Tivoli and James Alliston (55.3) moved in to second when overnight leader Kristi Nunnink and R-Star added 8.8 time penalties to drop to third (56.1). Alliston also finished fourth on Jumbo’s Jake (56.2).
“This spring has been unbelievable with her,” said a beaming Bennett-Awad, who rides for her native Canada but lives in Temecula. “She was a machine—foot-perfect everywhere.”
Bennett-Awad added only .8 time penalties to grab the top prizes, which included $2,000 in prize money and the Adequan/USEA Gold Cup.
Gin ‘N Juice’s speed propelled her to victory, because the optimum time of 6:51 proved to be tough to achieve—only Tivoli and Jumbo’s Jake finished faster than the optimum time.
“They must have wheeled the course really tight,” said Bennett-Awad of the time penalties. “[At the CCI3* last fall] I could have been 20 seconds fast, and today I was really riding to make it. I don’t think I could have gone any faster. But [course designer Ian Stark] wanted it to affect the placings, for sure.”
Bennett-Awad and the feisty bay mare known as “Ginny” competed for Canada in the 2012 London Olympics, but they fell early on course. Instead of letting that misfortune become a roadblock, Bennett-Awad has used it as inspiration.
“This spring I feel like everything is really clicking. Whatever happened in London isn’t really affecting either one of us. She’s just on top of her game. I’ve never had her jump this good before,” she said. “Last year was a bit of a downer,” she continued. “And I want to prove that my horses and I are really there.”
But there was one black cloud over Bennett-Awad’s day, as she took a tumble from her second horse, Five O’Clock Somewhere. He was in position to move ahead of Ginny, his full sister, until they fell at fence 13C, the Majik Equipe Moat.
“That’s the sport of eventing,” she said with a sigh. “One minute I’m winning the three-star, and the next minute I’m snorkeling in the moat.”
Alliston, winner of the Galway Downs CIC3* in 2011 ands 2012, said he wasn’t disappointed to finish second and fourth this time. “Tivoli gave me a great ride. I wanted to go pretty quick with him, and Jake felt confident and jumped well,” said Alliston, of San Ramon. “Tivoli takes a hold, but that’s the way he goes. He’s pretty easy cross-country, apart from being strong. Jake really did feel awesome—as good as ever.”
Alliston added, “They are very different horses. Jake is probably more tiring to ride, because you have to keep pushing him along. With Tivoli you can just drop your hands and let him gallop between the fences. But with Jake if you want to make time, his comfortable galloping speed is not quite there. You have to press him a little bit. But I enjoy him very much.”
Thanks to a perfect show jumping round, Nunnink and R-Star were the leaders before cross-country began on Saturday afternoon. “I actually kind of thought [the show jumping] was a little small when I walked it,” said Nunnink, from Auburn, Calif. “I was quite shocked when two of the three people before me had rails.”
R-Star, a 12-year-old, gray Holsteiner mare that Nunnink has owned and ridden for eight years, never looked in danger of touching a rail as she soared over the fences.
“It rode really well, and she really jumped super well,” said Nunnink. “She’s kind of got all the pieces put together [now]. She can get to a lot of different spots and get herself out.”
Only two other CIC3* riders besides Nunnink managed a double-clear round: Bennett-Awad on Gin ‘N Juice and Bunnie Sexton on Rise Against.
While Ian Stark’s cross-country courses shuffled the placings in the CIC2*, James Atkinson and Gustav jumped completely faultlessly to hold on to the lead they’d initially gained in dressage (46.8), topping Barbara Crabo and Over Easy (53.0). Atkinson also moved in to third on with a second faultless cross-country round aboard Annie Oakley III (53.4). Emilee Libby and Nonsensical, who finished sixth, were the only other pair to complete the course without time faults.
“Both horses were really, really good today. They’ve both been really good all year, but you never know,” Atkinson said. “Annie has been really strong, and I thought she would do well today. Gustav is not the fastest across country, and time was definitely a factor today. I had to really stay on the minute markers to get it done with him. But he’s so educated now that I didn’t have to waste any time setting him up for the jumps. He likes to be quite lofty in the air, and he’s certainly not the fastest, so I have to save seconds wherever I can.”
