The Hampton Classic Horse Show means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But this year, the focus of it was Georgina Bloomberg, the slender young woman who qualified for the $250,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix, the last and most climactic event of this week-long show, held last Sunday in the main arena before a crowd of over 4,000 people.
Georgina now qualifies as a “local.” Her father is the Mayor of New York, and two years ago he famously bought an estate in Southampton for his clan. But could she win a Grand Prix in Bridgehampton? Winning it would give her points toward the FEI World Cup. This would be a very big deal.
The Mayor himself would attend to cheer her on, of course, as he has every year since she began competing in various events here in Bridgehampton. Early on, he’d come out from the city. But now he had a house here. And this was special. Until this year, he has bought one table for eight, front and center under the VIP tent. This year, as she has risen through the ranks as one of the premiere riders in the sport, he bought two tables, side by side.
Georgina had qualified for the event, but so had 36 other champion riders. Some had come from a thousand miles away or more to compete. Some had won Olympic medals. Some had won this event before. In particular, McLain Ward was here. He’s an Olympian who has won here three times. Kent Farrington was here. He won last year and would be defending his title.
And then there was the matter that Georgina was pregnant. It wasn’t announced how pregnant, but at a certain point she would be unable to compete. Also there was the matter of having a fall. They have happened. A horse balks at a fence and throws off a rider. We’ve had ambulances out on the field.
Everyone was rooting for her. Out of the 37 riders who would compete, going out there one after the other to jump the fences, she was listed as number 33. Her try at the fences would come toward the end.
There had been a shower earlier in the day. The field was wet and soft. This would be hard on the horses.
The rules were simple. Each horse and rider would be announced over a loud speaker. Then the horse and rider would enter the ring as a clock counted down from 45 seconds so the horse and the rider could see the 13 fences and how they were arrayed. Then they would get down to business. The first out was Woklahoma, a mare, ridden by Roberto Teran of Wellington, Florida. The pair studied the fences—the course is different at every event—then, after some applause from the crowd, accelerated to the cantor necessary to get up to speed, crossed the starting line and headed toward the first jump. The rider and horse were one, sizing it up, then there was the magnificent leap, the clearing of the fence, the landing, and then it was off toward the second fence.
The rule is that if you knock a railing off a fence, and a tap of a hoof could do that, you were penalized four points. You had to complete the course in 85 seconds; there was a penalty for the time you went over. The horse and rider with the lowest point score and fastest time wins. If there was a tie with the lowest score, then those who tied would have a jump-off. The goal of course was to have no points and do it in the shortest time.
Woklahoma completed the course with several faults, and then came Bonanza Van Paemel and Carlos V.H.P.Z. and Kismet 50. All clipped the rails. As more came out to try, one at a time, it became apparent that this course would be very difficult on this day, much more difficult than in prior years.
Was it the weather? The heights of the rails? In prior years, usually there are about eight horses out of the 35 or so who go through the course with no faults at all, and then all eight compete in the jump-off. On this day, the first 18 who went out knocked off a rail. Glory Days, ridden by Katie Dinan at #15, got to the very last fence before knocking one off, which got groans and applause for trying from the crowd.
It was so interesting to watch these graceful animals leaping over these fences. You could see them deferring to their riders, trusting that they would be put in a good position to make the leap, then straining to do so and going off flying so handsomely through the air.
You could try to judge how these different animals did. There were large horses who struggled, there were lean and eager horses who just flew, there were some that fought the bit in their mouths as they went, trying to get it straight so they could keep focus. It is breathtaking just to watch horses and riders of this caliber jump over fences.
By the time Georgina’s turn came at #33, there had been only two horse and riders that cleared the course without making a fault. At #29, four before Georgina, past champion McLain Ward of Brewster, NY came out upon his steed Rothchild and jumped a sensational round. He finished the first 12 perfectly but then, on the very last jump, a hoof hit a rail and that was that. The crowd had gotten so excited, but after the sound of horseshoe on wood and the clattering of the rail to the ground, they groaned sadly. Couldn’t anybody other than this one person take this course clean?
At #31, Richie Moloney, riding Slieveanorra, became the second to do so, and then, two riders later, Georgina Bloomberg on her grey mare Juvina was introduced and came out.
I was struck when I first saw her on her horse just how small and slender she appeared to be. How could she do this? Soon it became clear how she would. She confidently took command, remained focused and, one jump after another, took Juvina cleanly over the fences. Almost all who hit railings off did so on the last half of the course, when keeping focused is more difficult and the horses tire. This, however, on this day, did not happen to Georgina. Her horse did fight with her bit, and whatever was causing that seemed to slow her down as she eyed the upcoming fences, but she was willing, strong enough and eager enough and she got over clean. She would be in the final!
On two of the four sides of the ring, there are long, low tents extending for a hundred yards or more under which sit all the VIPs and celebrities at their tables. In past years, the great parade of people, men in their Sunday best, women in their gowns and fancy hats, strolled from one end of these tents to the other along the corridor separating the two rows of tables, meeting and greeting one another, having their photos taken, enjoying the day, even continuing to do this during the time the Grand Prix final event was going on!
This was not the case on this day. All that social activity had stopped when Georgina came out. People got as close as they could to the box seats facing the horse show grounds. As Georgina cleared that last hurdle clean, a roar of delight went up that I had never heard before in that arena. She was now tied for the lead! And so the jump-off took place. It would be on a shorter course to accommodate the great effort that the horses had already expended. It would have to be completed in 46 seconds. And so, after a short intermission, it began.
The first to ride was Kevin Babington on Mark Q, and they knocked off a railing while completing the course and so got four points. Next it was Richie Moloney aboard Slieveanorra, and they completed the jumps in 40 seconds flat with no fault at all. They were now in the lead.
Third came Georgina. After her would come two final contestants who had competed the course with no faults at all, one of whom was Kent Farrington, the defending champion.
Georgina took Juvina into the cantor and past the starting line to begin the run. Juvina could be seen fighting with the bit again and it slowed them, but they continued on, and never even touched a fence. Her time, with no faults at all, was 44.03.
There is no third jump-off. After the second, the first prize goes to the horse and rider who complete the course with no faults at all, but in the best time. Georgina, therefore, was now second. And there would be two more to follow.
In the end, the event was won by last year’s champion, Kent Farrington, who cleared all the fences after Georgina but in a time of 38.51, nearly one and a half seconds faster than the second-place rider. Georgina Bloomberg finished third—she’d take home $37,500.
Georgina is 30 years old. She’s got a whole riding career in front of her. We congratulate Kent Farrington, his horse Zafira and the Amalaya Investments of the Woodlands, Texas, but we just loved watching Georgina ride, and hope she’ll be back next year and the year after to hopefully win the big prize for Southampton.