The climax of the 2016 Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton came on Sunday with the 39th running of the Hampton Classic Grand Prix. Among the riders were Karen Polle of New York City, who won the event last year aboard her horse With Wings, and McLain Ward of Brewster, NY, who has won the Classic six times in the last 19 outings on a total of four different horses, most recently on Antares F in 2011.
Also competing were several riders from the American Olympic Team who won medals in Rio a few weeks ago. The Grand Prix is one of the two or three top horse shows in America. It is a highly competitive and important event with $300,000 in prizes offered this year for the winners.
29 horses competed this year. And they came to Bridgehampton from all over the world. On two occasions in the past, local riders from Southampton have won this event. They were Conrad Homfeld in 1982 and Joe Fargis in 1991. This year, Richie Moloney from Kilkenny, Ireland, who summers in Riverhead, was entered. He’s won other jumping events in summers past, and last year was the Longines Rider Challenge winner, having won more jumping events at the Hampton Grand Prix during the prior week than any other. Also competing this year was Georgina Bloomberg of New York City and Southampton. She’s the youngest daughter of the former Mayor of New York City.
Dan’s Papers has had a table on the sidelines for Grand Prix Sunday since the founding of the Grand Prix nearly a half-century ago, and this year I sat at the railing at the last jump for the entire final Grand Prix event.
Most people come to the horse show–usually about 15,000 attend–to see the celebrities who show up on the final day–it’s a runway of almost Fifth Avenue Easter Parade proportions with fancy white hats and clothing, but I watch the sporting event, saving my handshakes and hugs time for before and after.
The Grand Prix event began around noon, a few hours earlier than usual in deference to what was expected to be stormy weather. Eighteen beautifully decorated wooden fences are set up in a ring. All the entrants get a turn to try jumping over all the fences without knocking any of the railings down. They have to complete the job in 86 seconds or less. If they go over the allotted time, they receive point deductions. If they knock over a rail they receive point deductions. Usually three or four horses and riders get over the initial try “clean” and go on to a final jump-off. How the heights of the fences result in this I do not know. But there has never a time when the bars were set so high that none could do it. And there was never a time when the bars were set so low that almost everyone does it. It’s a real art designing such a jumping course. This year’s course was designed by Alan Wade.
It’s an enormous pleasure watching these horses and riders, all athletes, compete up close and personal sitting just fifteen feet from where they make the final jump.
The first jumper was Katie Cox from Conroe Texas atop Hocus Pocus VH Hof Ter Heide. They got through the course in time, but when arriving at that last jump they leaped high up and over, but then the horse caught that top bar with a clang of a rear horseshoe and sent the bar sprawling. The crowd went aaaah. Too bad.
These thoroughbred horses weigh about 800 pounds. What if one tripped and sprawled into the flimsy wooden wall where I was sitting? The bar could have gotten tossed that far. Earlier in the week, a young rider named Rebecca Weissbard of Manorville died at a jumping event at Saugerties in Upstate New York when her horse fell on her. It’s a dangerous business. Never forget it.
In fact, after 14 had taken the jumps here, just one, Karen Polle–last year’s winner now riding With Wings–had come through clean. We were halfway done. If she were the only one in the remaining half of the jumpers, there’d be no jump-off. Just her declared the winner.
As it turned out, however, there were four others. They were Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, NY aboard Quister, Charles Jacobs of Boston aboard Cassinja S, Richie Moloney of Riverhead aboard Carrabis Z and Andrew Welles of Wellington, Florida aboard Brindis Bogibo.
Honestly, I was rooting for Richie Moloney. It would be nice to see another local win–although Moloney is Irish and just summers in Riverhead. In any case, from ringside one can watch every rider straining for balance, control and communication, and the horses themselves—these great and wonderful beasts, all shiny and eager and excited as they size up what is to come next and get the go-head from above to take a deep breath and thunder through. Jumping comes naturally to a horse.
There’s about a 20-minute delay between the first event and the jump off so the crew at the event can reduce the number of fences and shorten the distance. The winner from the five finalists would be whoever had the fewest faults in the shortest amount of time. The outside time for the final was to be 42 seconds.
Karen Polle finished clean with a time of 41.54, but as the second and third riders, Beezie Madden and Charles Jacobs respectively, finished clean in 41.33 and 41.12 seconds each in his turn taking the lead, it now came time for our local guy Richie Moloney.
Carrabis Z is a 13-year-old black zangersheide gelding and he seemed surprised as Moloney urged him on to rush through the jumps as fast as he could go, but he got the message and off he went. Final time: 39.57 seconds, nearly 2 seconds into the lead.
The last jumper, Andrew Welles aboard Brindis Bogibo, did hurry his horse along, but it seemed more of an afterthought than a real push for the gold. Final time 41.15, good for third place. All riders completed the jump off without a fault. And Richie Moloney was the winner.
The crowd cheered for Moloney, and for the others. What a wonderful athletic event.
After it was over, I walked through the crowd at the event, saying hello to some staying for the awards ceremony and others getting ready to leave. Author Tom Wolfe in his all-white suit was among those I spoke to. I also met up with Bill Campbell and Bill Konigsberg and many others, and saw the former Mayor there proud about his daughter.
It would have been nice if, going home, my Tahoe could have jumped a fence or two. When 15,000 people are leaving at the end of the day from the Grand Prix, it takes quite a while otherwise for everybody to get out to Snake Hollow Road. The Tahoe didn’t jump. So we waited our turn with the rest.