Penny Brennan pilots Sun Tzu to the win.
The sunny, blue skies and warm temperatures returned to the Gulf Coast Winter Classic, just in time for yesterday’s $35,000 Budweiser Grand Prix.
As the 2 pm start time neared, the crowds filed into the bleachers and around the world class grand prix field to catch a good seat to watch 29 horse and rider teams prepared to tackle the course designed by one of the most famous and well-respected course designers in the world, Leopoldo Palacios of Caracas, Venezuela.
“In the beginning I wanted ten to seven to jump off and as far as double cleans, maybe we’d have six or five,” commented Palacios. Palacios was right on the money and eight went clean in the first round.
The most challenging aspect of the first round, according to Palacios was the position of the triple combination. “I designed it so the VIP, sponsors and audience could see it close up. The position of the triple combination and the distance was a normal one to a little bit long and sometimes when you push too much, you get the front pole. Come in too fast and the middle is tight, you’ll drop a back rail. This was the toughest part of this course,” he commented.
Frank Owens of Windcrest, Texas in the irons of DS Holdings, LLC’s Capricello 2 turned in the first clear round in a time of 79.254 seconds, well within the 83 seconds time allowed.
Second to go clear was crowd favorite Matt Cyphert of Northlake, Texas and his own Lochinvar. The pair turned in clear first round in a time of 76.931 seconds and insured there would be a jump off!
Scott Head’s Carjo Z, ridden by Christoph Schroeder of Wellington, Florida, joined the jump off roster after posting a clear first round in a time of 79.733 seconds.
Brooke Kemper of Culpeper, Virginia and her own Classified followed with a clear first round in a time 80.932 seconds and became the fourth to qualify for the jump off round.
Loretta Patterson’s Triompf, ridden by Holly Shepherd of Grand Bay, Alabama, turned in a clear first round in a time of 78.966 seconds and joined the jump off roster.
Ciana, owned by Eagle Valley Partners, LLC, and ridden by Andy Kocher of Ocala, Florida, winners of last week’s $35,000 Apollo Jets Grand Prix, added themselves to the jump off list after posting a clear first round time in 77.331 seconds.
Penny Brennan of Buhl, Alabama and her own Sun Tzu posted the next clear round. This was the second ride for Brennan and her first to go clear in a time of 79.411 seconds.
Helen Gilbert’s Emir D, ridden by Shannon Hicks of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, added themselves to the jump off roster and became eighth to go clear in the first round after posting a time of 80.264 seconds.
Palacios set the jump off round with a time allowed of 60 seconds. Owens and Capricello 2 were first to enter the jump off phase and earned a four fault round in a time of 45.963 seconds.
Cyphert and his own Lochinvar followed fellow Texan Owen and posted the first clear jump off round in a time of 42.450 seconds to the delight of the crowd.
Schroeder and Helianta followed Cyphert and posted a clear second round in a time of 41.697 seconds, setting the new time to beat and temporarily taking the lead.
Kemper and Classified were next to go in the order of go. Their jump off round in a time of 43.329 seconds with eight jump faults would have them finish in eighth place overall.
Shepherd and Triompf followed Kemper and posted a clear second round in a time of 41.762 seconds.
Ciana and Kocher followed Triompf and beat Schroeder’s time in a lightning fast clear second round in a time of 41.596 seconds taking the lead.
The lead wouldn’t last for long. Brennan and Sun Tzu came in for their turn at the jump off and posted the fastest clear round in a time of 39.160 seconds, bringing the cheering crowd to their feet!
Hicks and Emir D sat in the desirable last to go spot, but four faults in a time of 47.796 would see them finish in seventh place and leave Brennan and Sun Tzu in the winner’s circle.
“I didn’t know we had the class until I looked up and saw the scoreboard,” said Brennan. “I knew it was going to be close, but I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the 39,” she said. “Hearing the crowd cheer was just awesome,” she said happily.
“My plan for the jump off was don’t pull on the reins,” she laughed, “That’s all I had,” she said. “TJ has been helping me here and he told me when I walked the course, ‘Don’t walk it faster; walk it shorter,’ and that made a world of difference to me,” she said.
“I gave myself an extra stride back to two which was more than anyone else. But I approached it more straight and everyone else sliced it more,” Brennan commented. “When you slice it, it kind of swings the turn. When you jump it straight, you can just swing right back and that made a huge difference. Taking a stride to two saved me two strides on landing,” Brennan commented. “When I did the liverpool I was super deep and I was nearly at a standstill and he [Sun Tzu] just jumped like a cat. But that made the five stride easy because it rode a little tight and walked three feet short,” she added.
“What a great jump off,” she continued. “It was just a run. I ran flat straight out to that vertical 24′ and Sun Tzu knew exactly what I was doing. We’ve been together a long time,” she said. “He jumped in there and took a tiny little bunny hop and jumped right out. TJ told me to open my right rein on landing and give it all I had for the last jump and that made the difference,” she said. “I can’t thank him enough and I dedicate this win to him,” she added. “This course was a little bit technical and I think it had to be ridden more than people may have given it credit for,” she added. “I absolutely loved it and had a blast. Leopoldo really designed a beautiful course,” she said.
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