By US Equestrian Communications Department
The NetJets U.S. Jumping Team finished their week in California on top of the podium, taking a well-earned victory on the Oaks International Grand Prix Field in front of a packed house at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. The team is now one step closer to their collective goal of qualification for the 2023 FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona this September. The team completed the two-round competition on a total of 12 faults ahead of Ireland, who finished on 17, and Mexico, rounding out the top three on a team total of 33.
“At the end of the year last year, we said that we’re going to have to come out firing. Qualifying for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona had to be a major priority because it’s one of the two ways left to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. We took our ‘A’ team at the beginning of the year and split it in half and sent the first half to Mexico and that was a really tough win because the home team was really strong and took us to a jump-off and Laura won it for us,” explained Ridland. “Coming here, with the other half of the ‘A’ team, basically all four riders that were on our silver-medal team in Tokyo were represented on either of these two teams. That was our plan and sometimes plans work and sometimes they don’t, but this time for us it did.”
Lillie Keenan (New York, N.Y.) led off the team order aboard Argan de Beliard and were the first combination to tackle the Leopoldo Palacios (VEN)-designed track, with the U.S. team drawing first in the team order. The pair were efficient around the track with time, and added just four faults at the open water, crossing through the timers in 75.15 seconds. Karl Cook (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) and Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet followed Keenan in the order and rode a near foot-perfect round, just rubbing the back rail of the one stride at the second-to-last fence to add four to their score.
With two rider rotations completed, veteran Laura Kraut (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) and newer mount, Dorado 212, dug in deep for their round. They opted for the forward five-stride option to the last combination and dropped the top plank rail to finish with four, putting pressure on anchor combination McLain Ward and Contagious to produce a clear.
As the last in the team order and faults across the board in the first full rotation of riders, Ward and Contagious went to work, crossing through the timers in 72.46 seconds to notch the first clear of the afternoon and moving the team forward to the second round on a total score of eight.
“I thought Leopoldo set a very challenging track. When I walked it, I have to say I was a bit surprised at how big it was, but it’s a 5* Nations Cup and there are huge consequences to this qualification and that’s the way it should be, and when we have group of riders here on form it suits us when it’s more difficult, and I think it worked in our favor,” commented Ward.
Returning for their second look at the course, Keenan and Argan de Beliard a 2010 Selle Français gelding owned by Sigma Stables LLC, nudged the tricky plank to add four to their second-round score. Cook and Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet, a 2010 Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Signe Otsby, produced another excellent effort for the team but saw the same plank as Keenan fall in the second round to finish on four. With Kraut and Ward left in the order, the team needed clear rounds to secure the win over Ireland, who was hot on their heels with only a time fault to count in the second round. Kraut delivered aboard Dorado 212, a 2013 Oldenburg gelding owned by St. Bride’s Farm, navigating the track within the time allowed and keeping all the rails up around the difficult track, giving the team a boost with Ward still left to come.
Ward and Contagious, a 2009 Deutches Sportpferd gelding owned by Beechwood Stables, flew through their second round, the only combination to notch two clear-round efforts on the day, and earning the new $50,000 bonus awarded to combinations jumping two clear rounds in the Nations Cup format. With their win, the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team is one step closer to securing their birth to the 2023 FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain, which is one of two remaining qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in 2023.
“The U.S. riders, and their horses and supporters, both here and in Mexico, are really stepping up and delivering. Not only do we need to qualify, but we had a little bit of a lull post-Tokyo and I think it’s important that we get back into the habit of winning,” concluded Ward.