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Spooner wins, Robinson retires at Del Mar

"I feel graced to have been part of his career and life," says his rider after a record 40 grandprix victories

By DANIEL K. LEW / Horsetrader staff - May 20th, 2009 - Show & Event News
Richard Spooner and Robinson greet some of their young fans.

Horsetrader photo / Daniel K. Lew

Richard Spooner and Robinson greet some of their young fans.

DEL MAR — Richard Spooner of Agua Dulce, Calif., has already achieved show jumping success as only the second U.S. rider to win 100-plus Grand Prix events. But winning the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar has eluded him for years, until the 2009 Del Mar National Horse Show, in which he finally won the May 2 highlight event of the show’s Hunter/Jumper Week from April 30-May 3 at Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Spooner not only took the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar aboard his Ace, an 11-year-old Holsteiner stallion, but also placed second riding Cristallo, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Show Jumping Syndications International.

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Horsetrader photo / Daniel K. Lew

In only her third Grand Prix competition, Saer Coulter and Cats Are Grey place third.

Young rider Saer Coulter of San Francisco, an up-and-coming Grand Prix rider who has risen from success in the Junior/Amateur levels, was only competing in her third Grand Prix. Coulter riding her Cats Are Grey placed third in the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar, as she and Spooner were the only riders to jump clear in the first round to return for the jump-off.

Simply qualifying for the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar was an achievement. Sixty rider-horse entries first had to compete in the April 30 $25,000 Surfside Grand Prix, which was won by Ali Nilforushan of Cardiff, Calif., riding Voice, owned by Zeidler Farm Canada Ltd. The top 31 pairs from the Surfside Grand Prix returned to compete in the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar.

Robinson Retires: The evening of May 2 at Del Mar National also included several special presentations, including the retirement ceremony for Robinson, an 21-year-old Hanoverian gray gelding, who has won 40 Grand Prix events–more than any other U.S. horse–with Spooner aboard. Robinson showed in his last Grand Prix in 2007, but has occasionally filled in for one of his stable mates to carry Spooner in victory laps.

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Horsetrader photo / Daniel K. Lew

Ali Nilforushan and Voice top a field of 60 entries to win the $25,000 Surfside Grand Prix on April 30.

“It’s hard to win 40 Grand Prixs, period. But on one horse, too, it’s not so easy,” Spooner said. “I feel graced to have been part of his career and life. I consider myself lucky.”

Spooner said he chose to retire Robinson at the Del Mar National Horse Show because “Del Mar is a place that Robinson always liked to compete,” in addition to being one of the best shows to compete in the Western United States. “So, it seemed fitting that Robinson would get to retire here,” he said.

At the conclusion of the evening’s competitions, Robinson was stabled at the end of the meet-and-greet line, in which spectators had the chance to get autographs and talk to many of the Grand Prix riders. Fans of “Robby” had the close-up chance to personally say good-bye to the horse, who is also famous for hanging his tongue out of his mouth during competition, usually to the right, a quirk which many find endearing.

Robinson will continue to live his retirement years with his long-time companion. “He’s going to hang out with me. I’ve got a turnout set up for him at my place,” Spooner said. “Wherever I go, that’s where he’s going to be.”

Cunningham won the Regular Conformation and Regular Working Hunter title.

Horsetrader photo / Daniel K. Lew

Cunningham won the Regular Conformation and Regular Working Hunter title.

The meet-and-greet line with the Grand Prix riders continued to be a popular Del Mar tradition, and the line lasted for almost a couple hours. Jim Coulter was proud to observe his daughter, Saer Coulter, behind the autograph tables, alongside show jumping veterans. “One of the great things about this sport is the ability to keep doing bigger and more interesting things along the way. It’s fun as a parent watching the kids grow, year to year,” Jim Coulter said. “All of the experienced riders were so kind to Saer, very encouraging and congratulating her. It says a lot for the sport.”

New Events: Hunter/Jumper Week at Del Mar National also included some new events. Prior to the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar, 12 riders competed in the $5,000 Ride & Drive, in which riders first jumped a shortened course, then hopped into a convertible Mustang to drive around a course in the Del Mar Arena.

Ride & Drive was popular with the evening’s sold-out crowd of more than 4,500 spectators, who cheered on the competitors. Guy Thomas riding Marbridge Clover Diamond, owned by Emily Livermore, won the $5,000 Ride & Drive. “That was an exciting event and the crowd loved it–it was well received,’ said Dale Harvey, show manager of Del Mar National’s Hunter/Jumper Week.

Another new event was the $5,000 Five Bar, won by Lane Clarke riding McLord’s First John, owned by Mickey Hayden.

In the $2,500 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper WCAR Selection Trial, Victoria D’Agostino won the big class with 57 entries with a clear round in the fastest time. D’Agostino said she and her 12-year-old gelding, Rodos, rode carefully and she credits her horse for powering through a triple combination, which caused problems for many other riders.

