If you were going to write a suspense thriller using Grand Prix show jumping as the backdrop, today's $150,000 Ford Grand Prix of the Desert provided the ideal script. Forty-one horses and riders attempted Dave Ballard's challenging course. "This is the last West Coast Qualifier for the World Cup indoors in Germany. I built a course typical of an indoor course, consistent with an indoor arena," explained Ballard of Ontario, Canada. "I had three, four and five stride lines that created the technical challenges found with shorter lines. They required the horse to be 'scopey' and the jumps were big enough that the riders in general exhibited a tendency to not be able to ride the time allowed."
The audience, and perhaps the other riders, were lulled into a false sense of the ease of the course when Richard and Spooner and Robinson, first to go, logged a clear round in a seemingly effortless manner. Spooner was seeking his fifth win of the $150,000 Ford Grand Prix of the Desert, and his clear round assured him a shot at the top prize. However, horse after horse that followed accrued rails and other penalties. John French and Millennium left all the rails up, but French's slow track added five time faults and put the pair behind the four-fault riders.
Finally, thirty-third in the order, Mary Tyng and Southshore assured the capacity crowd of a jump-off. Southshore won the class last year with Richard Spooner. Now Spooner was going up against his winning mount of 2001.
Besides competing for the significant prize money, some riders were jockeying for World Cup points, and this final qualifier would determine who was heading to Germany and who was not. Duncan McFarlane, who rides for New Zealand, had to finish ahead of one of the three West Coast Qualifiers in order to qualify. A clear round would assure him of that spot, and he was last to go on Eezy. The pair have improved throughout the circuit, and even won a class. McFarlane rode a cautious round and as he approached the final line of jumps, it appeared that he would not make the time allowed. He crossed the finish with all the jumps intact and a time of 76.66, just a whisker under the time allowed of 77 seconds.
Three riders were heading to the jump-off. Spooner wanted a fifth win. Tyng was aboard last year's class winner and leading money-winning horse of the Indio Desert Circuit, and McFarlane could be the dark horse winning the whole thing.
Spooner rode for the win and Robinson jumped fabulously. Ballard's jump-off track required the horses to be able to turn and to be able to gallop. Robinson did both and cleared the course in a time of 33.46. "I had two jump-off plans," Tyng later explained. "Plan A was to go double clear if Richard didn't. Plan B was to go fast and clear if Richard did." As Spooner crossed the timers, Tyng knew Plan B was in effect.
Tyng put Southshore on a winning pace and shaved corners wherever she could. Galloping down to the final oxer, she looked to be on Spooner's pace. She chose to let Southshore gallop all out one more stride than Spooner, balanced the horse for the oxer, and stopped the clock in 32.71.
McFarlane was forced to shave the turn to fence 11, a vertical, even tighter than the previous two riders. Eezy just caught the top rail. The pair finished over the final oxer with the winning time of 32.53, but four faults. "I just cheated that one corner a bit much," said McFarlane after the class. "I went for the win and it was a great class. Mary rode great." McFarlane is not sure he will go to the World Cup Finals. "That really hasn't been in our plan as I am not sure Eezy is ready for that kind of indoor course. McFarlane hopes to represent New Zealand at the World Equestrian Games, and his strong performances during the Indio Desert Circuit give him a realistic shot at that goal.
Spooner's second place finish moved him into the third qualifying spot for the World Cup by just one point. "I hadn't planned to go to Germany this year, but now that I'm qualified I just might be revising my plans," said Spooner.
Tyng was overjoyed with Southshore's victory. "I am so excited! Very excited! Just thrilled!" bubbled Tyng. "This is such a great horse." Southshore was bred to be great; sired by Joan Irvine Smith's stallion, South Pacific. Tyng has her eye on the Spruce Meadows Masters and the CSI-A at The Oaks this July. "We made a plan for this year, and so far everything is going just right."
"Just right" is how many of the spectators at today's grand prix would describe the finish. It was an afternoon of exciting, thrilling, and spectacular grand prix show jumping at HITS Indio Desert Circuit.
For Agate Records:
Place/ Horse/ Rider/ Owner/ Faults - Time/ Prize Money
Mary Tyng/ China Blue Farm/ 0/0 - 32.71/ $45,000