Victory in the $100,000 Hermes Grand Prix of Del Mar means they're one more (big) step closer to an Olympic spot
[Del Mar, CA] It’s all starting to feel a bit surreal for Rich Fellers, who rode the 16-year-old Irish stallion Flexible to his third straight win last night during the $100,000 Hermes Grand Prix of Del Mar.
While Flexible began to peak at the Rolex FEI World Cup Final in Holland just two weeks ago, it was clear as he circled the Del Mar Arena in a victory gallop last night that his unstoppable form is only, unbelieveably, getting better.
Fellers and Flexible jumped for a standing room only crowd in Del Mar
Another win in Del Mar meant that the pair from Wilsonville, Oregon have taken first place in the first of four US Show Jumping Team Olympic Observation Events, making them impossible to ignore as final Olympic Selection marches ever closer.
They are being studied by selectors for consistency, for ability to perform under pressure, for talent, and for speed.
Check, check, check and check.
As one of only two clears during the difficult $100,000 Hermes Grand Prix of Del Mar, presented by Intuit, Fellers and Flexible thrilled the sold out crowd that packed into the Del Mar Arena to cheer their hero on. The Del Mar National, an annual show that is a West Coast favorite, did the event justice by holding an entertaining Ride & Drive (Fellers won that too) prior to the class, as well as recognizing show jumping influences such as the late John Quirk, and grand prix rider Hap Hansen, in touching ceremonies before the start of the grand prix.
The Next Step
Fellers and Flexible have been on fire these past weeks, and Fellers will now aim Flexible towards the second pair of West Coast US Show Jumping Team Observation Events, to be held at Spruce Meadows in June.
“He’s going to stay fit like a racehorse and he won’t show until the next observation trial,” Fellers explained. “We’re going to be at Showpark (Del Mar) this week with our whole barn of horses and students, so he’ll be with us there but he’ll just stay in work.
“He’s 16 years old, he knows the game. And he’s peaked a lot in his career. I’m pretty confident we can keep him sharp.”
Olympic Hopefuls Rise to the Top
The group of Olympic hopefuls at this Observation Event was a small one, but right behind Fellers in second and third place were fellow Long Listed riders Lauren Hough and Saer Coulter. Karl Cook and Jonkeer Z also rode for Olympic consideration at the Selection Trials in March, and they put in a solid effort last night to finish in 5th. Just behind him was Lucy Davis and Nemo 119 in 6th.
Just 21 riders were brave enough to suit up and attempt to tackle Marina Azevedo’s 1.60m track, a widespread course that gave no fences away.
The skinny fence that gave riders trouble the previous night was back, this time as the final obstacle at 13. A few visual questions challenged horses as well; the top rails of a wide black oxer at fence 4 was hard to see, as was a thin white plank atop fence 11. The time allowed of 83 seconds left little breathing room for riders, and time faults were a frequent accessory of the night.
The seeded order of go meant that local riders were sent out early in the order, while the heavy hitters waited for their turn at the end of the class.
And so in turn, the crowd waited for a clear round. Four fault rounds were even hard to come by as riders struggled to complete the course, and the crowd gasped when several riders parted ways with their tack at various points on course. Finally, Saer Coulter became the first to leave all the jumps in the cups with Copernicus Stables’ 13 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding Springtime, but her careful ride earned her two time faults.
“I was pretty slow, but at that point in the class the best score was 10 faults, so time was a little secondary to just trying to get a clear round,” she said. “My most important move was to keep the jumps up so I really took my time in the triple, and in the outside line in five strides.”
Coulter and Springtime left every fence untouched.
Coulter, San Francisco, CA, was excited to compete at Del Mar, knowing that the Saturday night class would bring a packed house and an electric atmosphere.
“I’m low on the list for the Selection so I’m doing the whole process for the experience more than anything else," she added. "I’m learning how to deal with my nerves and ride under different kinds of pressure. Also, the Del Mar grand prix is one of my favorites, and if anything I put pressure on myself to do well here.
“It was a good course, I thought the course designer did a really good job of making it very difficult by using the time allowed and building difficult lines.”
On another night, Coulter could have won the class on those two time faults, but with Olympic veteran Lauren Hough and World Cup Champion Fellers still to come, she was happy to land in the top three.
Hough and Robin Parsky’s 10-year-old Anglo-European mare Blue Angel rode a classy first round, keeping up a brisker pace while also carefully waiting in five strides to get to a pair of airy Hermes verticals that ran down the long side of the arena past the VIP. Finishing just under the time allowed in 82.19 seconds, they left the door open for a possible jumpoff.
Hough and Blue Angel put in a tidy first round, the first clear of the night.
And of course, Fellers and Flexible gave it to them. Last to go in the first round, the crowd let out a scream as they completed the triple combination without touching a rail, and then the white plank at fence 11, and finally that last skinny vertical. Flexible jumped with energy and enthusiasm, and his characteristic stretch down and forward with his neck and head as he snapped his small knees up over each fence.
First in for the jumpoff, Hough rode with determination to crank up the pressure on Fellers, but when Blue Angel touched the back rail of an oxer midway through the shortened course, she again left the door open for Fellers to do what he does best – win.
Hough’s time of 41.81 seconds was topped by Fellers in 39.76, but he too added four faults to his score at the second to last fence – that Hermes vertical. However, their speed paid off and Fellers was more than satisfied with his win.
If anything, Fellers looked at their rail down in the jumpoff, as a good thing. “Even though it didn’t work out for Lauren or myself as our best jumpoff, it’s a good thing Flexible got a little tune out of it,” Fellers explained. “He hit that vertical pretty hard and he tends to remember things like that.”
Until the Spruce Meadows Observation Events in June, Flexible will rest, work on the flat and jump only if Fellers deems it necessary.
“He’s older, and he’s got to stay show fit to a certain degree, which is not really something you can do at home, said Fellers. "It’s a balancing act. It depends on how he feels and what George thinks.”
Look for coverage of the next USEF Olympic Observation Event, to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday May 11th and Sunday, May 13th, right here on ProEquest.
Top Ten - $100,000 Hermes Grand Prix of Del Mar, a USEF Olympic Observation Event
Rider | Horse | Round 1 Time | Round 1 Faults
- Rich Fellers | Flexible | 80.08 | 0
- Lauren Hough | Blue Angel | 82.17 | 0
- Saer Coulter | Springtime | 88.67 | 2
- Duncan McFarlane | Mr. Whoopy | 83.87 | 5
- Karl Cook | Jonkheer Z | 80.65 | 8
- Lucy Davis | Nemo 119 | 80.78 | 8
- Helen McNaught | Caballo | 82.37 | 8
- Josephina Nor Lantzman | Chello Z | 83.73 | 9
- John McConnell | Katie Ridd;e |88.77 | 10
Photos ©Cheval Photos