Ideal conditions and a bright blue sky set the stage for the $30,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City today at Horse Shows by the Bay in scenic Traverse City, Michigan. Series I came to a close this afternoon reading like a textbook edition of stellar competition with the last chapter highlighting an amazing performance by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone's Cover Girl 27 and Alison Robitaille.
A field of 21 competitors challenged the first of four Grand Prix events to be hosted by the Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival held at the magnificent Flintfields Horse Park throughout the month of July. Both Chris Brandt's inviting first round and jump-off showcased courses that flowed, tested rideability and gave riders several options to show off. Eleven horse/rider combinations vied for the week one title in the jump-off.
Alison Robitaille masterfully piloted her 8-year-old Holsteiner mare Cover Girl 27 in both rounds. Seventh in the first round order, Upperville, Virginia native Robitaille glided around never touching a jump and looking like they had established a partnership for years. In fact, having purchased Cover Girl 27 only last year, Robitaille spent this FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival getting to know each other and building a solid foundation that would pay off in spades.
First to go in the jump-off, Andrew Welles aboard Tornado paved the way, going fast and clean and giving the field something to chase by stopping the clock in 35.492 seconds. Liza Finsness, next up aboard her Ormsby Hill, galloped effortlessly around the course in 38.348 seconds.
Then the ladies entered the ring. Robitaille trotted across the beautiful Grand Prix Arena on Cover Girl 27, showing the mare an angle to a narrow white vertical, the fifth element, that would ultimately be the key to success. They established a fast pace from the beginning and never looked back. Efficiently slicing the fourth element, a triple bar, and then the narrow vertical, Robitaille turned inside the signature lighthouse, caught the double combination just out of the turn, and then galloped home in an amazing eight strides stopping the timer at 34.861 seconds.
While it appeared the time was unbeatable, Hayley Barnhill aboard Ultaire followed Robitaille's path, taking the same inside slice risks. Smooth as silk, Barnhill was right on target, however, upon landing off the narrow white vertical, Ultaire tripped losing precious seconds. Barnhill's jump-off time of 35.031 seconds ultimately earned her second-placed accolades.
As the balance of the field chased Robitaille and Cover Girl 27, only Rocketman and Alan Korotkin were able to leave all the jumps up. Crossing the finish line in 37.275 seconds, Korotkin and Rocketman earned fourth-placed honors. Brian Shook and Courage 68, last year's Grand Prix of Traverse City winners, took home sixth place being the fastest over the course, however, with one rail for a score of 4 faults in the jump-off.
Asked about strategy for the class, Robitaille said, "My mare jumped so effortlessly in the first round. It was easy for her, and the ride went exactly as I had planned.
"Knowing that she was ultra comfortable with the ring, and with the most amazing footing I've ridden on for a long time, I felt I could take a chance," added Robitaille. "She has such a big, well-balanced stride, and I have such trust in her, that I tested her with risky angles at both the triple bar and the narrow vertical and then just sat back while she picked up on the long galloping eight strides to the last oxer."
As the day came to a close, Robitaille walked back to the stabling area, greeted by her family and team. "Today's win is quite special for me. It's my first Grand Prix victory since before I had my two children, Ava (3 years old) and Zoe (1 year old) and the first major victory for Cover Girl 27 and her support crew -- Sonia Krohn (barn manager) and Efrain Vega (Cover Girl 27's groom). Without their hard work and dedication, today would not have been possible.
"The icing on the cake, however, is that the person responsible for finding Cover Girl 27 is here to watch and support us," said Robitaille. Axel Wockener traveled from Recklenghausn, Germany to watch Cover Girl 27 compete in her third Grand Prix start, successfully bringing home the first win in her young career.
Final results of the $30,000 Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix include:
1st: Cover Girl 27 - Alison Robitaille
2nd: Ultaire - Hayley Barnhill
3rd: Tornado - Andrew Welles
4th: Rocketman -- Alan Korotkin
5th: Ormsby Hill -- Liza Finsness
6th: Courage 68 -- Brian Shook
At the conclusion of Series I, Alex Rheinheimer, Competition Manager and Competition Owner of Horse Shows by the Bay, was ecstatic.
"Exhibitor response and support for Horse Shows by the Bay has been tremendous. A show of this magnitude requires the expertise of an entire team," she said. "Many thanks and appreciation to David Steffee (Steffee Surfaces), Karin Flint (Flintfields Horse Park) and all of our dedicated staff who have truly invested all of themselves to ensure that the footing, facility and show are first class. It's been a long journey, and we can't thank our team enough!"
The Horse Shows by the Bay Festival continues with Series II: July 11-15; Series III: July 18-22; and Series IV: July 25-29.
For complete results, please visit http://www.horseshowing.com
For more information on the Horse Shows by the Bay Series, please visit http://www.horseshowsbythebay.com
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