“The horse show has been great with a lot of entries,” D’Agostino said. “I come to this horse show every year from Venezuela, but I had never won this class before, so it was really exciting. This is a really nice show and I love California. They do a really good job with everything here; it’s well organized and they make everyone feel welcome.”

Christina Harney of Long Beach won the Adult Amateur Working Hunter 18-35 Under Saddle class riding her Fendi, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. “I’ve had him for three years, worked him since he was green, and he’s really coming along–I’m quite proud of him,” Harney said. “I had a great time and my family came out. It was a nice ring for him and suited him well.”

Harney has been riding horses for the past 21 years. “I’ve been wanting to ride even before I could walk. When I was 7, I was allowed to start riding and went from there. I’ve been with trainer Mary Gatti for 18 of those years.”

The Del Mar Arena with its new, covered arena and $15 million in upgrades debuted April 16 during Western Week of the three-week Del Mar National. The renovated facility continued to draw praise.

“I think it’s spectacular; it’s nice to have total protection from the rain, and it makes for tremendous ambiance for the competition,” Spooner said. “You can tell the state is committed to supporting the horse shows and horse sport.”

Dale Harvey, Hunter/Jumper Week show manager since 1997, said he was pleased with both the new Del Mar Arena and the May 2 sell-out crowd.

“When I was riding myself, this was my favorite place to show. I was really nervous when they were putting the roof on; it might take away from the special atmosphere that it had,” Harvey said. “But it has really contributed to it, brought more warmth, and the riders really like it.”

Harvey said he and other officials plan to make bids for Del Mar to host another FEI World Cup Jumping Finals, which it once hosted in 1992–and Harvey also competed in it. “The arena has tremendous potential. Someday, we want to have the Finals here again,” Harvey said.

After selling several hundred, standing-room only tickets when bleacher seats had filled, show officials had to close the gates May 2 and stop ticket sales. “If that was any indication of the way it’s going to go from now on, it’s pretty exciting to be sold out,” Harvey said. “We were full; it’s interesting that in lousy economic times, people really came out.”

International course designer Leopoldo Palacios, one of the lead designers of Del Mar’s Hunter/Jumper Week courses, described the new Del Mar Arena as “fantastic; it’s one of the best. This complex is a super place for horse sports. Here, you will see very important competitions in the future. California is getting better and better in show jumping.”

Palacios added he was glad to be present for Robinson’s retirement. “I love that horse; I’ve built a lot of courses for that horse–and winning a lot of times–it was a very nice ceremony.”

Harvey said it was a great honor to have Robinson retire at Del Mar National. “He’s one of the greatest horses in the United States, certainly on the West Coast,” Harvey said. “To have the privilege of being able to do that is really special.”

Spooner said his overall experience at the 2009 Del Mar National “was one of the best shows I’ve ever had. I think this show is as international as a show can get–and I’ve shown all over the world. The education that a rider can get at this show is irreplaceable. We’re all lucky to have a show like this in the Western United States.”

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Horsetrader photo / Daniel K. Lew

Karl Cook and Notories Utopia win the $25,000 Junior / Amateur-Owner Grand Prix 1.45m on May 3.

Other highlights from Del Mar National’s Hunter/Jumper Week include:

  • $25,000 Junior/Amateur Owner Grand Prix 1.45m: Karl Cook on Notories Utopia
  • $25,000 Del Mar National Horse Show Open Equitation Championship Finals: Kasey Ament on Octavia.
  • $2,500 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper WCAR Selection Trial: Victoria D’Agostino on Rodos.
  • $2,000 Junior Hunter Classic: Saer Coulter on Positano.
  • $2,000 Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic: Laura Wasserman on Overseas.
  • $1,000 Pony Hunter Classic: Pearl Theodosakis on Helicon Take Notice.
  • $1,000 Children’s Jumper Classic WCAR Selection Trial: Sophie Simpson on NZ Sneaky Feeling.
  • $1,000 Adult Amateur Jumper Classic WCAR Selection Trial: Katie King on Ocean Passge.
  • Santa Anita Cup, Leading Open Jumper Rider: Richard Spooner.
  • Emmett Kelly Challenge Perpetual Trophy, Regular Conformation and Regular Working Hunter Show Champion: Cunningham, owned by Mary Slouka and ridden by John Bragg.
  • Harry Forbes Sportsmanship Award: Lane Clarke.
  • Pepper Tree Farms Jr/Am Style of Riding Award: Lucy Davis.
  • Best Child Rider Award: Saer Coulter.
  • Best Amateur Rider: Hannah Selleck.
  • Grand Champion Pony Hunter and Best Pony Rider Award: Skylar Nelson on Macy Grey.

For complete show results, visit: www.sdfair.com/horseshow/hunter.html

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One comment has been made on “Spooner wins, Robinson retires at Del Mar”

  1. Warren Wilson Says:

    It was a treat to see Robinson honored at the grand prix on Saturday night.

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