While this weekend’s performances indicate his horses are ready for more, Atkinson is circumspect about their future. “Winning here would certainly suggest that they’re ready to move on from here,” he said. “But Gustav may not be an upper-level CCI horse. Much over eight minutes is really a stretch for him. So the CCI3* is not in his future. Annie, though, is being so strong this year, and I’d like to take her back up to advanced. She’s so fun to ride across the country.”
Gustav was originally purchased by his mother-in-law, Carolyn Hoffos, to make a bid for the 2012 London Olympics, but that goal proved to be “too much, too fast,” according to Atkinson, who elected to drop him down a level. “He’s done some advanced, so he’s probably more experienced than he needs to be for this level,” he said of the 14 year old, chestnut Warmblood gelding.
Atkinson, a California transplant from Manitoba, is the trainer at Copper Meadows farm in Ramona, Calif. He’s currently a cross-country course designer at the national level, working toward earning his international course design license. That gives him a particular appreciation for Ian Stark’s cross-country course.
“Ian always does a great job. I think it’s right on the money,” he said. “I don’t think it’s freaking anybody out. He sets the tone of the course early—you’ve got to kick and get the horses confident.”
The CIC* division also featured a wire-to-wire winner in Julie Flettner and Ping Pong, who had a flowing double-clear cross-country round to keep their spot on top (46.0). They were chased all weekend by Maya Black, of Clinton, Wash., and Doesn’t Play Fair (49.3), but their perfect cross-country round wasn’t enough to catch Flettner. Erin Kellerhouse, of Temecula, Calif., and Roxabelle moved up to third with a double-clear round (53.2).
Flettner lives in Petaluma, and is an optometrist at a veterans’ hospital in Santa Rosa. In 2012, Flettner and Ping Pong, a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare, won the Galway Downs CCI1*, the Woodside CIC1* and the Preliminary Rider Challenge at the Woodside Spring Horse Trials.
“She tries really hard at shows, but not at home,” said Flettner with a smile about her dependable partner.
Shows featuring six local musical talents added to the weekend at the Galway Downs International Horse Trials. Tony Suraci, singing his “The Highwayman Show,” was the featured performer on Saturday night, bringing fans to their feet with a foot-stomping selection of songs by Johnnie Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Tim Walsh, who fronts his own Credence Clearwater Revival tribute band, shared the stage with Suraci.
During Saturday’s cross-country phase, Kenny Marquez played his wide-ranging rock collection on one section of the course, while Low Volts, the one-man band of Tim Lowman, played on another section. Tacky Little Hat Shop kicked off the musical performances with their experimental folk/indie music on Friday, and on Sunday award-winning 18-year-old singing sensation Jillian Calkins provided the weekend’s musical climax after the show jumping phase.
The CIC3* division of the Galway Downs International Horse Trials is one of 15 member events of the Adequan/USEA Gold Cup/PRO Tour Series for 2013. Riders in each of these events aim for top prize money and prizes while seeking to qualify for the series final at the American Eventing Championships, where the purse is $40,000.
Equine Insurance of California and the PRO Tour are the Presenting Sponsors of the Galway Downs International Horse Trials. The Gold Medal Sponsors of the Galway Downs International Horse Trials are: The California Horsetrader, MD Barnmaster, Professional’s Choice and Sunsprite Warmbloods. The Silver Medal Sponsors are: Charles Owen, Holiday Inn Express, JC Resorts and Majyk Equipe. The Bronze Medal Sponsors are: American Medical Response, American Horse Trials Foundation, Auburn Laboratories, Big Horse Feeds, Cavalor, CWD, Finish Line Horse Products, Geranium Street Equestrian, Point Two Air Jackets, Riding’s Publications Inc., Ride On Video, SmartPak, Triple Crown Nutrition and Voltaire Design.
For more information on the Galway Downs International Horse Trials, visit www.galwaydowns.com. To learn more about eventing, visit the U.S. Eventing Association’s website (www.useventing.com).