Hickstead and Eric Lamaze, winners of the $50,000 Charlotte Welcome Stake, CSI at the Charlotte Jumper Classic.
© Jennifer Wood/PMG
There were 40 entries in the class, and 10 of those were clear in the first round to advance to the jump-off. There 12 with just four faults in the first round, and there were two eliminations and two retirements on course.
The first to return for the jump-off was Chris Kappler of New Jersey on VDL Oranta. They started the jump-off in style with a quick, smooth round. They finished with no faults in a time of 34.71 seconds, which would hold the lead for quite a few rides and would eventually end up in third place.
Canada's Ian Millar and In Style were next in the ring. They were on their way to taking the lead, but with a fast gallop to the final oxer, they pulled a rail at the last jump. They finished with four faults in 31.67 seconds and fifth place.
Next in was the Grand Prix of Charlotte's inaugural winner Beezie Madden, certainly one of the favorites to win on her top mount Authentic. They were very fast from the first to second jump, but at the third jump, Authentic rubbed the top rail and it fell. They stopped the timers in a speedy time of 33.57 seconds, but the four faults left them in seventh place.
Erynn Ballard of Canada and her horse Robin van Roosendael were the next to challenge. The huge horse had no trouble with the jumps and kept them all up, but their slower time of 37.05 seconds caused two time faults, which gave them fourth place at the end of the class.
Next in was Eric Lamaze, a fellow Canadian, on his highly successful mount Hickstead. Lamaze made a very neat turn from the one stride at fence 7 in a right-hand rollback to fence 8. Hickstead looked perfectly on form, and as Lamaze made the turn back to the final oxer, he increased Hickstead's speed to a full gallop. They flew over the final jump and Hickstead cleared it with ease, stopping the timers in 33.32 seconds to take the lead.
The final rider in the ring was Todd Minikus of Florida on Pavarotti. He and the little chestnut bounded around the course and were just off the winning pace in 34.05 seconds with no faults, which put them into second place.
It was a great welcoming class for the top show jumpers in North America. Lamaze was very happy with his victory, especially considering that he and Hickstead have not shown indoors for "a very long time." Lamaze originally planned to compete with a different horse, but since Hickstead did not end up showing at the American Invitational in Florida last week, he decided to bring his best horse to Charlotte.
"This wasn't part of his plan," Lamaze acknowledged. "I was going to use another horse, and he was going to wait until Europe (this summer). He looks to be on form for Sunday."
Lamaze said that it is always challenging to compete in a small, indoor ring after showing so long in large outdoor fields. "I rode here last year, and I know what to expect," he commented. "The fences come unbelievably quick."