-country yesterday, with the steeplechase and the roads and tracks, was the most educational thing for me and for him. He’s really proven to be very brave and a very, very honest horse.”
Pugh, 23, imported Sportsfield Condi, 5, form Ireland only four months ago. So she entered her horse to further his education too. “The cross-country course asked a lot of good questions. He definitely grew up a lot from the start to the finish—the sign of a good course,” she said.