Kevin Babington and Mark Q. Photo By: The Book, LLC.
Devon, Pa. – June 2, 2016 – The luck belonged to the Irish during the 2016 $225,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon CSI4*. Kevin Babington and Mark Q repeated their 2011 victory in the Dixon Oval, beating Danielle Torano and McLain Ward in a three-horse jump-off for the lion’s share of the prize money.
A crowd of 9,000 spectators turned out for the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair’s highlight event, watching as the best in the country competed over the technical CSI4* course built by Kelvin Bywater. Only three were able to master the first round, and it was Babington and Mark Q that were the pathfinders. Returning at the top of the tiebreaker, they once again left all the rails intact to set the pace to beat at 38.43 seconds.
“I thought to myself, whatever I do McLain is going to figure out a better plan anyway,” joked Babington. “The leave-out to the double was risky for me, but I knew I could be fast across the ring. At that stage I thought had already sort of lost it, but it’s always nice to win a class!”
The second to return was Danielle Torano aboard Callas III. With a slightly more conservative path on the young 9-year-old mount, the amateur rider and mother of two cleared the track in 39.49 seconds to take over second place behind Babington. At the end of the night, Torano was honored with the Richard E. McDevitt Style Award for the rider who exemplified the best style of riding.
“Callas III is a chestnut mare, so that should tell you a little bit,” laughed Torano. “She was pretty up in the schooling area before the first round, which rattled me for a minute. I decided there was nothing I could do, so I just went with it. To come in the ring and look at all the people – she’s never seen anything like that. As I went to the first jump she felt super focused, and she was amazing in the first round. I messed up a little bit in the jump-off, but she’s super careful.”
The crowd roared when the final rider of the night entered the Dixon Oval. Olympian McLain Ward on his Pan American Gold medalist-mount, Rothchild, seemed like a sure bet. Coming off a streak of eight international victories, Ward seemed unstoppable. And he was. Until the last fence.
As the crowd let out a yell at the penultimate vertical, Rothchild lost his focus on the homestretch to the final oxer and ducked out at the fence, much to the shock of all who watched. The error left Ward to pick up the third place prize while Babington led the lap of honor.
“What makes Rothchild great is that he’s sensitive, he’s sharp; he’s a little fireball,” explained Ward. “The place erupted and I think that rattled him slightly, but that’s brilliant. That’s what we need in the sport. I wouldn’t want it any different. I need to deal with it better; he needs to deal with it better. That’s what makes this place so special.”
Winning an international event five years later with the same mount takes a special horse, and for Babington, Mark Q is his favorite mount of all time.
“Carling King made me and is the horse of a lifetime,” said Babington. “Mark Q is my favorite horse that I’ve ever had. He’s stepped up to the plate so often, and he’s kept me in the sport and kept me jumping big classes, even when he shouldn’t have. I’d enter him in the HITS Million class, and he’d jump around and maybe pull one down, but on the day you can put him anywhere, indoors, outdoors. He’s not a superstar but he gives it 100 percent. Now, at 14, he’s jumping better than he has ever jumped.”
Babington added, “He just feels more elastic in his body for some reason. He’s more focused. He was a very difficult horse at the beginning; a very quirky horse. He’s still erratic and it’s still very hard to get his lead changes in the ring. But he’s trying to be careful. I don’t have to protect him as much as I used. He’s just in a happy place at the moment.”
With the addition of an international ranking through the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the Devon Horse Show has continued to try and improve the standards at the world-class event.
“I’ve always been a great fan of Devon,” noted Ward. “The team here has made it first class. I think becoming FEI 4*, increasing the prize money; I hope it continues to grow. I don’t think this group here will rest on their laurels. I think the goal will be to go to 5* and have even more money. I think the people will come. I think the riders will start to come.”
The Devon Horse Show is a special event for everyone involved, and consistently draws one of the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds in the world. “Devon is very special to me because I live 30 minutes from here,” noted Babington. “All the students are here tonight, people I helped 20 years ago are here tonight, so it’s definitely very special. It’s a fantastic venue and the footing is fantastic. Where else can you have such a crowd behind you than Devon? I tell all the other riders around: if you haven’t been to Devon it’s a show you have to come to!”
Show Manager Peter Doubleday concluded, “We basically tried to do everything that the riders had requested. We doubled the prize money. We went FEI. We truly believe that it’ll be a work in progress. I know with our group we can be very patient. We want to continue our FEI affiliation and to make it even bigger and better. This event to me and all these other riders will tell you that this is truly, truly the best show jumping audience in North America. We have a great product here and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Liza Boyd Wins the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
Thursday was derby day at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, and in true derby queen fashion, Liza Boyd bested the field of 24 to take home the blue ribbon aboard Like I Said in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, which was sponsored by the Wheeler Family in memory of the late Russell Frey.
In the first round, Nick Haness set the score to beat on Countdown, taking all four high options to finish with a score of 191. After the first round, Louise Serio was sitting pretty in second place aboard El Primero with a score of 187, which included the four bonus points for taking the high options.
Going into the handy round, Sandy Ferrell waited in third place on Meredith Lipke’s Fifty Shades with a score of 183, including an added four points for jumping the high options. Boyd sat in fourth aboard Billie Steffee’s Maggie May with a score of 181, also including an added four points for riding the high options.
Boyd and Pony Lane Farms’ Like I Said entered the handy hanging back in fifth place with a score of 178.5, which included four points for choosing the high options.
As the handy round began, it was clear that the Alan Lohman-designed course would dash the derby dreams of multiple riders, including Serio and El Primero’s, who were one of two entries to refuse the trot jump.
