Pessoa, an Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time World Cup winner, aboard Let's Fly, was the eighth rider on course and the first to navigate the course designed by Steve Stephens without a rail down.
Rodrigo Pessoa and Let's Fly.
"In the first round I was a little bit lucky at fence 10, he is the kind of horse, he is not a spectacular jumper, he knows his way around, but he always touches one or two like that but he is a very smart horse."
The enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd watched six more horse and rider combinations exit the ring with faults before Leslie Burr Howard and Lennox Lewis 2 thrilled them with a fault free round and the assurance of a jump off.
Ljubov Kochetova, hailing from Russia, with her mount Aslan were the next pairing to leave all the rails up followed by Mario Deslauriers and Vicomte D. Carlos Boy and Ken Berkley added their names to the jump off list as did Erynn Ballard of Canada, and her mount Robin Van Roosendael. This gave us a truly international field for the jump off. Of the six countries represented in the class, four would be sending riders into the jump off.
By virtue of being the first clear round, Pessoa would be first in the jump off. He entered the ring with determination and a plan. When he and Let's Fly were finished he had turned in another fault free round and stopped the timers in 33.73 seconds.
"The jump off, you know, going first I thought I had to come up with something to make it difficult for the rest of them," explained Pessoa. "With all those good riders coming behind, you have to come up with something. So there was a little gap after fence 2 to go inside and I thought if I did that it would be hard enough to be beat. I had to do it, take the chance, and it worked out for me."
Howard and Lennox Lewis 2 set out to catch the leader, but were not as lucky. Lennox Lewis knocked down two rails for an eight fault penalty in a time of 37.69 and would finish the day in sixth place.
Kochetova and Aslan, a giant of a horse, navigated the jump off course without penalty, but their time of 40.10 seconds left lots of room for them to be overtaken. They would finish the class in third place.
Mario Deslauriers and the 11-year-old Vicomte D did not have luck on their side as the big grey took down a rail at fence five and in the combination for a total of eight faults in a time of 36.64. As the fastest pair with eight faults, they finished in fifth place.
Ken Berkley and Carlos Boy gave it their best shot and almost made it around fault free, but the last fence was their undoing and they crossed the timers with four faults in a time of 36.77 and ended in fourth place.
Erynn Ballard was the last to go with her huge Belgian-bred gelding. The horse won over the crowd as he stood there in the middle of the ring like a statue except for the flapping of his lower lip. When he moved off, he did so with purpose and after the six fence jump off, crossed the timers with a clear round in 39.13 seconds. The round would place them in second place.
"I've had him for six years," said Ballard. "He was very difficult when I got him, and he is very big for a girl, so it took us a while to get him to go my way and that is part of his routine. He walks in and he stands and he stares and he looks and then he is ready to go. He'll tell you when he is ready. If you leg him and he gets frozen again, wait a second and then go. He is a very nervous horse."