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Bristol anything but rusty in first World Cup qualifier

Bond and Wistful push and wind up in second

Special to the Horsetrader - September 20th, 2012 - Show & Event News

Amy McCool photo

Rusty Stewart guides Bristol to a clean jump-off in the $50,000 Showpark World Cup Grand Prix Sept. 1 in Del Mar.

DEL MAR — The first World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix of the 2012-13 California season drew top West Coast show jumping horse-and rider teams to SHowpark Sept. 1 for the Blenheim EquiSport $50,000 Showpark World Cup Grand Prix.

Ferraris and Maseratis scattered in and around the field, adding an extra touch of speed to the already picturesque course. It was an FEI level competition with 24 entries taking on Canadian course designer Michel Vaillancourt’s World Cup-qualifying track.

“The difficulty level had to be substantial,” said Vaillancourt. “With a World Cup qualifier, you have to stay within the specs of a World Cup.”

Vaillancout’s course had all the riders raving not only on the track’s challenges, but also on its uniqueness. The first obstacle led right into a tight rollback to the EQU Lifestyle vertical that had numerous knock-downs.

“I put the triple combination in early because I knew it was a mixed-level class, and faults were going to happen everywhere anyway,” he said.

Amy McCool photo

Ashlee Bond & Wistful

Coming out of the triple combination, riders were faced with a tall wall that produced a handful of refusals. Riding into the diagonal was a triple-bar, followed by a liverpool oxer. The 11AB vertical-oxer combination met up with the horses as they began to tire. Also, Vaillancourt, explained, “if not approached correctly, it would cause a rail, and if not exited correctly, wouldn’t set up the bending line to come home well.”

Five nations were represented the field of two dozen, all of whom with hopes of accruing both valuable World Cup points and purse money toward the HITS Million Grand Prix.

Ashlee Bond and her relatively new 9-year-old mare, Wistful, were the first to master Vaillancourt’s course and post a clear round in 78.46 seconds, well under the tight time allowed of 82 seconds. Nick Gegen and the 13-year-old Sancerre were the next candidates to keep all rails up, but their safe, 82.82-second ride came with a time fault.

Amy McCool photo

Afterward, the champion and reserve horses share a moment.

With only four rounds to go, Rusty Stewart and Bristol, fresh off a third-place finish in the $32,000 Showpark Jumper Classic on Thursday night, nailed a flawless clear round in 80.61 seconds, setting up the jump-off.

In the quick course-design change, Vaillancourt was clever and kept the same two obstacles from the qualifying round, but asked riders to snake their way through a few new obstacles that were challenging. Going first, Bond took advantage of her mare’s speed, keeping her foot on the gas throughout the round. Picking up four faults on the new EquiFit vertical, Bond kicked it into high gear to get Wistful home in hopefully what she had hoped would be an unbeatable, four-fault time.

Stewart knew that being up against a blazing four-fault time could allow for him to back off and ride a careful clear round, but this wasn’t just any Grand Prix to take that risk.

“It’s plenty big,” Stewart said of the course. “We weren’t going to take it lightly. My plan was to go fast, not crazy fast, but quick enough to stay with the clock, so if I were to have a rail, I’d be able to kick it up enough to be competitive.”

Stewart serpentined through the jump-off, asking Bristol to cut all the corners to make up for his cautious speed. Coming up to the final oxer, Rusty lined up perfectly to ensure a clear round, and Bristol delivered without question, stopping the clock in a clean 43.33 seconds, securing the title.

“He was perfect,” said Stewart. “The plan worked. The course was fantastic, we couldn’t have asked for more.”

Stewart said Vaillancourt demonstrated an ability to meet a World Cup qualifier standard.

“It was a big course, and it sure makes you sit up and ride — but that’s what a World Cup Qualifier is supposed to do,” he said. “If you are going to a World Cup, that’s what you are going to see, and you’d better learn how to ride around a course like that. That is the only way the U.S. will be any good is to have course like that to compete on.”

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