As Boyd returned on Like I Said, however, her tidy turns and forward ride caught the attention of the judges, earning her a whopping score of 213, including the added 9.5 points for handiness and four for choosing the high options. Much to father Jack Towell’s excitement, Boyd exited the ring and waited for the class to finish with a total score of 391.5.
“For me, I always like to be the underdog,” Boyd said. “I don’t mind going back a little low. These derbies are my passion. I absolutely love these, and I love the handy rounds. I love the excitement of it. Like I Said is a great mare. A good mare has a lot of desire, and that mare just dug deep and tried really hard for me. I just try to stay out of her way and just go forward. She’s a little bit like an old fashion hunter. I think she has a little bit more of a Thoroughbred-type of way of going.”
The 8-year-old Like I Said, one of only two mares in the class, actually began her career as a jumper under the tutelage of Kent Farrington. Boyd added that she thinks the mare’s strong base on the flat contributes greatly to her ability as a derby horse.
“Larry and Kelley did an amazing job producing her into a hunter in Florida this year,” Boyd commented. “For these derbies, you really have to do your homework and flat them. I think that’s what makes it exciting, at least for me. When I go home, I know what to work on. I do a lot of dressage lessons and flat work with the derby horses. You’re always trying to strive to improve yourself and your horse, and that’s fun for us as riders.”
Ferrell and Fifty Shades delivered a smooth ride as well, choosing to take three of the high options and impressing the judges to earn the duo and extra seven points for handiness for a final score of 379.
“He and I get along pretty well,” Ferrell said. “No one is quite sure how I stay on him because he jumps so high, but I just think it’s so much fun. I don’t even think about it. He gets a little too excited after the big jumps sometimes and loses a little focus, so that’s what I took into account when choosing to jump the low option at the first jump, because I had to turn tight. I took the safety route, which I lost some points on. I kept missing all week in the High Performance, and we put it together today, so that was really nice.”
Haness was the last entry to return aboard Countdown, and the pair laid down a nearly perfect trip as the crowd waited with baited breath. However, a heartbreaking knockdown at the last fence dashed the young professional’s hopes for the derby win.
Boyd and Like I Said’s high score of 391.5 would hold out for the top spot, leaving Ferrell and Fifty Shades in second with 379 points. Third place ended up going to Sloane Coles, who piloted Autumn Rhythm to a final score of 353.
“Today, I am second to the derby queen,” Ferrell laughed. “It’s like winning to me. It’s an honor to me. She is much more veteran at this than I am. She is one of my heroes. Getting beat by a good horse and a good rider is really ok. There is a lot of camaraderie out there. You have to have fun doing this.”
As the equestrian community grieves the loss of Russell Frey, Boyd added that the class being held in his memory made it very special for all of the riders.
“I think that Sandy [Ferrell] would say, as well, that this class being in memory of Russell [Frey] was special for everyone,” Boyd said. “I think he would’ve given us a run for our money today. We might be second and third right now. I think he would be happy.”
Ferrell added that showing at Devon this year has been such a pleasure and said, “I don’t come every year, but I thought that this year the horses as a whole jumped so beautifully and performed so well in all the classes.
“You had to win to win. I have never seen that many 90s in one horse show. You had two very veteran horsemen in there judging. It wasn’t people just throwing big numbers. They believed in what they saw. The horses, one after another, just kept coming in and being nicer and nicer. Kudos to the footing, the weather, the jumps and everyone behind the scenes.”
Amanda Murchison Wins the Robin Hill Challenge Trophy
Amanda Murchison has been waiting for the opportunity to compete at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair for nearly 30 years. On Thursday, she not only competed in the Dixon Oval, but she rode away with the Robin Hill Challenge Trophy and Devon blue ribbon in the Adult Three-Gaited English Show Pleasure class.
“It’s a dream come true to show in a place so historic, where so many amazing trainers have shown and so many horses have been exhibited,” Murchison said. “It’s such an honor.”
Murchison and her mount CH Spread the Word have been working together for about two years. In that time, the duo has claimed some of the highest honors in the discipline. Together, they’ve won the United Professional Horsemen’s Association American Saddlebred Adult Amateur Show Pleasure Horse of the Year and the Reserve World’s Champion of Champions Adult Three-Gaited Show Pleasure.
“I count my blessings every time I get to go through the gate on his back,” Murchison said about her horse. “He was a driving horse when we bought him, and my trainers David and Kristen Cater, and his caretaker Louise are so amazing. He’s been a dream come true for me.”
Unlike Murchison, Sallie-Mason Wheeler is no stranger to the Devon show grounds. The 14-year-old has been competing in the historic show for six years. In the Five-Gaited Saddle Horse Junior Exhibitor class, Wheeler took her chances aboard Bodidly and won.
“It’s my third show with him, and I just wanted to have a nice and clean go,” Wheeler said about the class. “It worked. Next time, in the championship, I have to show against the adults. So, I have to dig in a little bit more, but this ride was nice and clean. This show has a great atmosphere. You get to watch multiple disciplines, and I love it.”
A Devon veteran, who had never experienced the winner’s circle before, won the Park Horse Open blue ribbon. Emily Van Duren rode to her first victory aboard a new mount, My Royale Prince.
“I’ve shown here about six times,” Van Duren said. “It’s my favorite horse show ever. It’s pretty incredible to win here. I’ve always wanted to, ever since I was 11. It’s my first time winning here.”
Thursday marked the second day of competition for American Saddlebreds, Hackney ponies and Friesians at the 2016 Devon Horse Show. Coaching continued as well, with John White notching another victory in the division driving his White Road Coach Excelsior.
For more information, please visit www.DevonHorseShow.net.