Margie Engle and Royce.
Lexington, KY – May 17, 2014 – For the second year in a row, Margie Engle and Royce galloped to victory in the $75,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix, sponsored by Audi of Lexington, at the Kentucky Spring Classic. This year was different though, as the talented duo had to best a 22-horse jump-off, showcasing not just power, but speed as well. Engle and Royce, owned by Elm Rock Partners LLC, made perfect turns and left each rail in place to finish ahead of eight other double clears and lead the victory gallop. Shane Sweetnam with Eregast van’t Kiezelhof and Pablo Barrios aboard Ambosell set the early pace, but had to settle for second and third, respectively.
Forty-five riders showed over Michel Vaillancourt’s first round track, which yielded a surprising 22 clear rounds, making the jump-off a true horse race, not unlike today’s Preakness Stakes. “They jump so well on this footing,” explained Engle. “You get a lot clean. It’s a good group of horses, and the horses love this footing.”
For the tiebreaker, riders had to make three major rollbacks, including two at the beginning from a wide oxer to a tall vertical and back to an oxer-vertical double combination. The horses that were able to make the tightest turns without a mistake ended up at the top of the leader board.
The first to return were pathfinders Pablo Barrios of Venezuela and Ambosell. They set the target at 41.937 seconds, and while they were able to do it without fault, many that tried to catch them did not have the same luck. One of the only horse and rider combinations to do so was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam riding Eregast van’t Kiezelhof for Spy Coast Farm. They were able to make the rollbacks nicely and gallop quickly to the final oxer to finish in 40.171 seconds.
“Eregast van’t Kiezelhof can really cover the ground, but he’s not used to doing jump-offs so he has to learn that a little bit,” noted Sweetnam. “I thought he did a good job. Maybe when he’s done a few more jump-offs, he can be even a little quicker than that. I was happy with him though.”
When Margie Engle entered the Rolex Stadium with Royce she knew there were multiple riders left to show and that she would need to give it her all. They picked up a quick gallop to the first oxer and never looked back, slicing the next vertical as sharply as possible and then rolling back quickly to the double combination. Engle and Royce left out a stride to the final fence, and all of the risks paid off when they blazed through the timers in a clear 39.801 seconds.
“I went faster than I normally do with Royce,” admitted Engle. “Slow and clean wasn’t going to be a big piece of it, and I’ve spent a lot of time just going slow with him. It was good practice for him to take a shot and practice going quicker. He’s starting to ride so much better. He sliced so quickly to the second jump, and then back on the double. That’s where it’s nice to have scope – he just exploded over it.”
Eleven riders tried to beat Royce, but no one was able to do so without error. Callan Solem was the only rider that came close after Engle’s round, completing a clear round with Horsehoe Trail Farm’s VDL Wizard, but her time of 41.939 seconds would only be good enough for fourth. Sweetnam and Barrios took home second and third, respectively, while Engle was the clear winner.
“It’s never over until it’s over,” laughed Engle. “With that many in it, and with me going early in the pack, I knew there were fast ones behind me, but I feel like we’re really starting to form a partnership now. He’s not naturally a fast horse. He’s a slower, scopier type, but he covers a ton of ground. I knew that I could turn hard to the double because he has so much scope that he can jump through there easily. He sliced the vertical in the middle really nicely too. He hasn’t done many jump-offs like that, so I am really happy with him.”
It has been a great two weeks for Engle in Kentucky, who just won last week’s $75,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix with Indigo. Tonight, she defended her title in the $75,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix, having won it in 2013 with Royce. “Last year was kind of a turning point with him. I didn’t go as fast as tonight, but it was the first time I really started to push him. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a horse with his scope and ability. The rideability is getting better and better, and I am really happy with the partnership.”
Engle is part of the short list for the U.S. Show Jumping Team for the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland was onsite to witness Engle’s victory. “Last summer I did the [Longines Global Champions Tour], and even showing two rounds was not really taxing on him,” said Engle. “That was the first time I had to show him a couple days in a row, and I think he’s got the ability to do that and not just do one class a week. At the World Equestrian Games it’s a lot of rounds. His natural scope and carefulness is amazing.”
The next stop for Engle and Royce will be the Devon Horse Show, followed by the Lake Placid Horse Shows, and then they will head to Hickstead and Aachen as part of the Observation Events for the short listed riders.
Engle concluded, “I am lucky to have nice owners. They have been really supportive, and they stood by me when I was injured. I feel really lucky to have people like that supporting me. Royce had a lot of raw ability when we got him, and they were fine with me taking our time and not going fast. Now it’s paying off.”
The jumper action at the Kentucky Spring Classic concludes tomorrow with the $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior and Amateur-Owner Show Jumping Hall of Fame Classics sponsored by Sleepy P Ranch & Audi of Lexington in the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park.
To learn more about the Kentucky Spring Horse Show, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
Rebecca Walton for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International