[Traverse City, MI] After eight of 27 competitors qualified for the jump-off in the $30,000 Grand Prix of the Great Lakes on Saturday, July 23, a knowledgeable bettor most likely wouldn't have placed money on Lillie Ross and Pako to claim victory.
Not only was Ross the youngest rider in the starting field, at age 17, but she also had the disadvantage of going first in the tie-breaker. But that's the beauty of competition--it's never over until it's over--and, in the end, no one could catch Ross yesterday, and she'll fondly remember the Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival with a special blue ribbon.
Pako and Lillie Ross
Following the awards presentation, Ross said, "Since I was the first to go clean, I was so nervous watching everyone trying to beat me, but I kept telling myself, 'You did the very best you could do, and if someone comes and beats you, then they deserve it.' Pako has a huge stride and can turn really well. My goal was to be really tidy--and I didn't pull back once!"
The $30,000 Grand Prix of the Great Lakes at Flintfields Horse Park, Traverse City, Michigan, was a highlight of Series III and featured a deceptively difficult test designed by Michel Valliancourt.
Valliancourt's initial 16-obstacle course proved to be too hard for the first eight starters. As is indicative of Valliancourt's course design, the triple combination was the toughest element. The first six participants all faulted at some point through the triple combination, which came relatively early in the course.
It wasn't until Lillie Ross went that the sold-out crowd saw a faultless first round. Her 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, with his long stride and unique ''front-end-stretch," soared through combinations and showed the audience that Valliancourt's course could be conquered.
Alexandra Duval followed Ross' lead, expertly guiding her Cipriani Z effortlessly to a fault-free first round and guaranteed a jump-off.
Following Duval's clear, six more contenders negotiated Valliancourt's initial round without fault for an eight-horse jump-off.
Pako and Ross led the way in the jump-off in admirable and convincing fashion. Flying around the seven-obstacle shortened course, Ross set the precedent for those who followed. In the end, not even veteran riders could match Ross' clean jump-off effort in a blazing 40.445 seconds.
Most of the contenders who took a shot ended up with rails or a refusal. Charlie Jacobs, on CMJ Sporthorse, LLC's Secret Love, looked like he could do it, but the clock stopped at 42.142 seconds. Last to go, Erin Haas aboard As Di Chupito, almost caught Ross but was relegated to second with a time of 41.180 seconds.
Ross had nothing but accolades for her Pako. "His jump is very round, and he has an unusual way of stretching out with his front legs, especially at the oxers," she said. "He's taught me so much and helped me strengthen my leg. I'm still working on staying over and have to admit that he jumped me loose a couple of times out there!"
Top 8 - $30,000 Grand Prix of the Great Lakes
Rider | Horse | Owner
- Lillie Ross | Pako | Allison H. Ross
- Erin Haas | As Di Chupito | North Face Farm
- Charles Jacobs | Secret Love | CMJ Sporthorse, LLC
- Hayley Barnhill | Ultaire | Janet McCarroll
- Bob Brawley | Obelix | DDM Equestrian, LLC
- Wesley Newlands | Lapacco | Wesland Farm
- Alexandra Duval | Cipriani Z
- Andrew Welles | Tornado | Alexandra Duval