Devon, As in Heaven
by Susanne Connors
The Devon Horse Show open jumper division was your classic cocktail party. Some arrived fashionably late, others left early, as always some spouses (horses) were unable to attend, but by Thursday evening Devon was in full swing. At any rate, history was made.
The Grand Prix course designed by Conrad Homfeld was no tea party, by any standard. A quick aside about the pulse of the week: although Devon is one of the best run shows in the country, with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd and a great venue, the issue of prize money was an issue. Show President Leonard King has his Development Committee at work for next year, and already has an extra $25,000 for next years' Grand Prix. That elevates the 2002 stakes well into buttled hors d'ouerves territory at $75,000! Before an elbow-to-elbow crowd, the 2001 Devon Grand Prix was one of the best in anyone's memory. After 24 riders in the first round field of 36 entries had taken their best shot at the interestingly demanding course Homfeld presented, then there were eight to go in the jump-off For all the marbles was a six-jump course complete with sharp turns and the final obstacle of, natch, the Devon blue-and-white rails combination headed toward the Officials' HQ. In an edge of your seat fashion, Alison Firestone on Casanova were first to go clean. Jimmy Torano aboard classic dapple grey Lancier 4 nipped around faster; Lauren Hough and Windy City then bested their time. Todd Minikus turned in more than respectable attempts on both Gardenio and What Nu.
But, . . . Last to go Molly Ashe and Kroon Gravin re-wrote history from three years ago. Smartly, surely and in the most timely fashion, she and her Dutch-bred mare sailed over that final combination with everything intact. Victory was bittersweet, as just a scant three years ago there was an entirely different outcome. Ashe triumphed for the first time in front of both Kroon Gravin's owner, Sandra O'Donnel of NY State and her Mom. Perhaps that's why on her victory gallop, she threw her ribbon into the crowd. To everyone's delight!
Here follows a 'Week At a Glimpse' of the Open Jumper division. On Sunday the Welcome Stakes saw Amanda Baird with Oleander reign over a class of 12, with Sandstone Pelota de Coma and Gabriella Salick take second. By class results alone, its obvious McLain Ward arrived Monday. In the two Open Jumper classes that day he took first on Sandstone Conway in the afternoons' $7,500 OF stake and, obviously warmed up, won again on (a different mount), Four Seasons that evening. Now its Tuesday afternoon. Oddly in synch with Laura Chapot, they were 'almost bookends', with McLain first on Sandstone Conway, Laura Chapot and Sundance Kid right behind, Ward again aboard Pharaoh, and but for Nona Garson and Capital S as interloper, Laura Chapot again on Sunny Daze in fifth position. Ms. Garson surely saved them both from 'Tales to Dine Out On'.
As a prophecy of things to come, Molly Ashe and Kroon Gravin prevailed on Tuesday evening, and McLain Ward up on Cameo (as in appearance) came in second. Donald Cheska and Oyster took ownership of one of my face classes, the Hit and Hurry, Wednesday evening. The combo of Futile Ardent with Alison Firestone finished hot on his heels. The Gamblers' Choice on Friday night had two winners, in my book. Laura Chapot on Sundance Kid took the cheque home in a class that was held in the most torrential downpour I can recall! Which leads to Best Rain Slicker for an Open Jumper class award:- Jenni Martin on Careless. We all know how difficult it is to look good Chris Crawley took a second with his belted black outerwear. In the $35,000 Idle Dice Stake, last of the show, Windy City and Lauren Hough took it all in the jump-off with Laura Chapot and Sun Dance Kid second. Donald Cheska was right behind with a slightly slower time and only four jumping faults.
So, just like the guy who arrives at the party late but always leaves with the hottest girl, McLain Ward nailed the Leading Open Jumper Rider award for the third year straight. Devon's most prestigious accolade was his even though he failed to score points in the Grand Prix and missed the show's first jumper class.
Devon, the start of the trail (and see you on it), has come and gone. Martha Stewart did not make it this year, much to my dismay. Last year, I spotted her from Ermilios' HQ with three girlfriends and dashed off to shadow her movements! (Bob didn't believe me, and thought he'd given me a glass too many.) But. It wouldn't be Devon without Honey
Mr. Craven held court on his turf behind the Committee Box. Yes, that bench. Impeccably attired, as always, keeping his eye on things and allowing only the chosen few to procure such delights for him as funnel cake and ice creams, he was there. I'm thrilled he allows me to greet him with a demure kiss on the cheek, and is still pondering my proposal of marriage. . .
Long live the combination of horse, khaki and leather. There's the American Gold Cup to look forward to. Another chance to be at Devon, as in Heaven.