Postcard from the AHJF Hunter Classic

Wellington, Florida – Feb. 17, 2002 — She did it again. The fabulous mare Strapless — who always awes spectators with her soaring style — won the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation’s Hunter Classic Spectacular for the second year in a row last night.

“I can’t believe it,” said a stunned but happy Tom Wright, who trains the mare for her owner, Clara Lindner.

Everything about the bay Danish-bred regular working hunter is dramatic, from her powerful thrust over the fences to the amount of air she always leaves between the jumps and herself. But this time, she also provided some extra excitement in a real cliffhanger at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club.

After the first round, Strapless stood third, behind two horses of Louise Serio’s. Dream Date, a cute bay with a white blaze, was first with 90 points, followed by the brilliant chestnut, Red Panda, with 89.187. Strapless had a rub when rider Emily Williams pulled on her right rein at the next-to-last jump to make sure she picked up her right lead, and the mare cut down, uncharacteristically touching wood. But her total of 88.75 definitely put her in a come-from-behind position in third place.

“Three is my lucky number,” said Emily.

She was last to go in the second round, putting in an incredible trip that left one of the four sets of judges impressed, giving her an 89.5, while the others were just wowed, awarding 95, 96 and 95 points respectively.

That left her with an average of 91.375 for the two rounds, beating Dream Date’s 90. Worthington, with James Lala up, was third with 86.96, and Cody Baird’s Most Wanted, winner of the class two years ago, came in fourth with 86.84.

Wright couldn’t get over Strapless’ performance, which made the crowd gasp at the way she cleared the oxers.

“She loves these classes,” he said. “It’s like the mare knows it was important, and it was cool to have her go at the end.”

Winning twice was very special to Emily. “I knew it could be done, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. It doesn’t happen very often,” she pointed out.

Needless to say, Emily and company dote on the winner.

“Strapless is really, really spoiled,” Emily said proudly. “She’s like a pet more than a horse. She’d come in your house if you could fit her there.”

The class awarded about $43,000, with $12,000 going to the winner. Though the prize money was less than half of last year’s $100,000 purse,
riders had no quarrel with the amount.

What they came for was a shot at the glory that usually belongs to the jumpers at the Cosequin Winter Equestrian Festival, where they’re featured on the sweeping green stretch of the grand prix arena.

The classic is the hunters’ chance to shine in that venue and last night, they didn’t get it. A day-long storm drenched the grass, so the class was moved into the de Nemethy arena on the other side of the VIP tent. That meant those who paid $5,000 a table for a perfect view of the grand prix arena had their nameplates switched to tables that offered a perfect view of the de Nemethy, an all-weather ring that looked like an all-water ring by the end of the day.

“It’s really sad it’s raining,” said Cody, as she looked out across a gray, wet vista a few hours before the competition.

“The whole point of this is to be in the field. For once, the hunters are the main thing to watch there. People actually come to see us.”

The 15-year-old feared, “no one’s going to come.”

But she was wrong. In addition to the tent crowd, several hundred people sat on the wet grass and railroad ties around the arena to watch and comment knowledgably on what went on there.

The biggest surprise of the evening was Hollywood, Tim Goguen’s usually reliable gray mount, who got a little wild in the first round. Tim was having none of it and withdrew. He said the conditions had prevented him from warming up the way he needed to, but noted the footing was excellent despite the puddles.

Louise Serio, the founder of the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation with Geoff Teall, felt management had been very flexible under difficult circumstances, accommodating to the need for a last-minute change and letting the hunters hack in the ring where they were going to compete so the horses could get used to their surroundings.

She said she wasn’t disappointed about coming in second.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” said Louise, who won the professional title in the World Champion Hunter Rider competition last year. She noted her Oldenburg, who was doing the pre-greens last year, “was totally relaxed” for the class, “like he had done this before.”

The show wraps up today with the Idle Dice Grand Prix and Dressage. I’ll send you another postcard about all of that as soon as it’s over for the day.

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