|Defending champion Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil winning the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National aboard HH Ashley. (Al Cook Photo|
An incredibly challenging course by Steve Stephens proved to be the biggest adversary for the 25-horse field with riders representing six countries. The tie-breaker was even more challenging and provided an entertaining climax for the large and enthusiastic crowd.
With seven horses in the jump-off, Pessoa was perfectly positioned as last in the order of go and no one ahead of him was fault-free. "I didn't get to see the jump-off but I kept hearing the scores: 20, 12, 8, 4, which was unusual," the former Olympic and World Champion said.
Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo were fourth to go and pulled a rail at the second of nine obstacles, but even with four faults and a time of 46.25, she took over the lead.
"He made the fences bigger for the jump-off and there were more jumps than some classes. My horse was unsure where we were going at times and was sited on the double when we were heading to the narrow yellow," she explained. "It worked pretty good for me. The time allowed should be important in the jump-off," said Madden during the press conference where fans waited patiently nearby for her autograph.
Canada's Ian Millar rode Star Power on a bold track, taking a wide turn directly toward the double combination to gain better access to a narrow vertical that had been falling all evening. The large and enthusiastic crowd gasped at the move, then cheered when the fence stayed up. The move paid off with a clean jumping round, however, it resulted in four time faults in 53.47 seconds, leaving them just behind Madden. The pair ultimately finished third.
Pessoa was the final entry in the jump-off. "It's always nice to go last. When I saw the draw I was relieved, but I still had to get through the first round. It was nice not to have to go crazy fast for my greener horse in the jump-off," he said of his 10-year-old Hanoverian mare. "It was an advantage and I'm very happy with how she jumped.
"This horse show gets better every year and I'll be back next year. The infrastructure here is great with the horses never having to go outside and the new footing is really fabulous," he added.
HH Ashley's caretaker, Caroline Holmberg, was also awarded for her efforts with the Caretaker of the Winning Grand Prix Horse award, a prize she won last year as well. Additionally, Pessoa was named Leading Rider for Open Jumper division.
Madden won the Leading Lady Rider Award for Open Jumpers and she and Coral Reef Via Volo won the Open Jumper Championship. Pessoa and HH Ashley were Reserve Champions.