Traverse City, Michigan, USA – Sept. 4, 2020 – International jumper competition began again in Traverse City during the first week of September, as some of the world’s most decorated athletes went head-to-head at the 50th American Gold Cup, presented by CaptiveOne Advisors LLC. The CSI 2* week also features the Silver Oak Jumper Tournament, presented by The Davis McCullough Foundation, adding another layer of show jumping prestige to the festivities. More than 100 horse-and-rider combinations representing 13 nations left it all on the table Friday for the first FEI class of the week, the $36,600 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament Welcome Stake CSI 2*, presented by GGT Footing. Under a California split due to the large numbers that were aiming to qualify for the weekend grand prix, the class saw two section winners: Shane Sweetnam (IRL) on The Blue Buckle Group’s Indra Van De Oude Heihoef and Natalie Dean (USA) aboard Marigold Sporthorses LLC’s Don’s Diamant.
Tasked with the tough job of whittling down a massive field of 109 entries, course designer Nick Granat (USA) crafted a 16-effort pattern that ultimately was mastered by 25 exhibitors to earn eligibility for the tie-breaker round. Third in the start list, Liza Finsness (USA) rode to the first clear round as the trailblazer aboard Shiver to kick off the momentum in the class, but she was not alone long as a plentiful number of partnerships soon joined her in the fault-free ranks.
Shane Sweetnam (IRL) forced a jump-off on Hunters Conlypso II, then Beat Mändli (SUI), Luiz Francisco De Azevedo (BRA), Beezie Madden (USA), David Blake (USA), Jessica Mendoza (GBR), Hilary McNerney (USA), Mark Bluman (COL) and Dean all qualified by the first drag break on their respective mounts. Continuing on, subsequent penalty-free trips came from horses ridden by Andrew Welles (USA), Kent Farrington (USA), Michael Murphy (USA), Stephen Moore (IRL), Jacqueline Steffens (CAN), Lauren Crooks (USA), Gavin Harley (IRL), Molly Ashe Cawley (USA), Andrew Bourns (IRL), Katherine Strauss (USA) and Tanner Korotkin (USA). Mändli, Madden, McNerney and Sweetnam each also turned in successful efforts aboard a second horse to qualify two mounts apiece.
In total, seven nations qualified representatives for the jump-off. Though 25 combinations earned a place over the short course, only 22 returned as both Mändli and Farrington opted out of the second phase. Aboard Comic as the third to return, Luiz Francisco de Azevedo (BRA) set the pace as the early leader with a clear trip in 42.63 seconds, but their lead did not last as Elizabeth Madden (USA) piloted Chic Hin D Hyrencourt to a swift round that left all the rails in their cups to take over the lead in 39.55 seconds with the majority of the pack still remaining. One of the younger riders in the field, Natalie Dean (USA) rode with experience beyond her years as she galloped Don’s Diamant to an even speedier double-clear time of 39.00 seconds flat to overthrow the early frontrunners, but the top spot once again changed hands after the ever-speedy Sweetnam tackled the track with the reins on Indra Van De Oude Heihoef, tripping the timers in 37.61 seconds to shave more than a second off the leading time. The remainder of the pack aimed to chase down Sweetnam, but none could do so, solidifying the Irishman as the quickest of the day.
With the most efficient time of the day out of ten total double-clear duos, Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Indra Van de Oude Heihoef were awarded first prize in Section A of the $36,600 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament Welcome Stake CSI 2*, presented by GGT Footing. Natalie Dean (USA)and Don’s Diamant jumped to the Section B victory after the California split. In Section A, Murphy and Ashland Farms’ Quick Bob finished as the reserve champions in a time of 39.19 seconds, and Bourns captured third place with the ride on his own Darquito in 39.78 seconds.
Headed into Friday’s FEI class, Kristen Vanderveen (USA) sat atop the rankings towards the CaptiveOne Advisors $30,000 Leading Jumper Rider Bonus by a slim margin. Originally sitting in second, Shane Sweetnam (IRL) moved up to the lead position, now mere points ahead of Vanderveen to keep the race close with only a handful of qualifying classes remaining. The coveted bonus will be awarded to the rider who accumulates the most points in competitions worth $25,000 or more in prize money over the course of 11 weeks of riding in Traverse City, concluding with the $213,300 CaptiveOne American Gold Cup Grand Prix CSI 4* on September 13.
Show jumping will continue throughout the weekend at Flintfields Horse Park, with the $30,000 1.40m – 1.45m Speed Classic CSI 2* taking place Saturday, followed by the $75,000 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament Grand Prix CSI 2*, presented by Agero, as the highlight event Sunday afternoon.
Winner’s Circle – Shane Sweetnam (IRL)
On Indra Van De Oude Heihoef’s performance:
“She jumped great. We haven’t had much actually for about a month, so she felt fresh and was jumping really well both rounds. The faster we went, the better she jumped. It’s really nice to show here. With 109 in that class, it was always going to be hard to be up thereabouts let alone win the class, so I’m very happy with the way she jumped and hopefully it’s good for Sunday, also.”
On his thought for Sunday’s grand prix:
“My thought is I want to win it! With both grand prix classess, I’d be very happy if I could be here at the top or thereabouts again. Obviously, if I could be first I’d be even happier.”
On the course:
“It’s a very hard class to build for. Obviously it can only be maximum 1.45m, maybe a couple of fences a little bit bigger. That’s the right amount of clear, especially because the class was split. I thought he did a great job and I’m sure he’s happy with the number he got also.”
On his jump-off ride:
“I came up the first fence with a good bit of rhythm so that it would make my six strides not as flat, since that was a leave-out. My turn, I thought I left a second there. I wasn’t as tight as maybe some others. I did one less stride than most of the class today to the double – I did eight strides. My inside turn came up very well, just right actually, and I think I made up another second there, and then on the way home with her I can just drop the reins with her and let her gallop. She really likes to jump the jumps off a good gallop.”
Results – Section A of the $36,600 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament Welcome Stake CSI 2*
Place / Rider / Country / Horse / Owner / R1 Faults | R1 Time / R2 Faults | R2 Time
1) Shane Sweetnam (IRL) & Indra Van De Oude Heihoef / S / The Blue Buckle Group / 0 | 69.460 / 0 | 37.610
2) Michael Murphy (USA) & Quick Bob / Ashland Farms / 0 | 68.310 / 0 | 39.190
3) Andrew Bourns (IRL) & Darquito / Andrew Bourns / 0 | 71.380 / 0 | 39.783)
Source: Press release by Elaine Wessel / Phelps Media Group for the American Gold Cup
Photos: © Phelps Sports / Allyson Lagiovane