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In front of a standing room-only crowd, Thomas, who represents New Zealand in international competition, rode his 2010 World Equestrian Games partner, the homebred Holsteiner/Dutch stallion Peterbilt by Liocalyn, to the win, finishing 2.5 seconds faster than second-placed rider Jenn Serek aboard Eleanora.
Thomas and Peterbilt rode to victory in front of a hometown crowd at Menlo. Photo ©Woodside Images
Thomas and Peterbilt in the victory gallop. Photo ©Applehead Design
Held on the polo field at the posh Menlo Circus Club, the Grand Prix is a yearly summer spectacle which attracts both horseman and locals alike. This year's edition was no different, with spectators arriving hours before the start time to stake a claim on prime space close to the rail from which to watch the 26 entries and their horses battle for the top spot in this feature grand prix.
This year's show has stood apart from those in years' past in that for the first time, synthetic GGT footing was installed on the jumper ring field by Sacramento trainer and GGT footing dealer Rudy Leone. The improved footing was brought to Menlo in an attempt to please riders who preferred to save their horses from jumping on the polo field grass and as a result had stopped traveling to Menlo to compete in the high jumper classes in recent years. However, with a total of 26 starting from the 29 originally entered, the few last minute scratches, nor the improved footing, did not make the competition for the grand prix any easier.
The beautiful course designed by Michael Roy Curtis was winding and proved difficult in some spots, catching many riders at fences 10 and 12 which both came off tight roll backs. Riders such as seasoned international competitor Harley Brown of Australia had rails there with his new partner Cozmoz, a 9 year old Swedish Warmblood gelding owned by Eden Valley Stables. The pattern continued throughout the evening, with rails falling for nearly all riders. The crowd played into the excitement with cheers of glee after riders finished clear, but sighs and groans echoed just as frequently when rails were pulled.
However, when Thomas and his long-time mount Peterbilt entered the grand prix area, they blazed a clear trail on the new GGT footing, setting a nearly impossible pace to match.
Seven total made the cut to the jumpoff, including two horses piloted by eventual second-placed finisher Serek; Eleonora and Brown Thomas.
Serek and Eleonora jumped to 2nd place. Photo ©Applehead Design
Rufer and her own 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Courtown, Willis and Ashton Belcher, Lucas and Peter Breakwell, and Candle Light Van De Warande with Hannah Heidegger also came back for the 2nd round. Courtown and Rufer set the pace with a solid jumpoff round, and Serek followed with two wonderful rides on her mounts. She pulled an unfortunate rail on Thomas Brown, but her clean and quick jumpoff with Eleonora was good enough for second. Circus Club-based Breakwell had an uncharacteristic rail with Lucas at the large #10 fence to the dismay of his many fans and supportors who were gathered to cheer him on. And Belcher played it safe after watching a few rounds, and keeping it conservative with a steady pace that kept all the rails up and earned him the fourth placed check.
No one, however, was fast enough to catch Thomas' pace in the end, and to the delight of his barnmates and fans, he captured the top prize just as the sun was beginning to set.
Thomas and Peterbilt fly over the final jumpoff fence with the setting sun as a backdrop. Photo ©Stefan Parker
A dropped jumpoff rail kept Breakwell and Lucas out of the top 5. Photo ©Woodside Images
The Grand Prix is not the only highlight of the six day show, with the event drawing many a high end vendor as well as generous sponsors. Horsemen and locals of all backgrounds enjoyed the great shopping, feasting, and wine tasting - which all led up to the main event. Today brings the final day of competition.
For complete horse show results visit the Menlo Charity Horse Show website.
Top Ten - $40,000 Menlo Grand Prix
Horse | Rider | Owner
1. Peterbilt | Guy Thomas | Peterbilt LLC
2. Eleonora | Jenn Serek | Shin Shin Group
3. Courtown | Karrie Rufer | Karrie Rufer
4. Willis | Ashton Belcher | Ashton Belcher
5. Brown Thomas | Jenn Serek | Kim Nixon
6. Lucas | Peter Breakwell | No Drama
7. Candle Light Van De Warande | Hannah Heidegger | Monarch International
8. Banba | Annie Cook | Signe Ostby
9. Don Francisco | Alicia Foster | Alicia Foster
10. Cozmoz | Harley Brown | Eden Valley Stables