It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Kevin Babington was the epitome of that phrase on Sunday at the 39th annual Hampton Classic. The Irish rider, who now resides in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, had a rough morning, falling from his horse and landing in the water jump in the 7/8-Year-Old Jumper Championships. But just a few hours later, in the main event of the show—the $250,000 Grand Prix—Babington made as good a recovery as possible, guiding a different horse, Shorapur, to the blue ribbon after winning a jump-off that included four riders.
Babington was the 20th of 32 riders on the Guillherme Jorge designed course, going clean with no jumping or time faults to get into a jump-off that included fellow countryman Richie Moloney, Ramiro Quintana of Argentina, and Brianne Goutal of New York, New York. Moloney was first to tackle the jump-off with his horse, Belgian-bred gelding Freestyle De Muze, and they had one rail down for four faults. Quintana, aboard Dutch warmblood mare Whitney, followed with two rails down for eight faults. Babington then rode clean in 39.16 seconds, setting the challenge for Goutal, the final rider. She went clean as well, but finished in 40.34 seconds aboard Selle Francais stallion Nice De Prissey, giving the win to Babington.
The Hampton Classic Grand Prix was an FEI-sanctioned qualifier for the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas next April.
It was an impressive finish for Babington and Shorapur, a nine-year-old Hanoverian mare. Nine is considered young for that level of competition, and it was the mare’s first time competing in a class with the fences set at 1.60 meters (5.25 feet). Babington said he didn’t originally intend to ride Shorapur in the Grand Prix, but said the mare made it clear to him on Friday that she was ready to compete in the toughest class at the show.
“I had planned to do another horse, but I jumped her on Friday and she had two rails down; she was almost too brave,” Babington explained. “And I thought, OK, you’re ready to step up to the plate now. If you want to be that brave, let’s step up, and she was ready for it.”
Babington elaborated further on his decision to ride Shorapur, based on her performance on Friday.
“She was strong and sort of pulling me on Friday,” he continued. “She really wanted to take over. I got her quieter today, I worked her a little harder yesterday and we made a bridle change. But she felt fantastic. She’s a very sensitive mare; she’s all mare. If you go one hole tighter with the noseband or curb chain and she doesn’t like it, she’ll let you know. It probably took us 20 minutes this morning to get the right formula, but I felt like we got it.”
It certainly seemed that way on Sunday, and particularly in the jump-off. After watching both Moloney and Quintana finish with jumping faults, and knowing only one rider was left to compete—Goutal—after him, Babington said his plan was to go “medium-fast” in hopes it would be enough to win.
“This was my horse’s first meter-sixty,” he explained. “I knew Brianne was coming behind me, so I wanted to put a little pressure on her, but it was a careful jump-off; the jumps had to be jumped.”
Goutal said she was in the advantageous position of going last, and knew what she had to do, but took a somewhat cautious approach as well.
“I didn’t want to go crazy in the jump-off,” she said. “I think Kevin was fast enough. I could’ve gone a little faster, but I didn’t want to risk it. This was my horse’s first big class back in the states. We were in Europe for the summer, so I wanted to play it a little bit safe, and I played it a little bit too safe.”
Moloney had some consolation despite failing to take the blue ribbon on Sunday. His third-place finish put him on top in the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Challenge for the second consecutive year. He totaled 300 points from the week’s 10 open jumper classes. Fellow Irishman Darragh Kenny held on to the runner-up spot with 283 points. Kenny did not compete in the Grand Prix as he had to leave on Saturday night for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France. Other top riders, including McLain Ward and Margie Engle, also left on Saturday for the same event. Quintana finished third (195) and Shane Sweetnam of Ireland finished fourth (177.5).
Babington didn’t figure into the top standings as leading jumper rider, but the kind of day he had on Sunday is a perfect illustration of the ups and downs inherent in equestrian show jumping, for the world’s best to the youngest pony riders and everyone in between. During the post-show press conference, a bit of a wardrobe malfunction was brought to Babington’s attention, when he was speaking about his soggy spill earlier in the day.
“My other jacket got destroyed, so I had to run and grab my spare jacket,” he said, glancing down at the front of his coat. “I didn’t even realize it was missing a button.”
When it was suggested that he should continue wearing what might be a lucky jacket, he smiled and said: “You might be onto something.”