The Longines Hampton Classic Grand Prix was held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. This is the most spectacular event of the summer in the Hamptons as horses and riders from around the world compete to win the $300,000 prize. But it is also an event that draws a huge crowd of spectators, not only the 5,000 or so in the stands that day, but the 500 or so leaders of this celebrity resort who meet and greet one another in the splendidly turned-out VIP tent that borders the jumping ring along its entire southern length.
Many dress in their finest Sunday best. Some of the women, in gowns and heels, walk along the tent runway as if they are attending the Oscars, except they also wear — some of them — the most fantastic giant hats imaginable. Those in the Grand Prix tent included Donna Karan, Brooke Shields, Lorraine Bracco, Aida Turturro, Christy Turlington Burns, Steven Weber, Isaac Boots, Kelly Bensimon and Rita Cosby. It’s a field day for the magazine photographers.
But hey, isn’t there a horse show going on at one side of this grand catered celebrity affair?
Indeed there is.
A field of 23 of the world’s greatest riders take their horses one at a time over the dozen or more jumps in what is hoped will be less than 90 seconds. If it takes more than that, they do not win. If it is less than that, any horse and rider who clear all the jumps without knocking a rail off a fence can win outright if no other horse and rider equal that feat. If others do, we go to a jump-off, a second time around where the quickest time and fewest errors will lead to the winner.
Much of the crowd in the tent continued the buzz of the meet-and-greet on the runway during this grand equestrian finale, but I have always liked watching the horses. Their eagerness and coordination with their riders is amazing. Winning can also get you on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team.
Also, I remember when, 30 years ago, a local rider named Joe Fargis, whose horse farm was in Southampton, won the Grand Prix riding Mill Pearl, outjumping all the riders from around the world. Not only was he toasted and celebrated for this achievement at that time, but then in 2005, approaching 58 years of age, he did it again. Since then I have looked to see if there might be another local rider to earn this honor.
In recent years, this challenge has fallen to Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who’s estate is in Southampton. She has come close in recent years, and I did think, from what I know about her, that this might be her year. Although not yet ranked as one of the top 10 world-class riders, she was invited to join the U.S. Olympic Team as a result of her victories in other equestrian events. But she was not among the four selected to go to Tokyo.
She was scheduled as the 12th rider in the field of 23 this day, a number arbitrarily selected by lot. By that time, three of the prior 11 entrants had already completed the course with no fences knocked down and under the maximum time, thus guaranteeing there would be a second time around. Might Bloomberg be the fourth rider to join in this runoff? Among those watching from the front row on the sidelines under the tent was her father, Michael. Many others joined him.
Georgina’s steed was Tulara Colmine, a stallion who, as Georgina walked him around the course to introduce him to all the fences, seemed alert and eager. He pranced a bit. His ears turned forward. And then, returning to the beginning, the digital clock on the giant scoreboard counted down backward to zero, and with that, off they went.
Some horses strain to get over the fences, leaning in and going low and long as their riders urge them on.
Tulara Colmine was not one of them. At Bloomberg’s urgings, he leaped up, seemingly light as a feather, over each of the first 10 jumps, achieving a height I never before thought possible by a three-quarter-ton horse and rider. It was the most remarkable and exhilarating thing I have ever seen at a horse show, and it led me to the conclusion that, unlike those who had come before her, she would easily clear everything without a fault and go on to win in record time. The jumps continued. After each one, Bloomberg would lead him along on a sharp turn to approach the next jump, which he eyed with apparent delight. And all was going well. But on one of the last of these jumps, one of Colmine’s hind heels clipped the top rail of a fence, sending it clattering to the ground. A collective groan emanated from the crowd.
Bloomberg and her steed, with just that one fault, was eliminated. But after she crossed the finish line, she turned and led her horse at a canter around the outer reaches of the ring and upon seeing her father, gave him a glorious salute before retiring to the barn.
Maybe next year.
Daniel Bluman representing Israel and riding Gemma W won the event. Second place went to McLain Ward (who did go to Tokyo this year and who has won this event before, including in 2019) riding his horse Contagious.
But those soaring jumps of Bloomberg and Colmine remain in my mind. I will never forget them. And maybe it will play out for the best next year.