Thermal, California, USA – December 09, 2021 – FEI competition got underway for the final week of 2021 competition at the Desert International Horse Park on Thursday of Desert Holiday II as both CSI 5* and CSI2* athletes tried to capture significant prize money in the week’s first classes. With all eyes on the Grand Prix Arena for the week, three classes set the stage on Thursday for the Major League Show Jumping finale slated for Friday and Saturday. Courses for the day were all set by Ireland’s Alan Wade with the help of Peter Grant (CAN), Nick Granat (USA), Joe Rycroft (USA), and Jared Erho (USA). California’s own Kyle King and Elizabeth Kilham’s Magic Mike saved the most thrilling performance for the very last round of the day, and claimed the winners spoils in the $72,900 Talus Welcome CSI 5*.
The feature class of the day, the FEI $72,900 Talus Welcome CSI 5*, presented a course of 13 numbered obstacles, featuring three one-stride double combinations, rollback turns, and a liverpool vertical, all set under the bright lights of the Grand Prix Arena. Rails fell evenly throughout the course as the class progressed, but the toughest elements proved to be the double of verticals and the time allowed of 76 seconds. An initial field of 37 entries was narrowed to just seven horse and rider combinations that earned the right to return for the short course. Mark Bluman (COL) was the first rider to go clear within the allotted time and returned eager to produce another fault-free effort in the jump-off but quickly produced two fences down in a time of 37.32 seconds.
The next entry to challenge the clock was Egypt’s Nayel Nassar (EGY), fresh off his win in the CSI2* Grand Prix during Week I of Desert Holiday. Nassar piloted Igor Van De Wittemoere, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Evergate Stables LLC, to the first double-clear effort of the night in 40.90 seconds. Nassar’s moderate pace left the door slightly open for any of the remaining five pairs to beat him on the clock. Amy Millar (CAN) took to the course next and rode to a solid double-clear effort but just behind the pace set by Nassar, clocking in at 41.37 seconds.
After speeding to the win for his team in the Major League Show Jumping Team Competition during Desert Holiday I, Mexico’s Eugenio Garza Perez (MEX) pushed Contago to be quick across the ground and through the turns but at the expense of eight faults. Katie Laurie (AUS) and Django II dropped one fence to come home in 41.89 seconds, leaving just two jump-off contenders to challenge the leading time.
Sam Walker (CAN) and the clever Hermelien VD Hooghoeve, a 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Evergate Stables LLC, followed a similar path to that of Nassar, but raced to the final fence and slid into the lead with a time of 39.72 seconds, which would be good enough for second. Last to take to the course was Indio-based Kyle King (USA) with Magic Mike, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, who blazed through the course’s winding turns and showcased exceptional accuracy in the turns to finish in a time of 39.30 seconds and claim the lead by just four one-hundreths of a second.
According to King, Magic Mike has earned a day off before they return to the Grand Prix Arena to vie for a piece of the $230,000 MLSJ Grand Prix CSI 5* on Saturday evening. Though Magic Mike has a quirk with allowing his riders to get on at the ring (which meant King was unable to get back on to take a victory lap after the podium shot), the horse is becoming a career maker for the athlete from Washington state. After being paired together on and off for two years, King knew that Magic Mike had the talent and natural ability to handle a 5* track. Thursday’s class was the fastest King had asked Magic Mike to perform in a jump-off and his win proved that the pair have a bright future ahead of them. King has had an exceptional year traveling along the Major League Show Jumping tour across North America. He’s catapulted into the world rankings, now ranked 81st in the world, jumping 14 points from the previous month. With no points to lose, King just keeps climbing the ranks and believes he now has the horsepower to get him to the top of the sport.
Kyle King – Winner, FEI $72,900 TALUS Welcome CSI5*
On Magic Mike:
“He is just an incredible horse I’ve had the last two seasons now. He’s owned by Elizabeth Kilham. He’s had a few different riders and she gave me the ride just before COVID-19, then he had a break and I got him back here last season and we had a couple wins. I was able to join the [MLSJ] league and he’s been outstanding. He’s just been so consistent at this level. He’s kind of the horse of your dreams at 1.60m and even the 1.70m; I jumped the big class at Spruce Meadows and I don’t know a ton of horses who can jump that big and he handled it just fine so I have a ton of confidence in him. He’s actually faster than I thought. He’s always wanting to go, got a lot of blood, he’s a real character of a horse, and he’s just special. He’s one of the best horses in the country and maybe even the world. Maybe I’m just excited at the moment but I’ve never had anything that consistently wants to jump clear and has that kind of power at that level, and now that speed.”
On his jump-off strategy:
“I was in the pole position finally; I got to see what everyone did and I got to watch all the numbers. I almost overcooked the first line and almost could’ve done one less there. I saw [Sam Walker’s] steps; he did nine, nine and nine, so I just let him keep moving. I almost got there too early in the first nine. It slowed me down and I thought I lost it there, but because I was slow I was able to really open up and go wide but cover some big ground. It actually maybe helped me in hindsight. I just took a good shot at the vertical at the end which is probably where I saved that little bit and then I got the same steps, but Mike’s like a big freight train – he was covering ground and this footing is amazing out here.”
On cracking the top 100 in the world rankings:
“It’s given me huge confidence. I’ve had great horses in my life but I’ve never really had a group like this. I have four horses that are on the team. I made a team within my own team for MLSJ and each one has their own thing. I’ve always been a confident rider but now I’m extra confident. I walk in thinking ‘I should be winning these things’, not just ‘I’m here finally’. I’m going in thinking I should win. It’s so fun for us to watch every month. The one thing is I don’t have any points to lose. Each month I just keep going up. I don’t think last week’s results were in it and this week is looking pretty good so who knows – maybe top 60 next week.”
On future plans:
“I’m considering switching nationalities to Canada later in the season. I’ve been a permanent resident for almost three years now. He’s the kind of horse who can jump the championship level. We’ve been talking about it seriously for the last two years and this is the time to make it happen. If that does happen then maybe i can do something really special with him. He’s the right age – he’s only 12. He’s potentially a horse that could go far enough to make it to the Olympics or something special like that if all the stars align.”
Final Results – $72,900 TALUS Welcome CSI 5*
Place / Rider / Country / Horse / Owner / R1 Faults | R1 Time / R2 Faults | R2 Time
1) Kyle King (USA) & Magic Mike / Elizabeth Kilham / 0 | 69.97 / 0 | 39.30
2) Sam Walker (CAN) & Hermelien VD Hooghoeve / Evergate Stables LLC / 0 | 74.06 / 0 | 39.72
3) Nayel Nassar (EGY) & Igor Van De Wittemoere / Evergate Stables LLC / 0 | 75.76 / 0 | 40.90
Source: Press Release by Tori Bilas / Phelps Media Group for Desert International Horse Park
Photos: © Phelps Sports / Olivia Airhart