Rain doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for inaugural Grand-Prix Eventing showcase

March 2, 2019

Jacqueline Ohrstrom didn’t let gloomy skies and mud stop her from attending the opening day of the inaugural $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing showcase at Bruce’s Field.

She missed the dressage competition on a rainy Friday morning, but arrived in time for show jumping in the afternoon, when the precipitation finally stopped.

“I got off an airplane at 3 o’clock, put on some ‘wellies’ (boots) and came on over,” said Ohrstrom, who raced 2014 champion steeplechaser Demonstrative. “It’s always exciting to see the best competing against the best.”

Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp, who rode a 16-year-old gelding named Fernhill By Night, led after dressage and was still on top following show jumping with a score of 28.70.

She gave Fernhill By Night a lot of the credit.

“He’s a great jumper, and he does a beautiful dressage test,” said Halliday-Sharp, who divides her time between Ocala, Florida, and England. “I actually hoped to have a slightly better dressage score than I did, but I think the judging was tough today. Then he jumped his socks off. He really, really tried. He didn’t touch a thing, and he really listened to me.”

In second with a score of 30.80, was Aiken resident Doug Payne, whose mount was a 15-year-old gelding named Vandiver.

“It’s early in the season for us,” Payne said. “There are still some aspects that we are going to refine, but he was very good today. I couldn’t have asked much more from him. He had a small stifle injury last spring, and this is his first major competition since then, so it’s really exciting.”

Lauren Kieffer, a member of the U.S. Olympic three-day eventing team in 2016, was in third place. She and the 12-year-old gelding Vermiculus had a score of 30.90.

William Fox-Pitt and his mount, the 11-year-old stallion Sandro’s Star, were in fourth with a score 31.30.

While riding for Great Britain, Fox-Pitt won a bronze Olympic medal in 2008 and silver Olympic medals in 2004 and 2012 in the team competition.

The opportunity to see Olympic equestrians was the reason why Tony and Ann Hubbuch traveled from the Charlotte, North Carolina, area to Bruce’s Field.

“This is the big time,” Tony said.

Added Ann, “They’re the top of the top riders.”

In addition to Kieffer and Fox-Pitt, other Olympians participating in the Grand-Prix on Friday included Phillip Dutton.

As a member of the Australian eventing team, he earned Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000.

In 2016, when he was a member of the U.S. team, Dutton won an individual bronze Olympic medal while riding Mighty Nice.

After dressage and show jumping in the Grand-Prix, Dutton and the 10-year-old gelding Fernhill Singapore were in 17th place.

“He’s an up-and-coming horse, and this is his first time at this level of competition,” said Dutton of Fernhill Singapore. “He jumped clean in the show jumping, but he didn’t do as great in dressage as I would have liked. So far, it’s been a good experience for him, and he’ll be more competitive next year.”

Dutton is the chairman of the Aiken Horse Park Foundation committee that organized the Grand-Prix.

“I couldn’t be more pleased and proud,” he said after the show jumping competition. “Obviously, the weather hasn’t cooperated, but it’s not cold, so that’s good. We’ve gotten great entries for the first year, and it looks like there is a good crowd here.”

The third and final phase of the Grand-Prix competition is cross-country, which is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

General admission tickets cost $12 apiece and will be available at Bruce’s Field.

The address for Bruce’s Field is 931 Powderhouse Road S.E., but spectators should enter through a gate on Audubon Drive.